The Significance of Nutrient Ratios


What are the best nutrient ratios of carbohydrates to proteins to fats?  Before delving into that let’s first see what these nutrients are all about:

 The Importance of Carbohydrates in Nutrient Ratios

Eating in our society today revolves around diets that are high in carbohydrates and rightly so, because the world’s population has never been greater than it is at this time.   Generally speaking, carbs are very inexpensive.  They keep vast populations of the world alive and nourished and represent the main source of our nutritive fuel.  Carbs are made up of sugars and are converted by the body into glucose which is stored as quick energy in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen.  Carbs can be simple or complex in that complex or slow burning carbs (like brown rice) take longer to be broken down into energy than simple carbs (like table sugar).   In the early 1980s, carbs began to be categorized as to how fast they break down and become blood glucose (sugar).  This has become known as the glycemic index. Variations of the same kind of carb can be on a different glycemic level:  In the glycemic index, brown rice is a slower burning carb than white rice.  It is interesting to note that carbohydrates are widely consumed as our main energy source yet they are not essential to sustaining life.  You could live healthily the rest of your life without ever eating another carb.

The Importance of Proteins in Nutrient Ratios

With few exceptions (quinoa and soybeans), most carb foods known to have protein such as rice, wheat bread and oatmeal are not complete proteins but if you add vegetables and other whole foods to a diet, the body will temporarily store and then internally assemble the needed 9 essential amino acids to make complete proteins.  Complete proteins in raw form can, of course, be obtained from animal sources in the forms of meat, eggs, milk, and cheese.  Proteins are used in all the cells of your body. There is a constant debate as to how much protein to eat.  If you are not terrible active, 1 gram per kilogram of body weight is perfectly fine.  If you are a very active athlete then your body has greater needs so 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight will suffice better.

Among the three macro-nutrients (carbs, proteins, fats), only proteins contain the element nitrogen.  That is why when you get a physical, your doctor may look at the nitrogen levels on certain blood tests such as for the kidneys.  He or she will study the test results to see how efficiently your body is dealing with protein.  Incidentally, if you eat a lot of protein, tell your doctor before taking your blood test so that he’ll have less to guess about when he sees so much of a positive nitrogen balance on the results.

Protein can be converted to energy in the form of glucose if the body needs it right away but it cannot be stored as energy.  Although the facts of exactly how protein synthesis takes place in the body are not all in, if you eat too much protein, it will end up as waste.

The Importance of Fats in Nutrient Ratios

Fats are without a doubt the most misunderstood nutrient.  You can live without carbohydrates but you cannot live without proteins and fats.  It’s true.  Proteins and fats are essential nutrients.  There are many vitamins and micronutrients that can only be absorbed and transported with fats.  More than two thirds of your brain is made up of fat.

Fats are very energy dense.  There are 9 calories of energy stored in one gram of fat.  In contrast, a gram of protein or carbs stores about 4 calories each.  So if you eat a high fat diet, you will be eating a lower volume of food to satisfy your caloric needs and might be prone to overeat.  Saturated fat contains a little more energy than unsaturated fats.  Both saturated and unsaturated fats are very healthy for you.  Half of all cell membranes are made out of saturated fat.  The reason why some fats are called saturated is because their carbon atoms are fully saturated with 2 hydrogen atoms each whereas the unsaturated fats have carbon atoms in which only one hydrogen atom is bonded to them; the other bond is joined to another carbon atom.

It is trans-fats (in junk foods and margarine) that are bad for you because they are usually commercially made and do not metabolize (break down) in your body.    They can also become part of cell membranes messing up insulin receptors which can lead to insulin resistance.  Saturated and unsaturated fats are good.  Trans-fats are bad.

 No Such Thing as the Best Nutrient Ratio

The macro nutrient ratio of carbs to protein to fat can be difficult to ascertainThe reason is because everyone’s metabolism is different and may change from day to day.  You may be a bodybuilder or a runner or both or perhaps sedentary.  The dietary goals of people are not the same.  One person wants to gain weight, another wants a weight loss plan.  No hard and fast formulas will be given here but only an idea of what this is all about.

Firstly, what are your caloric needs?  There are plenty of calorie calculators on the web.  Here is one:  http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/

Let us say you need 2,400 calories per day on the average.

Secondly, in order to get enough protein you need calculate your lean body weight.  If you are sedentary, multiply by 1 gram per kilogram of body weight.  If your are at the gym six days a week dripping with sweat and fatigue then multiply by 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.  Most are somewhere in between.  If you need to convert pounds to kilograms: http://www.calculateme.com/Weight/Pounds/ToKilograms.htm

Maybe you have figured that you are a somewhat active person and you need 100 grams of protein per day.  Now let’s make this simple.  You’re getting all of your 100 grams a day from whole large eggs (maybe?).  Each egg has 6.25 grams of protein and is 75 calories (45 calories from fat, 30 from the protein).  You need to eat 16 of those eggs a day to get 100 grams of protein (100 / 6.25 = 16).

Thirty calories of the egg are protein so for 100 grams of protein you are consuming 480 calories of protein for those 16 eggs a day (30 calories for 1 egg times 16 eggs).  You are also eating 720 calories of fat from all those eggs (16 eggs times 45 calories of fat for 16 eggs).

You are consuming 20% protein in your diet. [480 protein calories / 2,400 total = .2( x 100)]

You get the idea on how to calculate?  Then I’ll let you have all the fun to figure out the fat and carb percentages.

Thirdly, what is your energy source?

Your energy source will be either mostly carbs or fats.  Proteins should never take up the major percentage of the ratio.  For instance, the carb/pro/fat ration should not be 30/60/10.  Either carbs or fats should take up the larger percentage.  Most sports nutritionists these days take a carbohydrate oriented approach for their athletes’ energy source.  This has been known to work and sometimes there is way too much money on the line to experiment by putting athletes on a low carb paleolithic diet.  (Good luck to you as a sports nutritionist if you do).

Typical percentage spreads would be:

Carbohydrates between 45 and 65 percent

Protein between 15 and 35 percent

Fat between 20 and 35 percent

For example, one ratio of carb/pro/fat might be 60/20/20.  Another might be 55/25/20.

For protein, get lean cuts of meat.  Eat complex, slow burning carbs and stay clear away from junk food and trans-fats.  Eat plenty of colorful vegetables and don’t eat too much fruit.

For Low Carbers

First of all, congratulations for taking the jump and getting into a low carb diet.  The ratio of carb/pro/fat it should be something like 20/20/60.  You must be aware, however that there is scant research with athletics and high fat diets.   That is not to say they won’t work for you.  There are, for instance, long distance runner hobbyists who eat high fat diets.  In the area of weight training,  the typical bodybuilding nutrient ratio changes.  Most bodybuilders when going on a cutting diet switch to a low carb approach.  When they do, however, they usually lose some strength.  If they stay on the diet and consume more fat at a caloric surplus would this turn around?   Again, there not much research on this.  The important thing to remember is that you are using fat for energy and not protein so the fat percentage has to be way above the protein.

Whatever nutrient ratio you choose, don’t obsess over it.  Eat moderately with healthy wholesome foods and everything will take care of itself.  As to gaining or losing weight, it doesn’t matter about low carb or low fat because the bottom line is that it’s all about how many calories you put in your mouth.  If you want more information about using fat as an energy source here is a classic article:  http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/fat-not-protein.html.  Nutrient ratios are very dependent upon what you are using for your main energy source.

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