Why Macro Ratios Are Stupid (& A Better Formula for Calculating Macros)

If you want to build a lean and muscular vegan body you've probably researched what the best macronutrient split or ratio is (i.e proteins, carbs and fats)

Should you strive for a really high carb, low fat and protein ratio such as 80/10/10?

Or is a more moderate approach better, perhaps 50/25/25?

What about the all-protein diet, 0/0/100? (Yeah... maybe not)

Well here's the kicker:

Any macronutrient ratio is inherently a pretty stupid way of setting up your diet for your body composition goals. 

Let me elaborate why...

What's needed for muscle growth

As you might know muscle is not built from thin air and magic - but from hard work and the right foods. 

Here's how it happens: ​

Your body is subjected to some sort of stress that causes an adaption. Perhaps you went to the gym and performed a new 10RM personal record on the bench press. 

Through different mechanisms your body will adapt so it can better manage this new weight. And hopefully some of this new adaptation is going to be in the form of a couple of grams of new muscle fiber = gains.

To support optimal muscle growth we want an adequate amount of nutrients to be available. 

First and foremost we want sufficient calories and in turn these calories come from proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

(Several other micronutrients also play a crucial role in gaining mass, for more information check out this page about vegan zinc, iron, calcium etc.)

How much proteins, carbs and fats should I eat then?

Getting enough protein, the building blocks of muscle, is obviously essential here. 

As explained here you should aim for about 1.8-2.0 g protein per kg bodyweight, or 0.82-0.91 g protein per lbs. Leaning towards the higher end of the spectrum for maximum muscle growth and for retaining muscle during weight loss.

That's it for protein, pretty easy. 

When it comes to fat intake things get a bit trickier. 

We do need a certain amount of dietary fat per day to ensure healthy hormonal status, cognitive function and straight up sanity. (I know I would go insane eating 0 grams fat per day).

So what is this certain amount? The answer is that it depends on the individual but a healthy range seems to be in the range of 0.5-1.0 g fat per kg, or about 0.25-0.5 g fat per lbs. 

Now the only missing piece of the puzzle is carbohydrate. This is rather straightforward - when needs have been met for protein and fat you fill up the rest of your calories with carbs.

Carbohydrates are tremendously important for any athlete or bodybuilder - they ensure optimal performance by filling up muscle glycogen and promote anabolic hormones. 

What's so wrong with macro ratios then?

Generic recommendations for macro ratios such as 70/10/20 or 50/25/25 are not the best approach for several reasons.

Doesn't take into account personal preferences.

Say you listen to some internet guru that claims a vegan macro ratio of 80/10/10 is optimal.

So you follow this advice and eat tons of carbs but feel like shit and can't perform at full throttle in the gym. Perhaps your body needed more protein and fat to thrive on a plant-based diet, which obviously won't happen with this strict high-carb approach. 

Doesn't make sense when adjusting calories.

Say you need X amount of protein at your current bodyweight and you're following a macro ratio where 15% of calories comes from protein. 

That means cutting and maintaining a caloric deficit (lesser calories) will result in less dietary protein than if you were bulking (more calories).

This makes absolutely no sense seing as we want the exact opposite - protein should be at its highest during a fat loss phase.

Let's showcase this with some examples:

Cutting

A 75 kg, or 165 lb, gym-goer is in a fat loss period and eats about 2000 calories per day. 

Firstly, this might just be a pet-peeve of mine, but it's a damn hassle using macro ratios.

Say this person uses a carb, protein and fat ratio of 70/20/10.

You would then have to split the 2000 calories into each macro fraction and then divide each fraction with the calories found in a gram of carb, protein or fat. 

Anyways, doing that we end up with 350 g carbs, 100 g protein, 22 g fat. 

So there are some flaws here that I'd like to point out.

Protein is too low. During a cut you should eat close to the 0.82 g protein per lbs mark to retain muscle mass, which in this case should be roughly 135 grams.

Fat is too low. Some individuals might get away with only 22 grams of fat per day but it's certainly not advisable. You don't want to crash your endocrine system for a shredded six pack. 

Bulking

A 200 pound gym-goer is currently bulking on 3500 calories and utilizing a 50/25/25 macro ratio.

That equates to 437.5 g carbs, 97 g fat and 218.8 g protein. 

Fat intake is still within the recommended range and does help with adding easy calories on a vegan bulk. However it could be theorized that some of the fat could be replaced with more carbs for better recovery and performance in the gym. 

Protein intake is well above the range of 0.82-0.91 g per lbs. While it's not harmful it isn't necessary either. You could just as well put those calories to better use with some extra fats or carbs. 

A better way of doing things

Don't rely on macro ratios but instead simply make sure to hit your:

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    1.8-2.0 g protein per kg bodyweight, or 0.82-0.91 g protein per lbs
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    0.5-1.0 g fat per kg, or about 0.25-0.5 g fat per lbs. 
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    Fill the rest of your calories up with carbs. 

This way your macros will stay correct regardless if you're currently cutting or bulking or eating at maintanence.

And it is also a hell of a lot easier than having to painstakingly balance foods to hit some arbitrary ratio at the end of the day. 

Your macro ratio may range from 40/20/20 to 76/11/12 depending on your personal preferences, total calories and what you felt like eating that particular day. Which is exactly how it should be. 

Alright I hope that was helpful for anyone that's trying to figure out their macros! Make sure to share this article with anyone that is struggling to put together their plant-based macros. 

Why Macro Ratios Are Stupid (… A Better Diet Strategy for Maximal Muscle Gain & Fat Loss)

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  • Alex
  • November 23, 2017
Alex
 

Hey there! I’m Alex and I’m obsessed with a vegan diet, strength training and bodybuilding, as well as health and nutrition. When I’m not writing articles on here I am either in the gym, playing electric guitar or cooking vegan food!

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