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Navigating nutrition can feel like a never-ending, winding brick road, with a storm of weird diets swirling around the internet. Some diets forbid energizing carbs, while others daringly propose eating non-food items. *PASS*

Instead of echoing “Carbs, protein, and fat, oh my!” in confusion and fear, let’s explore how much carbs, protein, and fat per day is ideal to enhance strength, sharpen cognition, and improve overall well-being. 

If you’re curious about your optimal macronutrient (or “macro”) balance, join me, a dietitian, as I cut through the confusion to help you thrive and meet your goals. By the journey’s end, you’ll exclaim, “Carbs, protein, and fat, oh my!” with courage, confidence, and intelligence.

Medical disclaimer: This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. For health advice, contact a licensed healthcare provider.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients1 include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. They are vital nutrients needed in large amounts and serve as energy sources in the form of calories: carbohydrates and proteins supply 4 calories per gram, and fats provide 9 calories per gram. 

Each macronutrient offers distinct benefits, so balancing their intake is essential for maintaining health and longevity.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates (or “carbs”) are the body’s preferred fuel source, especially for our brains and muscles. Without carbs, our bodies turn to muscle and fat for energy; with carbs, we can protect our muscles and supply the necessary power for exercise.

bodybuilding-carbs-pasta-potatoes-rice-beans

Carbs are categorized into two main types: simple and complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbs are easily digested, which can spike blood sugar (glucose) levels and act as a quick source of energy. Though found in nutritious foods like dairy, simple carbs are often consumed through less nutritious-dense options like sugary drinks and snacks. 

Complex carbohydrates, including starches and fibers, digest more slowly and offer sustained energy. They are naturally sourced in nutrient-rich foods—like whole grains, beans, lentils, potatoes, and fruits—and support heart, digestive, and overall health.

Protein

Protein provides the amino acids that form all the proteins in our body. In addition to building muscle mass, protein regulates the immune system, transports nutrients, and repairs tissues, among other crucial roles.

There are primarily two different types of protein: animal-based and plant-based proteins.

meat-and-cheese-on-a-plate

Animal proteins—such as red meat, poultry, eggs, and fish—are complete proteins and supply all the essential amino acids. They also provide vital nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin B12, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Plant proteins—such as legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains—offer high-quality protein, fiber, and other nutrients. However, except for soy and select others, plant proteins may lack one or more essential amino acids. 

Fat

Despite being labeled “bad” outside the high-fat keto diet, dietary fat is essential for optimal health. It supports hormone balance, protects vital organs, enhances nutrient absorption, and provides numerous other benefits.

The key lies in the type of fat consumed; saturated and trans fats can raise the risk of high cholesterol, hypertension, and heart issues, while unsaturated fats reduce these risks and promote heart health. 

Chocolate Avacado Smoothie by Liz Thomson at iheartvegetables.com

Opt for healthy fats from olive oil, fatty fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds, and limit your intake of foods rich in saturated and trans fats, such as fried foods and pastries.

What Is the Ideal Ratio of Carbs, Protein, and Fat?

The ideal ratio of carbs, protein, and fat varies by activity level, age, health status, and other factors. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans2 (DGAs) provide evidence-based recommendations to ensure essential nutrient intake and lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

For adults, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) include:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of daily calories
  • Protein: 10-35% of daily calories 
  • Fat: 20-35% of daily calories

If tracking macronutrients, here’s how these percentages translate into a 2,000-calorie diet:

  • Carbohydrates: 225-325 grams of carbs
  • Protein: 50-175 grams of protein
  • Fat: 44-78 grams of fat

The guidelines feature recommended dietary allowances3 (RDAs), which are the average daily intake levels needed to meet the nutrient needs of nearly all healthy individuals. They recommend a daily intake of at least 130 grams of carbohydrates and suggest minimum protein intakes of 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women, or 0.8 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight. For a 200-pound individual (about 91 kilograms), this translates to roughly 73 grams of protein daily. 

A 2017 review4 highlights that the AMDR’s minimum protein threshold (50 grams) is higher than the RDA for women (46 grams), with studies indicating health benefits from protein intake well above the RDA. This underscores the importance of tailoring macronutrient targets to individual health and fitness goals.

RELATED: How Much Protein Do I Need?

How to Determine Your Macro Ratio

Although we can lean on the AMDRs, you can adapt your macronutrient distribution to leverage your goals and preferences. 

Weight Loss

The key to weight loss lies in a calorie deficit, often by consuming fewer calories than you burn. Plus, studies5 show little difference in effectiveness between popular weight loss diets like low-fat and low-carb diets6

An image for high-protein low-fat foods

While there may not be specific macros for weight loss, increasing dietary protein7 1.8 to 2.0 g/kg helps maximize fat loss, maintain muscle, and enhance fullness in a calorie deficit. Ensure fats comprise at least 20% of daily calories for sustained energy, satiety, and nutrient absorption, with the remaining calories from carbohydrates.

Muscle Growth and Bodybuilding

Protein is crucial to building muscle, and the International Society of Sports Nutrition8 suggests 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight daily suits most individuals. Because research9 is mostly inconclusive about the other two macros, aim for at least 20% of your diet to be fat to support hormonal and overall health, then adjust carbohydrate intake based on the remaining calories.

For bodybuilders in their off-season aiming for maximum muscle gain, a 2019 review10 recommends 1.6 to 2.2 g/kg of protein, 0.5 to 1.5 g/kg of fat, and a minimum of 3 to 5 g/kg of carbohydrates.

Sports Performance 

Optimizing sports nutrition11 for performance first ensures athletes consume enough calories. A macro breakdown of 45-55% carbs, 10-15% protein, and 25-35% fats suits a general fitness program. 

However, carbohydrate needs vary from 3 to 12 grams per kilogram of body weight based on exercise intensity. Carbohydrates are crucial for endurance athletes12 as their main fuel source, but their impact on power sports13 remains debated. 

nurture-life-girl-eating-meal

Protein requirements vary from 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg, and fats should account for at least 20% of total calorie intake to support health and performance.

Disease Management

Macro distribution is critical in disease management, such as modifying protein intake in chronic kidney and liver diseases1. Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) generally require 1-1.5 g/kg of protein and may need to moderate their intake of high-fiber carbohydrates and fats.

Consulting with a healthcare expert, like a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, can benefit everyone, but guidance is crucial for navigating a health condition’s complexities.

How to Balance Macro Intake

Maintaining adequate macronutrient intake is key to good health, regardless of your goals. Let’s look at how to balance your macros within a healthy diet. 

Count and Track Macros

Although counting and tracking macros isn’t for everyone or necessary to ensure a balanced diet, it can be beneficial if you appreciate detailed monitoring and have specific goals.

Pile of fresh, healthy foods

For initial guidance, online calculators and resources like our comprehensive guide, “What Should My Macros Be?” can help you understand your calorie and macro requirements based on your goals.

Vary Food Groups

If you’d instead not meticulously track macros, the USDA2 recommends meeting nutrient requirements through whole foods from various food groups, including:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Dairy products and alternatives 
  • Animal and plant proteins
  • Oils
  • Seafood
  • Seeds and nuts 

The Plate Method

The plate method2 is a simple visual tool for balancing your diet without meticulous macro or calorie counting. Divide your plate into sections:

  • Half for vegetables and fruits
  • A quarter for lean proteins
  • A quarter for whole grains or starchy vegetables

How Much Carbs, Protein, and Fat Per Day: Final Thoughts

Finding the right balance of carbs, protein, and fat is unique to each person and is shaped by health goals, lifestyle, and medical needs. However, we can lean on these core principles for initial guidance: 

  • AMDR guidelines: 45-65% carbs, 10-35% protein, 20-35% fat for a balanced diet.
  • General macro adjustments: Increasing carbs is essential for moderate and high-volume athletes while boosting protein intake supports fat loss, muscle growth, and recovery
  • Nutrition quality: Focus on whole foods and diverse choices regardless of tracking macros.
  • Diet flexibility: Adapt ratios to personal preferences and goals for sustainability and enjoyment.

So, let’s give a final, triumphant cheer of “Carbs, protein, and fat, oh my!” celebrating the informed, balanced choices that lead us to optimal health, fitness, and wellness.

How Much Carbs, Protein, and Fat Per Day: FAQs

How much protein, carbs, and fats do I need a day?

Although macronutrient needs vary, the AMDR guidelines of 45-65% carbohydrates, 10-35% protein, and 20-35% fats daily suit most adults2. 

What is the best macro ratio for weight loss?

Although there is no definitive macro ratio for weight loss, a high-protein diet (1.8 to 2.0 grams per kilogram) helps prevent muscle loss and supports fat loss in a caloric deficit.7 Ensure fat intake comprises at least 20% of total calories and adjust carbohydrates accordingly. 

How do you calculate protein, carb, and fat daily intake?

To calculate your daily intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, follow these steps:

1. Estimate calorie needs using the Mifflin St. Jeor equation or an online calculator.

2. Determine your macronutrient ratios, which typically range from 45 to 65% carbohydrates, 10 to 35% proteins, and 20 to 35% fats.

3. Convert percentages into grams based on estimated calorie needs and macro densities: 4 calories per gram for carbs and proteins and 9 calories per gram for fats. Let’s say your TDEE is 2,500 calories per day with a macronutrient distribution of 50% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and 30% fat: 
Carbs: 2,500 cals x 50% (0.50) ÷ 4 = 313 grams
Protein: 2,500 cals x 20% (0.20) ÷ 4 = 125 grams
Fat: 2,500 cals x 30 (0.30) ÷ 9 = 84 grams

4. Adjust according to your goals and bodily responses, as they are starting points, and individual needs may vary.

What is the 50 30 20 rule?

Although widely recognized as a budgeting principle, the 50/30/20 rule can also describe a dietary macro distribution of 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 20% fats.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.

References

  1. Espinosa-Salas S, Gonzalez-Arias M. Nutrition: Macronutrient Intake, Imbalances, and Interventions. [Updated 2023 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK594226/ 
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  3. ScienceDirect. (n.d.). Recommended Dietary Allowance. Recommended Dietary Allowance – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/recommended-dietary-allowance 
  4. Wolfe RR, Cifelli AM, Kostas G, et al. Optimizing Protein Intake in Adults: Interpretation and Application of the Recommended Dietary Allowance Compared with the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. Adv Nutr. 2017 Mar 15;8(2):266-275. doi: 10.3945/an.116.013821. PMID: 28298271; PMCID: PMC5347101.
  5. Kim JY. Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2021 Mar 30;30(1):20-31. doi: 10.7570/jomes20065. PMID: 33107442; PMCID: PMC8017325.
  6. Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018 Feb 20;319(7):667-679. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.0245. Erratum in: JAMA. 2018 Apr 3;319(13):1386. Erratum in: JAMA. 2018 Apr 24;319(16):1728. PMID: 29466592; PMCID: PMC5839290.
  7. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.619204. PMID: 22150425.
  8. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 20;14:20. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8. PMID: 28642676; PMCID: PMC5477153.
  9. Henselmans M, Bjørnsen T, Hedderman R, et al. The Effect of Carbohydrate Intake on Strength and Resistance Training Performance: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2022 Feb 18;14(4):856. doi: 10.3390/nu14040856. PMID: 35215506; PMCID: PMC8878406.
  10. Iraki J, Fitschen P, Espinar S, et al. Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel). 2019 Jun 26;7(7):154. doi: 10.3390/sports7070154. PMID: 31247944; PMCID: PMC6680710.
  11. Pramuková B, Szabadosová V, Soltésová A. Current knowledge about sports nutrition. Australas Med J. 2011;4(3):107-10. doi: 10.4066/AMJ.2011.520. Epub 2011 Mar 31. PMID: 23390456; PMCID: PMC3562955.
  12. Vitale K, Getzin A. Nutrition and Supplement Update for the Endurance Athlete: Review and Recommendations. Nutrients. 2019 Jun 7;11(6):1289. doi: 10.3390/nu11061289. PMID: 31181616; PMCID: PMC6628334.
  13. Payne J, Welshans M, Seeland S, Nielsen M. Nutritional Considerations for the Power Athlete. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2022 Jul 1;21(7):224-231. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000975. PMID: 35801723.

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