Why You Should Care About Macronutrients
Bodybuilders and gym rats alike obsess over their macronutrient splits, a term that refers to the ratio of carbs, protein, and fat consumed per day.
When it comes to my online coaching program, I rarely call clients’ attention to macronutrient splits, trying instead to make a weight loss friendly split happen naturally. I like to have them track their protein intake and aim for their target body weight in grams of protein per day. Additionally, I tell everyone that vegetables should make up half of your diet.
So what does that look like on a daily basis?
Well, if you are a 150-pound person on a 2000-calorie diet, at least 600 of your calories are going to come from protein (4 calories per gram). The thing is, it’s almost impossible to keep your calorie intake that low with protein unless you’re on the cottage cheese and boiled chicken diet, which would be gross.
When you factor in things like food not being perfect proteins (mostly adding to the fat column), seasoning, and garnishes, you’re going to end up with somewhere around 850 to 900 calories from protein. Therefore, we know right away that at least 40–45 percent of your diet will be protein and associated calories.
How does this affect carbohydrate and fat percentages?
Remember that half of your diet should be vegetables. Now, that may seem like a lot, but it won’t affect your carbohydrate percentage as much as you think. Let’s break it down.
Say you start your day off with some coffee, and for lunch you have a pound of ground beef and a pound of broccoli. Half of your diet is vegetables, but you’ve consumed 31 grams of carbohydrates from broccoli and totaled about 153 calories — just 7.5 percent of your daily caloric intake.
Compare that to the ground beef: 65 grams of protein and 1500 calories, or 75 percent of your daily caloric intake. The point is, vegetables are freaking awesome. You can eat them all day long and never come close to a high-carb diet.
I know what you’re thinking: “Jake, why did you even bring up the macronutrient ratios? Shouldn’t I just eat veggies and protein?”
To answer your conveniently placed question, I brought them up because macros can be very effective in helping move past weight loss or muscle growth plateaus.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet. People are different, and so are the ways their bodies react to food. Some people are much more carb-sensitive than others. However, lowering carbohydrate intake temporarily can give you that little extra push you need to break past your weight loss plateau.
Let’s take a look at four different macronutrient splits for your goals. Remember, these splits are just the percentages of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively. The numbers represent Carbs%/Protein%/Fat%.
1. The government-recommended macronutrient split: 55/20/25
Good for: endurance athletes on race day and... not much else.
Without going too much into conspiracy theories about the sugar industry and the American government’s recommendation of a high-carb, low-fat diet, let’s see if we can find some positive things to say.
A person can lose weight on any diet if they maintain a calorie deficit. As long as you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.
Following that logic, lowering the percentage of high-calorie food (i.e., fat) you consume should make it easier to lose weight. Unfortunately a high-carb, low-fat diet is not the quickest way to sculpt your ideal body type. If today is the day of your marathon, it’s perfect, but since you are likely not an endurance athlete on race day, we should explore some other options.
2. Beastly fat-loss split: 15/50/35
Good for: Rapid fat loss and maintaining lean muscle
So you want to torch fat? It’s time to eat the fats and make them your bitch. We can approach this from two different angles:
"Bro science" reasoning:
Eating healthy fat helps your body burn fat, and practice makes perfect with this: the more fat you eat, the more your body is equipped to handle burning fat.
Healthy fats make you feel full! Think of fatty foods — avocados, nuts, cheese, or olive oil, for example. Most of those don’t leave you wanting.
Protein builds muscle. Eat lots of it.
Regular science reasoning:
Protein has the largest thermogenic effect of any of the macronutrients, meaning that it requires more energy to digest, absorb, and dispose of it than carbohydrates or fat.
Eating a larger percentage of fats and protein will obviously cause the percentage of carbohydrates to decrease. When carbs decrease, insulin levels follow suit.
Lower insulin levels will theoretically result in less fat storage for two reasons: first, because insulin inhibits enzymes responsible for breaking down fat, and second, because insulin aims your body at the utilization of carbohydrates for fuel.
This particular split is harder to maintain long-term, although it is great for rapid fat loss.
3. Let’s get huge split: 45/40/15
Good for: increasing muscle size/density and increasing energy levels.
Do you want to build bigger muscles? You’ve got to eat like you want them! (Along with following a high resistance strength training regimen, of course.)
When it’s time to get big, you’ve got to eat a good amount of both carbohydrates and protein. The latter helps rebuild the damaged muscle tissue and the former helps “fill them up” with new muscle glycogen stores, which will increase their size and density. Not to mention, carbohydrates will likely improve your mood, energy levels, and performance.
If you want to build big muscles, the best way to do that is to maintain a small calorie surplus on lifting days; bodybuilders call this “bulking.”
One of the biggest jokes in the fitness industry is the idea that when you are bulking, you can eat donuts, ice cream, and other garbage with no negative side effects. After all, you want to be in a calorie surplus, right?!
Remember, everything in moderation. You have a little more wiggle room than usual, but there’s no reason to go crazy. If you’ve been to a gym, you’ve no doubt noticed that some of the strongest people in there are also very fat. Weight helps you push weight, but let’s not fall into this particular trap.
You can maintain this macronutrient split for a long time but I don’t recommend staying at a calorie surplus forever or you will fall victim to the aforementioned problem.
4. The Jake Dermer preferred baseline split: 40/35/25
Good for: A solid baseline to start from when playing with your macro nutrient splits.
This is the split that works best for me on a consistent basis. It doesn’t feel like a diet. It is not challenging to maintain. It simply allows me to eat what I like — meat, rice, and vegetables (yum!) — without stepping outside the lines.
Bottom Line on Macros
I suggest you find what works best for you. Although it isn’t sexy, the best way to do that is via trial and error.
Start with whichever split sounds like the best fit for you, and then adjust from there. Try the split for at least a week, because the first four days of a low-carb diet can leave you feeling a little tired. That's not a bad thing; it's just your body adjusting to a new baseline sugar intake. Alternatively, if you go too high on protein and don’t maintain a solid fiber intake, your digestive system might get upset with you.
Bringing it all back, if you are stuck at a plateau, track your macronutrients and play with the ratios. With some tinkering, you will find the one that makes you feel good and look great!
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