There is no perfect macronutrient ratio. Focus on calories.

Calories Are King For Weight Loss

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

6 min read

I often hear guys in the gym debating the optimal amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat to eat in order to lose weight.

Some will claim you need to cut all fatty foods from your diet, others say you must avoid carbohydrates entirely, whereas others say your diet should be an even balance of 33% protein, 33% carbs, and 33% fat.

And I think to myself:

Because when it comes to weight loss, we really don’t need to over-complicate the process with minutiae like this. Calories are king.

Table of Contents

what is the best macro ratio to lose weight?

Calories are by far the most important trackable in your diet.

Sure, I want you to be eating enough protein per day to help your body recover from your workouts and build some quality lean muscle, but it pales in comparison with the importance of controlling your total calorie intake.

You see, weight loss will never occur as a result of getting your macronutrient ratios incorrect, but rather eating too many calories overall. (1)

That means you could, in effect, gain weight eating only chicken and broccoli (as depressing as that sounds), or lose weight eating nothing but chocolate bars.

(Not that I recommend either of the above!)

So what does all of this mean?

Well, it means you’ve got a lot more freedom when constructing your nutrition plan that you’ve previously been told.

Obviously I highly recommend pumping a lot of protein into your calorie target (because you want to build muscle), but the make-up of your remaining calories can be subject to change. Some of you might want to eat a diet which is high in fat and low in carbs, and some of you might enjoy a diet which is high in carbs and low in fat, and some of you might like a diet which is moderate in both carbs and fat, and some of you might want to change it up as you go… it’s all good! (8)

This freedom also helps you to eliminate another key aspect of dieting: overwhelm.

In my 20+ years working as a personal trainer, I’ve met lots of people who put their dietary struggles down to the overwhelming stress of trying to track every little thing. Indeed, they had good intentions, but it just drove them down a frustrating path of eating the same thing every day (because it was easier to track) until theybeventually crashed off plan and binged.

Fuck that.

what is the best macro ratio to lose weight?

The law of thermodynamics is not science fiction, it’s science fact.

However, I know that those gurus can be convincing as fuck when they start demonizing entire food groups, or pin-pointing your lifelong obesity to the fact that you ate one slice of white bread as a child, so let’s go deeper on this.

We have decades of peer-reviewed data on this topic (the highest category of academic research available), and the results are conclusive:

A graph showing weight loss results with different macronutrient ratios

Yep, as long as you control your total calorie intake and eat enough protein per day to support muscle growth, you can expect the same fat loss results no matter how you structure carbohydrates and fat. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

The graph above shows you the conclusion of a study which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition back in 1992. This study compared the effects of several isocaloric diets which consisted of 15% total calories arriving from protein, and then 15-85% calories from carbs and 0-70% calories from fat.

The researchers wanted to see if they could manipulate macronutrients to achieve superior weight loss results (while keeping total calories and protein the same), and they concluded that calorie intake is the ultimate factor which determines weight loss, not the consumption of individual macronutrients. (2)

It’s not the only study to show this.

Are macros more important than calories?

In 2005 researchers from the University of Minnesota published a study in which they controlled total calorie intake and protein intake while fluctuating the amount of carbohydrates and fat in participants’ diets to see if they could do what the previous study could not.

One group of trainees followed a high carb low fat nutrition plan where they ate carb-based options which rank high on the Glycemic Index, another group followed the same nutrition plan but used carb-based foods which rank low on the Glycemic Index, and a third group of trainees followed a low carb high fat nutrition plan instead.

By the end of the trial there was less than 0.2lbs difference in the results across all of the groups, and the researchers concluded that total calorie intake is the over-riding factor in achieving weight loss success. (6)

is counting calories more important than tracking macros

The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition returned to this topic in 2007, some fifteen years after their original study was published.

Comparing the results of participants who followed either a ketogenic diet (zero carb high fat) or a strict high carb low fat diet, they once again concluded that the success of the participants’ weight loss results ultimately came down to controlling their total calorie intake. (7)

calories vs macros

If this research teaches us one thing, it’s that the best diet is the one you can stick to.

So you might have a friend who sees fantastic results by cutting carbohydrates from their diet and eating steak for breakast, but that might sound like the stuff of nightmares to you, and the good news is it doesn’t matter, because you can achieve the same weight loss results in a number of different ways!

Creating a successful long-term diet plan is done like this:

  • Control your total calories to ensure you are in a deficit.
  • Prioritize protein to help you build lean muscle tissue.
  • Tinker with your fat and carbs to find a balance which works for you.


  1. Howell S., et al. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2017).
  2. Leibel R.L., et al. Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition . Am J Clin Nutr (1992).
  3. Golay A., et al. Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr (1996).
  4. Golay A., et al. Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord (1996).
  5. Luscombe-Marsh N. D., et al. Carbohydrate-restricted diets high in either monounsaturated fat or protein are equally effective at promoting fat loss and improving blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr (2005).
  6. Raatz S. K., et al. Reduced Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diets Do Not Increase the Effects of Energy Restriction on Weight Loss and Insulin Sensitivity in Obese Men and Women. J Nut (2005).
  7. Johnston C. S., et al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr (2006).
  8. Bandegan A., et al. Indicator Amino Acid-Derived Estimate of Dietary Protein Requirement for Male Bodybuilders on a Nontraining Day Is Several-Fold Greater than the Current Recommended Dietary Allowance. J Nutr (2017).

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

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