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Macronutrient Ratios: Don't Sacrifice Muscle Mass

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

Establishing a caloric deficit is typically how one achieves weight loss, as your body requires a certain amount of energy to function and if this isn't available, your body will burn stored energy from either #muscle or fat. The goal of course is to encourage your body to utilize fat storage while avoiding muscle catabolism. Understanding your body's preference for its #macronutrient ratio can improve your weight loss while protecting muscle mass.

Macronutrients include #protein, carbohydrates, and lipids (fats). Determining your optimal ratio of each requires a calculated percentage of each macronutrient where your body thrives. This is largely dependent upon your body type, your metabolism rate, and your typical activity levels. When you find the right balance, your body will use fat for energy while retaining muscle. This is very individualized but once you've locked in the optimal ratio, your diet and exercise efforts are far more successful. Fat loss is really about re-directing the source of that energy your body utilizes by manipulating our body's burn of energy through the foods we eat.


While having more recently received a bad reputation with trendy diets encouraging their complete elimination, #carbohydrates really are an important part of a healthy diet. They are our body's preferred source of energy as they are quite easily broken down into glucose; however, when our goal is weight loss, we want the body to work a little harder and we want it to utilize our stored body fat. Therefore, when carbohydrates aren't readily available, our body will release the hormone glucagon causing fat to convert into energy. Not only does a diet high in carbohydrates eliminate the body's need to convert fat into energy but an excess carbohydrates will be stored as fat. A balance is certainly necessary, but eliminating carbohydrates completely isn't the best approach.

Keep in mind, when we lack sufficient carbohydrates, the body can metabolize muscle for its energy needs. Eating carbohydrates can therefore, protect muscle tissue, thereby forcing the burning of fat rather than muscle. Let me say it this way, too many carbohydrates and your body will store the excess as #fat or not utilize fat for its energy supply. Too little carbohydrates and your body will burn through muscle tissue. Let's dig in a bit more before we talk about how to find your best balance.

Carbohydrates are broken down into simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. The difference is really about the speed at which the body breaks them down for use as energy. When the more simple carbohydrates are broken down the body's blood sugar quickly elevates causing the body to release insulin to bring the body back into balance. This often creates a dip in the blood sugar which then causes cravings in effort to raise blood sugar once again. We over-eat and then we crash with the #insulin spike, then we crave more unhealthy carbohydrates all while your body has halted any utilization of glucagon. Regulating carbohydrate intake is largely about regulating our blood sugar levels.

Complex carbohydrates take more time for our body to break down and utilize so they offer a more consistent and slower glucose release into the blood stream. The bulk of your carbohydrate intake should be complex, such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, yams, broccoli, carrots, pasta, quinoa, grains, beans and fruits with high fiber. Simple carbohydrates include baked goods, cookies, sugar, cereal, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, and dairy products. Interestingly, fiber is a complex carbohydrate and causes the body to absorb other carbohydrates more slowly. It is not digested by the body but rather moves through it, pulling out #lipids, toxins, and complicating the utilization of our more simple carbohydrates.

Glycemic Index

Maybe you are already familiar, certainly if you are a diabetic, you are, but the #glycemicindex is a scale that rates foods according to their ability to rise the blood sugar. The higher the rating, the more simple the carbohydrate. Ideally, one would stick to those which range between 1 and 40, and only sparingly choose those above 40. There are several which may catch you by surprise, such as watermelon (72), dates (103), pineapple (66), onions (75), beets (64), carrots (49), baked potato (85), pretzels (83) compared to doughnuts (76), and soda (72).

Eliminating carbohydrates will cause rapid weight loss, but it is not the answer for a great body. Regulating your carbohydrate intake will allow you to manipulate your body into burning more fat and less protein for energy. Finding the right portion is key and of course, choosing those with a lower glycemic index.

Proteins & Fat

Our building blocks are our #proteins. They are essential to every cell in our body and don't just grow, but also repair our bodies. Increased protein consumption helps us feel full, stimulates muscle growth, facilitates muscle retention, and has a significant affect on our basal metabolic rate. The more protein we eat, the higher our metabolism and subsequently, the more calories we burn. When paired with exercise, protein will enlarge our muscles through utilization of our amino acids.

Although we've discussed finding the proper balance of carbohydrates to enhance weight loss, one should continue to nourish themselves on protein in effort to support muscle mass. Protein is more slowly digested and requires more energy to metabolize so satiation is improved and maintained for longer periods. Great sources of protein include cottage cheese, eggs, steak, lean chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, quinoa, and nuts. The average American diet provides ample or even excessive amounts of protein. Women typically need about 46g/day with girls age 4-18 years needing about 1g/kg/d. If you consider that a 3-ounce serving of chicken, about the size of a deck of cards, is about 23g of protein and that a 1/2 cup of firm tofu provides 20g of protein, and one slice of whole grain bread is about 4g, then you'll appreciate that most of us really are obtaining plenty of proteins in our diet. The U.S. Guidelines recommend 0.8g protein/kg of ideal body weight per day, so a 70kg/154lb woman would need about 56g of protein daily. The World Health Organization recommends 10-15% of total caloric intake as protein.

Keep in mind that when evaluating the protein you are including in your daily diet, animal proteins, most especially red meat, may raise homocysteine levels and can be high saturated fats. Plant sources of protein tend to be high in fiber, potassium, folate, and magnesium. Plant-based diets are associated with lower risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, whereas a diet high in red meat (which is as little as a serving per day) increases the risk of diabetes. The bottom line is two to three servings of high-quality, protein-rich foods per day are adequate to meet the needs of most women. Add one more serving to that and men are covered. Protein sources should emphasize fish, chicken, and turkey, while limiting red meat to 1 to 2 times per week. Plant sources such as legumes and nuts are excellent choices.

Let me give a little attention to soy as it use to be quite controversial. It is true that soy offers a full complement of essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It also contains #isoflavones (genistein, daidzein, and glycitein) which act as weak estrogens or antiestrogens. There are some cultures, Asian in particular, which believe this can be protective against menopausal symptoms, breast cancer, and osteoporosis. However, studies have been somewhat inconsistent. Eating whole soy-foods is likely to offer greater benefit and less risk than eating sources that are highly concentrated. For women who have suffered breast cancer, research seems to fail to convincingly indicate if soy is helpful or not. It hasn't shown to exacerbate breast cancer when dietary levels were less than <40mg per serving/day, but of course, most oncologists error on the side of caution and recommend avoiding soy. Certainly, if one is utilizing tamoxifen or anastrozole, because soy binds to estrogen receptors, it would be important to avoiding eating soy.

Fat is also very necessary in a healthy diet. Our brains are almost entirely fat! Essential fats keep our skin and hair healthy, and are integral to hormone production. They also tame inflammation and assist in lowering the bad cholesterol. Essential fats can't be produced by the body so our bodies depend on us to offer this through our diet. Saturated fats are those without any nutritional value and actually cause harm. Nuts, avocados, #eggs, chia seeds, coconut oil, peanut butter, seeds, greek yogurt, and even dark chocolate are great sources of healthy fats. If you want to lose fat, you really do need to eat fat but saturated or trans-fats should be completely avoided.

A tip about cooking with fats: extra-virgin olive oil contains anti-oxidants, LDL-lowering sterols, and favorably affects anti-inflammatory mediators. Due to its high monounsaturated content, olive oil is less susceptible to conversion to trans-fatty acids - the really unhealthy fats which should be eliminated entirely from the diet. Olive oil is great though, for salads, but doesn't do well when the heat is applied. For high temperatures, or at least above 400 degrees, oils with a higher smoking point are preferred. We utilize #avocado oil and coconut oil in our home. Other sources of omega-3 fats include plant sources such as flaxseed, hempseed, and walnuts. Fatty fish and specialty eggs are also great sources. Aiming for two to three servings of #fish per week in order to obtain adequate omega-3 fats is optimal. If you aren't achieving this, then a high quality supplement would be recommended.

Tracking Efforts

Maybe you avoid the word "diet." Maybe you prefer to think in terms of choosing an "eating plan" or creating life long changes, but whether you choose to count calories, balancing your macronutrients, or following a more specific diet plan, you do need to commit and be consistent. There are a number of dietary tracking apps for the iPhone. I have used several and have also used a paper calendar and journal. Some prefer google sheets or notepad. Whatever works for you is fine, but stick with it!

Tracking your progress is extremely important. I am a huge fan of keeping a journal. However, it could be argued that the accuracy of your tracking is even more important. Arbitrary information isn't helpful and can be misleading. Set your goals. Do you want to lose weight? Inches? Increase muscle mass? Aim for a body fat ratio of 5-15% for men and 10-20% for women. If you have already achieved your optimal composition, then focus on creating lean muscle mass or sculpting the body you desire.

Tracking your weight is also helpful but how often is a matter of individual preference. Certainly there are some who may not find daily weights beneficial and in fact, this may cause them to struggle with obsessive compulsiveness, anxiety, or even an eating disorder. For me, because I can become somewhat disembodied and not pay a lot of attention to myself and my needs, weighing myself daily helps me stay on track. I appreciate that there will be fluctuations based on my cycle, the moon, and my macro-ratio. I also use a scale that measures my body's composition so I also evaluating my fat ratio and muscle mass. This helps me know if I am gaining muscle, gaining body fat, or losing body fat, and if so, if it is subcutaneous fat or visceral fat.

If you'd like to measure your body fat, there are a few ways to do this. I like the RenPho Body Composition scale which Amazon offers for about $30. If someone has another source other than Amazon or Walmart, I'd love to have that! I weigh myself every morning immediately after I get to use the restroom, and the results and trends are tracked on my phone. You may choose to measure your body fat with the Accu-Measure, which costs about $6.50 on Amazon. This is subcutaneous fat and like myself, my overall body fat is within normal limits, but my visceral fat, or the fat surrounding my organs, is much higher and of course, this is the fat which is far more dangerous. The Accu-Measure however, has been found to be very consistent with results obtained from an underwater body fat measurement. There is room for user error here so be sure you do read the instructions and measure the same spot from week to week.

At least once a week, if not daily, note your total body weight, your body fat percentage and if you haven't the scale to figure it for you, multiply these numbers together to figure your total body fat weight. Subtract this from your body fat weight to get your lean body mass. This tells you the weight of your body without your fat volume and I found this particularly helpful with the RenPho Body Composition scale as my muscle mass alone was very near my target #BMI, which made it clear this target wasn't appropriate for my body composition. Instead I focus on targeting my #visceral fat. The scale also measures my water composition which is greatly variable.

Consider this, if your body fat is high and your lean body mass is also high, you'll want to decrease your caloric intake and increase your cardiovascular work. If your body fat weight is low and you have high lean body mass, then you've found your sweet spot. Keep doing what you are doing. If your body fat weight is high but your lean muscle mass is low, this is often related to considerable stress or inadequate rest, so check your lifestyle habits. Recheck your results and assure they are accurate, but take of yourself. Learn to prioritize your needs. Schedule an appointment with me for a wellness consultation. If your body fat weight is low as well as your lean body mass, then eat more calories and increase your protein intake if you're under your body weight. Increasing weight training will also help. If your body weight went up by your lean body mass remained the same, eat less calories and slightly increase cardio. If your body fat weight went down and your lean body mass remained the same, keep on the same plan!


The recommendation on the perfect daily amount of water is all a little arbitrary, but the Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume nine cups of total beverages per day. Of course, activity level, overall health, geographic location, and temperature will all effect our needs. Women should drink enough water to quench their thirst, but keep in mind, if you are disembodied you may not respond to your body's needs for water. Many women for example ignore their need to empty their bladder for hours. Our family has a water filtration system that has made water the preferred drink for myself and all my children. We rarely drink anything else, but if you need some flavor every now and then, consider tea. Sugar-sweetened beverages though are among the very worst thing we can put into our bodies, but I get it, the are addictive as crack-cocaine (and not by accident).

Hydration is crucial for weight loss and staying on top of your fluid intake can help prevent eating those times you confuse thirst for hunger. I do this often sadly. Over the age of four, women need approximately 50 to 60mL water/kg body weight. This is about the same number of ounces equivalent to two-thirds of your body weight in pounds. As girls reach their teens however, their needs are more similar to adults, which is about an ounce for each pound of weight.

Prepare for the Hurdles

Life will definitely offer you some challenges, so be clear about your goal. Create a plan to help you reach this goal and then take time to mentally and emotionally prepare for the obstacles which will challenge you. You'll want to make clear to your support system that you have created this goal and will need their support. If they love you and value you, they will not only support you, but help you be accountable to your goal. If you find someone sabotaging you, communicate your needs to them, but recognize this is toxic to you. Draw healthy #boundaries with your #relationships.

Tracking your progress is so incredibly helpful because hurdles will be seen much sooner than when they smack right into you. Seeing results is encouraging, objective, and motivating. Take time to meditate and set your intentions. Be mindful when you do eat. Don't work or drive while you eat, park and pay attention to what you are putting into your body. This will greatly impact what you are eating, how much, and help control your snacking. Consider that when you truly love and value yourself, you don't feed yourself harmful, toxic foods. You are cautious and thoughtful about what you feed your Littles.

Avoid being overly critical of yourself, or getting stuck seeking a perfect plan before you can even start. Condition your mind for hurdles and remind yourself that you are resilient. As you move through this journey, you must keep in mind your value as you are today - you are already perfectly loved and worthy. This isn't about obtaining a certain look, but more about improving the quality of the emotional relationship you have with yourself. Your investment in yourself is a result of knowing your value. It is because you want to be your best self, to live a life of vitality, because you deserve the best version of your life. Choosing a healthy life style has nothing to do with your innate quality as a human being. When we recognize our value, we invest in ourselves. This will improve our energy level, our confidence, and ultimately our value in ourselves.

Share with me your plan. I'd love to hear from you. Check out the #Mediterranean-based diet, the #Anti-inflammatory diet, the #Low-carbohydrate diet, and the #elimination diet. Are you hiring a personal trainer or taking advantage of the trainers available at the gym? Are you using machines or free weights? What eating plan have you determined a good fit for you? Are you taking yoga or pilates or barre? Have you created a plan for tracking your progress? Read this blog post about keeping the promises you make to yourself.

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