Protein and Carb Ratio

  • Hi, wondering if someone could give me feedback. I am a female 158 pounds. I should be aiming for 20g protein and 20g carbs per meal ? So my total day would be 120g protein and carbs and this would roughly give you the 40 40 20 ratio ? I thought I read somewhere that we were supposed to be eating our body weight in protein. Is this just for very intense athletes ?

  • Well, the "by-the-book" method ignores grams and uses a palm-and-fist method for determining portions (a portion of protein the size of your palm, and a portion of complex carbs the size of your fist). I'll assume you have a reason for wanting to count grams instead, though.

    I've done a fair bit of my own research, and there are a bewildering number of different formulas and guidelines for determining your protein requirements, calorie requirements, and ideal carb-protein-fat ratio. A number of them will give different answers depending on information you haven't provided, such as: Is your goal primarily fat loss or muscle growth? What is your current body fat percentage? etc. 158 pounds might be high or low depending on your height and build.

    Doing a quick "sanity check" calculation on your numbers: If you target 20g protein and 20g carbs per meal in a 40-40-20 ratio, that would give you 200 calories per meal or 1200 calories total per day, which seems pretty low unless you have a high body fat percentage and primarily want to lose fat. Doing your body weight in protein (round it to 26g protein per meal, or 156g per day) at 40-40-20 would give you 260 calories per meal, or 1560 per day, which is probably more reasonable (again, unless you're trying to lose a lot of body fat).

    I'd also note that when I did "test meals" using the book's palm-and-fist method, they ranged from a 40-40-20 to a 50-30-20 ratio (carb-protein-fat). 40-40-20 is probably better for fat loss.

  • Hi, my body fat percentage is 25 percent. My goal is fat loss. I am 5 ft 7 and medium build... for meats I do the palm fist method but a lot of my foods, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, I wanted to be able to hit the right target. I just get confused if 20 is the minimum or if I should aim for more protein.


  • OK - that gives you a lean body mass of about 118.5 lbs, let's call it 120 for convenience. Going with the figures on Dr. Hussman's fitness site (, that would give a daily calorie intake range for fat loss of 1080-1320. The most common protein requirements I've seen for people engaging in BFL-levels of exercise are 1g/lb lean mass, or 0.8g/lb body weight. Those would work out to 120g and about 126g, respectively, for you. If you use the rule-of-thumb that calories should come 40% from carbs, 40% from protein, and 20% from fat, those work out to daily calorie intakes of 1200 and 1260, respectively - pretty much in the middle of Hussman's range.

    So, your initial thought works out - shooting for 20g protein, 20g carbs and about 4.5g fat per meal (total 200 calories) on average should work for what you want.

    Do note, though, that we're all different, and the rules of thumb don't always work well. When I apply these formulas to myself, I get a target whose upper end is 30g protein per meal, 1800 calories per day. My fat loss stalls at that level; I have to up calories to the 2100-2300/day level and kick protein up to 45-50% of calories.

  • Also - aiming for more protein won't hurt at all, it's just that you probably don't need to. Treat 20g/meal as your low-end target. And my personal rule of thumb is to aim for getting at least 10% of your carbs as fiber if possible (the test meal plans I analyzed ranged from 9-15% of carbs from fiber). My final rule of thumb is not to get too obsessive over any of it :-).

  • EAS, even during the Bill Phillips day, would recommend 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of carb for each pound of scale body weight as an alternative to the palm/fist method.  Take that 20g and put up to 25, at least for your protein. 

    Jessica Mighty Max ~ 2013 Body-for-LIFE Champion ~ Champion is a VERB!

  • This is all rather confusing.  I know it will become clearer as I progess.  That hussmanfitnes site is great but how do I know my bodyfat percentage? I'm going to have to bookmark this page and read it a few times through to get this right I think :)  So I'm 48, weigh 166, 5'6" and am trying to fat loss and overall tightening of my body.  I understand the fist/palm method but if I'm eating something that is a casserole (let's say) or some other dish that combines the foods how do you measure that?

  • Mina - best way to find your body fat percentage is to use skinfold calipers - often YMCAs and local gyms/fitness centers will do body fat testing using calipers for members. If you belong to a Y or a gym you might ask about it (or even if you don't - some will provide the service to non-members for a nominal fee).

    There are also several online calculators which use what are called "anthropometric" methods, a fancy way of saying you take measurements of yourself. Which ones you take varies by calculation method but weight, height, neck, waist, belly, and hips are common ones. These are not usually as accurate as using calipers but are more convenient.

    Casseroles and the like are the best reason for counting grams and calories instead of using the palm/fist method. Most of what my wife cooks is mixed that way, so I only use palm/fist when eating at the work cafeteria. If you don't know the calories/grams in a casserole, you gotta guess (I usually find something that's similar - for example, my wife makes a corn chowder, and for grams/calories I treat it as the same as a store-bought one I found in an online calorie counter).

  • Sounds nice, Ima keep this one in mind. :D

  • I'm not personally into calipers.  Even people trained in using them are highly inconsistent.  Find a Bod Pod in your area and have them do the athlete setting.  That will give you an accurate number. 

    Also, for measurements, here is something Uncle Mike Harris taught me:

    just measure your waist.  If that goes down, you're losing fat.  It's that simple. 

    Jessica Mighty Max ~ 2013 Body-for-LIFE Champion ~ Champion is a VERB!