“Spaghetti LEANguine” - that’s what kids used to call Sam back in middle school. He always stood with his back hunched, towering above all the other teenagers around him. Right now, he’s 27 years old, stands 6 feet tall, and works at one of Fortune 500’s companies.
No one has called Sam ‘spaghetti linguine’ in years. But on occasion, he heard this remark from a new acquaintance:
“Wow. You are so tall. And SO skinny.”
He hated his scrawny and lanky body. He loathed being introduced to new people - he knew it was only a matter of time before he’d hear that dreaded comment he was all too familiar with his entire life. Last year, he decided enough was enough. He hit the gym nearly every day, strength trained hard, and dialed in on his diet. Over time, he steadily gained lean muscle and dropped his body fat percentage below 10%.
Pete (a short, pudgy 29 year old guy) is Sam’s coworker. They worked in the same department and ran into each other on a daily basis. Pete noticed Sam’s transformation and was shocked by Sam’s progress.
“Sam, what’s your secret? Tell me EXACTLY what you did because I want to lose my belly fat and get into better shape.”
Enthusiastically, Sam shared with Pete his gym routine, what to eat, and what not to eat. Pete followed Sam’s advice and adhered to all directions - especially Sam’s diet tips.
After 3 months, Pete saw his own transformation. But not in the way you would expect.
Pete felt strong - He was able to lift a lot heavier than before. But he didn’t look leaner. In fact, he appeared a bit fatter.
Pete was incredibly upset and demoralized: “I followed everything Sam told me to do! I worked out regularly. I ate clean! I ate tons of chicken, rice, and broccoli! Why don’t I have a fit body?”
Why didn’t Pete getting the same results? What went wrong?
The simple answer: calories.
Calories and Macros
But let’s investigate this conundrum in detail. Calories is only one puzzle piece to the big picture.
Another crucial factor that must be accounted for is macronutrients. Counting macronutrients (generally referred to as macros) has gained popularity over the past few years. There’s even a niche for this lifestyle called IIFYM - If It Fits Your Macros.
Here’s the cold-hard truth: there is no perfect macro ratio. The human body is complex. A plethorna of variables (such as sleep, accurate activity tracking, the quality of the food you eat, etc.) contribute to long term changes. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Everyone has different genes, lifestyles, and goals. The best approach to figuring out your macro ratio is to follow a guideline (based on your phenotype) and tweak it as you go.
But before figuring out which macro ratio is optimal for you, it’s important to understand what macronutrients are and how they function in our bodies.
What Are Macronutrients?
Macros are the chemical compounds you ingest. When you look at a nutrition label, it displays how many grams of each macro - carbohydrates, proteins, and fats - are in a single serving. Macros plays numerous roles in the optimization of the body. Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, explains that “We cannot live without all three of these macronutrients even for a short period of time, as they’re needed for everything from growth and development to sustaining circulation and providing the brain with enough energy for cognitive functioning.”
Major function of each macro:
- Carbohydrates (glucose) - body’s #1 source for energy. Used immediately. Stored away in muscles or fat for later use
- Proteins (amino acids) - builds and maintains lean muscle mass
- Fats (fatty acids) - regulates hormones
All macros fuel our bodies with energy.
- 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
From a weight gain or weight loss perspective, macronutrients correlate with calories. Body composition, on the other hand, may be altered by macro ratios.
The Best Macro Ratio Based on Your Phenotype
The physique of a 21 year old, male football player looks significantly different from a sedentary, 52 year old female. Every person fits into one of these body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. Some individuals are a combination, depending on their body composition. Therefore, it would be ineffective to apply a ‘one shoe fits all’ method to macro ratios. You may have to modify your macro numbers based on how your body reacts to different macronutrient percentages.
But everyone has to begin from square one. Where you start is just as important as taking the first step. These 3 macro ratios (based on your phenotype) can help save time and errors in your health and fitness journey. Obi Obadike, MS., ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer and Nutrition Specialist, recommends the macro ratios listed below as a foundation.
Body Type #1: Ectomorph
From the story above, Sam represents the classic ectomorph.
- Narrow frame
- Has difficulty gaining weight (muscle or fat)
- Speedy metabolism
- High carbohydrate tolerance
Macro Ratio for Ectomorphs:
- 55% carbohydrates
- 25% proteins
- 20% fats
Body Type #2: Mesomorph
Mesomorphs have an athletic and muscular body.
- Wider shoulders & smaller waist
- Gains muscle easily
- Can gain fat more easily than an ectomorph
- Symmetrical frame
Macro Ratio for Mesomorphs:
- 40% carbohydrates
- 30% proteins
- 30% fats
Body Type #3: Endomorph
Using the story from above once again - Pete represents the endomorph.
- Gains fat easily
- Gains muscle easily
- Larger frame
- Has difficulty losing weight
- Low carbohydrate tolerance
Macro Ratio for Endomorphs:
- 25% carbohydrates
- 35% proteins
- 40% fats
If your body type is similar to Pete’s, don’t eat like Sam. That’s a formula for disaster.
Tools to Help Configure Your Macro Numbers
Calculating Your Macro Numbers:
It is entirely possible to calculate out by hand the number of carb, protein, and fat grams you need each day. This allows you flexibility and complete autonomy over the numbers you’d like to input.
But this is also time-consuming and tedious for many. There are plenty of tools online to compute your macro numbers. Many of these sites also take your goals (fat loss, maintenance, or muscle mass gain) into consideration. Here’s a couple: