Carbohydrates and fat have both been bad boys in the dieting world in the last couple of decades.
Fat used to be the enemy – the name itself implies negativity. No one wants excess body fat, so to lose fat, you should cut fat from your diet. This sounds sane enough, and it was with great gusto that nutritionists, fitness magazines, bodybuilders and celebrities promoted the low fat diet for weight loss.
Then we got a little smarter, and realized that a diet devoid of fat is far from a healthy diet and that in fact, restricting fat may actually result in the body holding on to excess fat stores – definitely not good news.
After this, it was the low carb craze, centered mainly around the Atkins diet. The theory was that carbs raise levels of insulin in the bloodstream, and insulin blunts fat loss. While the first part of this is absolutely true, the role of insulin is a little more complex than simply preventing fat loss. Stable levels of insulin are vital for general health, and when you’re eating in a calorie deficit (ie. consuming fewer calories than you burn, elevated insulin levels will have no negative impact on fat loss.)
Now there thankfully seems to be a more balanced approach. The mainstream media and dieticians, while still slightly holding on to their old beliefs, generally recommend that any healthy diet should include both carbohydrates and fat.
We realize the importance of carbs for energy, and the health benefits they offer – mainly fiber from wholegrains, beans and pulses, and vitamins and minerals on fruits and vegetables. Likewise, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve probably heard of EFAs, or Essential Fatty Acids. These are the fats our bodies can’t do without. The most common one is omega 3 – the fat found in oily fish, but nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado and tropical fats such as coconut and palm oil all contain these vital fats.
While these newer recommendations are fairly solid, and would work for general weight loss and health, it still doesn’t answer the question about what is the optimal ratio for fat loss.
Low carb zealots will say that any fat loss diets should contain as little carbohydrate as possible, even restricting the consumption of vegetables, while the low fat warriors will insist that your diet should be mainly based around grains and plant foods, with very small amounts of fats and animal products (much like the food pyramid.)
To get optimal results though, you need the unbiased facts on what is the optimal ratio of carbs and fat for fat loss.
Working Out Your Ideal Protein, Carb And Fat Ratio
First off, everybody is different – what works amazingly well for you may be a terrible choice for the next person. You might thrive off a diet containing rice, bread, pasta and small amounts of fat, while your best friend could but on 5-pounds just by looking at a bagel, yet feel fantastic eating copious amounts of salmon, almonds, butter and steak.
However, for an excellent base point and a solid ratio on which to start your fat loss diet, you can’t go wrong with the following:
Calories are the most important factor in any diet, so work them out. There’s no second guessing when it comes to calories – use an equation such as the Harris Benedict equation (for which there are numerous free Online calculators for) to work out how many calories you should consume every day based on your age, gender, height, weight and activity levels. This will give you your maintenance figure – the number of calories you should eat per day to maintain weight. Take 400 from this number, and this is your daily calorie intake for fat loss.
Protein obviously isn’t the focus of this article, but you need to work it out too. Eat one gram of protein for every pound of body-weight each day. So if you’re 150-lbs, you’ll eat 150 grams of protein.
Fat is vital for maintaining a healthy metabolism, organ function and hormone production. Fat should make up roughly 30% of your total calories.
So if your total calorie intake is 2000, your fat intake should be 600 calories. There are 9 calories in one gram of fat, so divide 600 by 9 to get your fat intake, which equals just under 67g.
Carbs should make up the rest of your total calories. Here’s how you work them out:
Protein has 4 calories per gram, so multiply 150 by 4, which gives you 600.
We already know that you’re eating 600 calories’ worth of fat, so 600 from fat plus 600 from protein equals 1200 calories.
Take 1200 from 2000 (your total calorie intake) to leave you with 800. This is the number of calories you’ll get from carbs. There are 4 calories in a gram of carbohydrate, meaning you’ll eat 200g of carbs per day.
So to sum up
Calories – 2000
Protein – 150g
Fat – 67g
Carbs – 200g
Now, this is just a starting point, and you may need to make alterations as you progress.
200g may seem like a fairly high number to begin with, but remember that when starting a fat loss diet, you really don’t want to be too aggressive with cutting calories or carbs. You need somewhere to go when progress starts to plateau. If you go straight in with ultra-low calories and a minimal carb intake, you’ll end up starving yourself later down the line.
The key is to monitor regularly and adjust as needed. If you’re naturally skinny and don’t carry much body fat, you’ll do better with a higher carb and lower fat intake, likewise of you’re starting with more body fat, then you may need to cut carbs sooner and bump up your fat intake to compensate. For the lucky ones that are both lean and muscular, make sure you keep your protein intake high, and you’ll probably do just fine with higher calories, fat and carbs, as your metabolism is genetically superior.
The other hugely beneficial practice in any fat loss diet is introducing higher cab days, or “refeeds.” These involve bumping your carbs up by 50% while lowering your fat intake by 10-15 grams to give your metabolism a kickstart and maintain progress. Implement a refeed once every four to five days.
The above carb and fat ratios are the perfect place to start, but remember to monitor and adjust, varying the diet to suit your genetics, body type and results.