LET’S TALK ABOUT MACROS! Everyone wants to know what the “right” macronutrient ratio is… you know – the one that’s going to FINALLY help them achieve their goals!
(Just to be clear, throughout this post I’ll be talking about macros, but not in the sense of actually counting / tracking them. That being said, I think most people are aware of what on their plate is a carb, a protein, and a source of fat, and therefore most people have a relative idea of their general macros (if they tend to be higher fat, higher carb, etc.) without actually counting.)
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are definitely clear “camps” in the health space right now (well, there always are) when it comes to macronutrient ratios. Every macronutrient gets demonized by one person but glorified by someone else. Macros are like a religion in the health sphere, and most people have aligned themselves with a particular “ideology.” You might associate certain people with keto, others with high carb, and others with high protein. Maybe you’re confused because multiple authorities you trust promote completely different macronutrient ratios, and they’re all convincing. WHAT DO YOU DO?!
One day you hear that keto will help you lose weight, eliminate cravings, and put your autoimmune disease into remission, and then the next day you hear that it will wreck your hormones and gut health and eventually make you gain weight. Then you hear that a high carbohydrate, vegan diet will get rid of your digestive problems and cure cancer… but wait – what about people saying that you should go high fat for those issues? Maybe yesterday you heard that you need more protein to stay lean, but then today you heard that people don’t really need as much protein as they think to build muscle.
There is a lot of conflicting information out there, and I can see how it is very confusing, and enticing, for anyone on the Internet. We’ve got some “experts” telling us to eat all the healthy fats because you can never have too much, but then other “high fat” advocates warn you to limit your fat so that your body can burn its own fat. Or they’ll tell us to eat all the healthy fats, but watch the saturated fats because they can affect gut health. But what about those who argue we need MORE saturated fat in our diets, because apparently that’s what our ancestors thrived off of and too many monounsaturated fats can cause problems?!
Meanwhile, those in the “low protein camp” argue that we should limit protein to suppress mTOR and improve longevity, while people in the “high protein camp” assert that muscle is key for longevity, and we need “high protein” for muscle synthesis and preservation.
How about CARBS?! Very hot topic. Some argue that a very low carb diet is the key to health, while others say it will tank your thyroid, energy, sleep, and mood. Some people claim that a high-carb, low-fat diet is the best way to lose weight, while others argue that a low-carb, high-fat diet is the way to go. Is fruit going to make you gain weight?! Are you eating too many carbs? Not enough?!
There’s another issue, though. What even is high fat? What even is high protein? What even is high carb? And what is LOW fat, low protein, and low carb?! These are all completely subjective. Someone in the paleo space might consider 100 g a day to be a high protein diet, while someone in the bodybuilding world might think that’s low. Someone on “hardcore” keto might consider 75 g of carbs a day to be high, while someone not on keto might consider that to be very low carb. People throw these terms out there, but there’s no standardization of anything. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, I’m just calling attention to it because I know people forget this when they’re reading things on the Internet. The author might call something “high protein”, but is the author’s idea of high protein the same as yours?
Everyone has their alignment, and there are a lot of convincing, conflicting arguments each way. So, what IS the the perfect macronutrient ratio?! The magical one that will finally help everyone achieve their health goals?!
There isn’t one. Obviously. If there was one macronutrient ratio that worked for everyone and got everyone the results they wanted, don’t you think we would’ve figured that out by now? There is not just one “right” macro ratio, because we are all different. Hello, bioindividuality. Many things work. And many things don’t. What works for me is probably different than what works for you. Especially if we have different goals, but even if we have the same goals. Beyond that, what works for me right now is probably different than what’s going to work for me next year. I’m a changing human. It’s pretty cool.
That’s also why it’s so confusing for consumers, though. People find what works for them at a certain time in their lives, and then they tell everyone else it’s going to work for them, too. So they promote it as the end-all be-all, and often stick with it even if it eventually doesn’t work for them anymore, either. It’s hard for people to admit they’ve changed their minds, especially if they’ve built an entire career around one idea. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you’d be surprised how many people do not practice what they preach.
There are people in the health space who align themselves with one very specific macronutrient ratio and claim it works for EVERYBODY, and while that might get them a lot of attention initially, I don’t think it’s a smart move longterm. What if you change your mind? What about all of the new science and studies that come out constantly? What about flexibility?! WHAT ABOUT BIOINDIVIDUALITY?! And what about the fact that the female body’s needs are much different than the male body’s? People like to look at studies on large groups of men and make blanket statements about how the findings apply to everyone. Hold your horses. My hormonal rhythms are very different from yours, Bob!!!
This is different than people who generally lean in one direction in terms of what works for them / what they promote, but are open to the fact that others are different. For instance, following a high-fat, low-carb diet and promoting that way of eating by explaining its benefits but also respecting the idea that higher carb, lower fat diets do work for some others is very different from eating high-fat, low-carb and telling everyone else that they need to as well and if they don’t, they’re doing everything wrong. Can you see my eyes rolling? This differentiation is important to make, though, because there are a lot of people who do align themselves with a specific way of eating and promote it, but they’re still respectful of people who choose to eat differently. They’re not stuck on the idea that what they’re doing right now is the only way to eat healthfully, and they also recommend flexibility and adjustments for those who aren’t feeling great eating that way.
I want to talk about keto, specifically, for a minute. It seems like everyone is obsessed with going keto, and they don’t even know why. Most people are doing keto wrong, anyways, but that’s another discussion. I’m talking about this as someone who loves keto, has used it to overcome a few health issues, and thinks it’s a GREAT tool for many people. I’m all about keto if it’s really working for someone. BUT IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE. Not everyone needs to be keto. It alone is not going to solve every person’s health issues. If someone is doing a proper ketogenic diet and feeling great, then I’m all about it. But if you’re trying to force it on your body for no reason other than because you heard your favorite influencer is doing it (or so they claim), I’m not about that. (Also, eating one low carb, high fat meal does not make you keto. Sorry. Ketosis is a metabolic state. Also, low carb is not the same thing as keto. I digress.) If higher carb works better for you, EAT THE CARBS. (Healthy carbohydrates, implied.) Also, I have to address the fact that there are all sorts of “camps” within the keto space itself – moderate protein, higher protein, super high fat, less high fat, carb cycling, the list goes on. People are literally arguing about whether 80% fat keto is better than 70% fat keto.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who have tried low carb diets and didn’t feel great, so now they are running around telling everyone that low carb diets are horrible and don’t work for anyone, or doing some major low-carb shaming. Whoa, whoa, whoa. We need to stop the shaming and the close-mindedness in every single direction. Just because something worked for you, IT’S OKAY IF IT DOESN’T WORK FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Also, why do people feel like they need to be on one end of the spectrum or the other? What if, *GASP*, you felt better with a moderate amount of everything?! That actually tends to be where many people fall, but we’re a society that loves to glamorize the extremes. More exciting.
My point is, there’s no perfect macronutrient ratio that works for everyone at all times. How about focusing on YOU? What YOU need and how YOU feel? Take ideas from others, learn about their experiences, and think about it as an option. Try things out, see what’s working for you and what’s not, adjust as you go, and be open to what you haven’t tried before if you’re still not feeling your best. Education is amazing! Sharing experiences is amazing! But don’t feel like you have to apply everything you learn about.
Also, we can’t neglect the fact that sometimes even the smallest changes in macros can make a huge difference for some people. For instance, sometimes going from around 15% protein up to 20% can make a huge improvement for someone, or just adding in an extra 20 g fat a day, or adding or removing 25 g of carbs. Small adjustments can make big changes in the way people feel.
There’s not one very specific macronutrient ratio that works for every person across the board, but there are some things we do know when it comes to macronutrient ratios. Clues, so to speak. When we look at the history of hunter-gatherer populations, they ate a variety of macronutrient ratios. Some groups ate more carbs, others more fat, some more protein, others less. There is a range of macronutrient ratios across hunter-gatherer societies, and the percentages that are typically referenced for our paleolithic ancestors are about 22-40% carbohydrates, 19-35% protein, and 28-58% fat. Again, that’s a general range. You could pick the lowest percentage of one macro and pair it with the highest percentage of another and get something very different than if you picked from the mid-range of each. Also, that doesn’t account for every single population. There have certainly been many healthy populations that ate over 58% fat. In fact, I recommend a diet that is over 60% fat to the majority of people. But again, nothing is set in stone for everyone.
This range of macronutrient ratios across healthy populations makes sense considering the variation in climate and food availability in different areas of the world, as well as the fact that our genes might allow our bodies to respond differently to certain nutrients than others might. The work of Dr. Weston A. Price also showed that every truly healthy culture has included some type of animal protein in their diet, but the amount varies. They also all consumed some type of raw animal food….but that’s for another time.
The point is, our bodies require animal protein to function optimally, but the amount is different for different populations. Also, most healthy cultures ate diets much lower in carbohydrates than the Standard American Diet, because Americans today consume 300 g of carbs per day thanks to refined sugars and highly processed foods. When you take those out of the equation and stick to a whole-foods diet, you’re already “low carb” compared to what the average American eats, even if you’re “high carb” in the paleo community and eat plenty of starch and fruit.
In the context of the SAD, I would recommend a “low carb” diet for everyone’s overall health, simply because I recommend a whole-foods, predominantly paleo diet to everyone for overall health. But within the space of eating REAL food, some people certainly might feel better with “higher carb paleo.” Again, it’s all relative. Same with fat. Many people feel better adding in healthy fats to their diet, but does that mean everyone feels best super high fat all the time? Nope, not at all.
I recommend trying different macronutrient ratios and ways of eating and truly listening to what your body responds to, not just what your friend said worked for her. When reading advice, think about who the author is talking to. The general population? A specific demographic? Are you really their demographic? Be open to the fact that not everything is going to work for your body, and it’s okay to try what’s less “popular.” We need to stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
Maybe Tommy lost 50 pounds on keto, but going keto gave you amenorrhea and made you gain 10 pounds. Maybe Jane cleared her skin with a high carb diet, but eating all of that fruit makes your face break out in cystic acne. We’re all unique.
Also, it’s a good idea to stop and think about what your goals actually are. Is your goal to support your thyroid? Lose weight? Build muscle? Boost athletic performance? Clear up your skin? Address your mental health? Improve your sleep? Just support overall health and longevity? These are all different goals, and all might require slightly different macronutrient ratios. Figure out what you’re actually aiming for, and then use that goal to decide what you should try out first!
I caution you to be very wary of anyone who says that a certain way of eating or specific macronutrient ratio alone with NO adjustments is going to solve all of your problems, no matter who you are. Or that you should eat a certain way FOREVER. That does not make ANY sense. How does that person know what’s right for you and your body?! Anytime I hear someone claiming a specific macro ratio is perfect for everyone, big red flag. It’s one thing to suggest a flexible macronutrient ratio for a population of people struggling with a certain health condition or common goal – there are definitely commonalities amongst certain populations. It’s another thing to promote your way of eating as the only way to eat, and to never entertain the idea that that might not work for everyone else on the planet. Why would post-menopausal Debra eat the same as bodybuilding competitor John or 20-year-old spin instructor Sarah?
In conclusion, there is no perfect macronutrient ratio across the board that will work for everyone. Find what makes you feel best and own it. Use information and suggestions about macros based on your health status, genetics, and goals as ideas for what to try if it makes sense for your situation, but don’t take it as the word of God. Don’t feel pressure to eat a certain way that’s trendy. Don’t be ashamed to adjust if needed, and don’t feel bad about yourself if what someone suggested doesn’t work for your body. You do you. Remember, your macros don’t make you cool.