A lot of us bodybuilders get caught up in supplementing, but sometimes forget to count out our actual macronutrients. They are just as important as micronutrients like vitamins and trace minerals if you want to build lean mass or even bulk up.
What Are Macros and Why Do the Ratios Matter?
For example, sometimes you may want to add more carbohydrates in order to sustain energy during heavy cardiovascular exercise, and other times you may want to lean more heavily on healthy fats when you are keto cycling (entering a state of ketosis to tap into an alternative energy reserve).
On still other occasions, you may want to alter your ratio more heavily toward aminos in order to increase muscle mass very quickly – such as when you are lifting heavy.
If you leave all your macronutrients up to chance, you can miss out on meeting your bodybuilding goals in the most efficient manner. Let’s say you have put on some lean muscle, but you want to increase your bulk a little. If you don’t eat the proper macro-nutrient mix, this is going to take three to four times longer than if you eat your calories in the right proportions.
Finding Your Correct Macronutrient Ratio Based on Body Type
You may also need to alter your macronutrient ratio dependent upon your body type and metabolism.
Mesomorphs(medium frame with more muscle than fat)
If you are of this body type you can generally start with this macronutrient ratio: 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% healthy fat.
Endomorphs (naturally larger framed and have more fat than muscle with a slower metabolism)
If you are of this body type try the following macronutrient ratio: 35% protein, 25% carbs, and 40% healthy fat.
Ectomorphs (lean and tall with low body fat and usually have difficulty building muscle)
If you have this body type you may want to shift into this ratio: 40% protein, 20% carbs, and 40% healthy fats. [i]
Finding the “sweet spot” for your macronutrients is not an exact science, but you should certainly not leave it up to chance. You won’t know what adjustments to make if you have no idea how your calories are divided up.
Try purchasing a food scale at a health food store or purchase one online, and also look up caloric content on foods you commonly eat so that you know you are getting your macronutrient ratios right.
Finding the Right Macronutrient Ratio for Weight Loss
Sometimes you don’t just need to build muscle, you need to develop an eating style that will reveal muscle you have already built, but that is covered with layers of adipose (muscle) fat.
The range for this can be calculated this way:
- 45-65% of your daily calories should come from carbs
- 20-35% of your daily calories should come from healthy fats
- 10-35% of your daily calories should come from protein.
Find the ratio that you can actually sustain through eating habits along with your current training routine, and know that it may shift slightly during the week. Don’t beat yourself up mentally if you eat too many carbs one day. You may need them! Just go back to the range you are trying to stay within on the following day. The trick here isn’t to be rigid about this science but to use it as a tool to help you achieve your goals. Let these ratios work for you not against you!
Ways You Can Tell Your Macronutrient Ratio is Off
Here are a few ways to know immediately that you aren’t eating the right macronutrient ratio:
- Getting food cravings (particularly for sugary foods or simple carbs like bread, pastries, cake, etc.)
- Craving for salty foods
- Have low energy
- Aren’t sleeping well (which is critical for muscle recovery!)
- You develop brain fog, loss of memory of other cognitive issues
- Your digestion is sluggish or you develop diarrhea
- Aren’t experiencing the gains you desire after multiple weeks of lifting or working out
- Aren’t as ripped as you’d like to be
- Have excess belly fat
If you experience any of these challenges, don’t stress! You can usually overcome them pretty easily by just adjusting your macronutrients. Sometimes this can take a few tries to get just right, especially since your goals in the process of getting fitter often shift, so give yourself time to experiment a little until you find a sweet spot, and you’ll start to reach your bodybuilding ideals much faster.
Tips for Sticking to a Macronutrient Specific Diet
When you are bodybuilding and trying to adopt new eating habits or even a new training method, it can be tempting to go at it on all cylinders and forget that your brain has a very specific way of creating new habits. Trying to change your macro-nutrient ratio abruptly won’t usually stick. Try this instead:
Use your brain’s natural reward system: dopamine.
The neurochemical dopamine is released by your brain when you do something positive or enjoyable. If you are trying to eat more healthy fats, for instance, reward yourself with avocado, chia, and cacao pudding instead of just eating avocado raw on a salad. Your brain will see this as a reward and crave more of it.
Make small changes to build confidence.
If you currently eat too many carbs, don’t try to go cold turkey on carbohydrates. Make small shifts in one meal. Experience the success of that one change and then build upon the confidence that this builds to then choose to eat fewer carbs in your next meal.
Allow eating this way to evolve into a subconscious habit.
If you think about it, your current eating habits are just actions you practiced over and over again until you didn’t have to think about them anymore. They shifted from a conscious action to a subconscious one. Adopting a more appropriate macro-nutrient ratio for your current bodybuilding or training goals will eventually become a new habit if you just stick to it long enough. [ii]
[i] Goss, A. M., Goree, L. L., Ellis, A. C., Chandler-Laney, P. C., Casazza, K., Lockhart, M. E., & Gower, B. A. (2013). Effects of diet macronutrient composition on body composition and fat distribution during weight maintenance and weight loss. Obesity, 21(6), 1139-1142. doi:10.1002/oby.20191
[ii] Dolan, R., & Dayan, P. (2013). Goals and Habits in the Brain. Neuron, 80(2), 312-325. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.09.007