Would you believe that your body composition and weight goals are determined almost entirely by your diet? That’s why macronutrient ratios are so important to understand. I’m going to provide some baseline numbers of protein that you want to be hitting consistently every day for bodily function. Carbohydrates will be determined based on your goals and activity levels, and fat will fill in the gaps.
How much protein should I consume each day on a paleo diet?
With various sources telling us how much protein we need each day, there is a little bit of information to wade through to get to an answer. An extensive article by Bayesian Bodybuilding reviewed several articles from 1988 on to come up with a fairly consistent answer that the body does not benefit past 0.82g of protein per pound of weight, and this number already includes a buffer from the bare amount needed for optimal muscle building, repair and recovery. Does that mean you shouldn’t eat more protein than that? No of course not, foods containing good quality protein can always be consumed, excess protein will be converted to energy in the body.
A highlight from one of the studies examined bodybuilders training over one hour each day, for six days a week and found that 0.75g/lb is the highest intake at which body composition benefits could occur.
So use this information to your benefit, a lot of knowledgeable people will say 1g/lb of weight, or 1g/lb of lean body mass, and we can see where these numbers came from. With all of the studies posting numbers like 0.82g/lb or 0.75g/lb it’s easy to round up to 1g/lb and call it a day. Another benefit of consuming protein at 1g/lb is the thermogenic effect of protein when consumed. This is beyond the scope of this post, but basically a calorie of protein takes more energy from the body to digest than calories from carbohydrate and fat. Increased protein consumption has been linked to greater feelings of satiety and increased fat loss.
How many carbohydrates should I eat on a paleo diet?
Carbohydrates are going to be the one macronutrient where your intake will vary from person to person for a good reason: your weight goals. Mark Sisson’s carbohydrate recommendations are as follows, he state that carbohydrate intake levels are often the biggest factor in weight loss and prevention of widespread health problems.
0-50 grams per day: Mark recommends this range for rapid fat loss through intermittent fasting. It should not be used for extended periods of time, however it can be used in medically supervised programs for severely obese individuals, or Type 2 diabetics.
50-100 grams per day: He calls this the “Sweet Spot” for weight loss. Here you will steadily drop excess body fat by minimizing insulin production. Lose a few pounds per week of fat while eating meals of mainly proteins, fats, and some veggies.
100-150 grams per day: Mark calls this the “Primal Maintenance Zone”. Once you’ve ideal body composition, you can maintain it quite easily here while enjoying natural foods of your choice to fill you up. I would also classify this zone for athletes, or very active individuals doing high-intensity endurance activities.
150 grams and beyond: This is within the weight gain zone for most people. Mark says this is where most health conscious eaters and unsuccessful dieters end up. The large amounts of breads, wheat, corn, rice and pastas lead to weight gain over the years despite trying to do the “healthy” and right thing.
How much fat do I need each day on a paleo diet?
Fat is the most dense source of energy coming in at 9 calories per gram. If you’re consuming lower amounts of carbohydrates, guess where all of your energy will be coming from? That’s right, from dietary and stored body fat. Our bodies store fat for when we don’t have food to consume for energy, we also use our fat stores for lower intensity exercises and daily movements.
Unfortunately, unlike the studies that have been done on protein, there’s no magical number to give everyone for an amount of fat they should consume. I’ve heard numbers like 0.5g/lb of bodyweight thrown around, but if you’re on a paleo style diet chances are you’re already consuming much more than that. High amounts of fat are found in avocados, oils, eggs, and meats; all natural paleo goodness. My one rule for fat is simple, enjoy and make it a main source of your calories and nutrition, although ensure that it’s within your caloric needs.
Some examples of setting macronutrient targets on a paleo diet
So we’ve outlined protein requirements, carb levels for various goals and activity levels, and some guidelines for fat consumption. Let’s go over a few examples to really hit home on where you want to be at depending on your goals.
Case 1: You want to lose weight
In this example, Kaitlyn wants to lose weight by eating 1600 calories per day, she currently weighs 140 pounds. Check out how I’ll calculate her macros below to lose weight while exercising a few times a week. This will be a more aggressive low-carb and higher fat weight loss method.
Case 2: High activity levels - athletic performance is a concern
For active individuals, athletes and anyone concerned with performance for long periods of time, you’re going to want to be consuming more carbohydrates than most paleo plans would recommend. Having your glycogen levels topped off, and consuming enough carbs to replenish them after exercising is going to be one of your top priorities when it comes to planning your macros. Let’s go over an example for Kyle: he weighs 170 lbs and is very active, we’re going to put him consuming 200g carbohydrates which should be enough for some complex carbs throughout the day, and in his pre and post-workout meals. Check out the calculations below for his 2400 calorie per day plan:
Case 3: You want to maintain weight
Let’s take Bob for example. Bob weighs 160 pounds and is interested in maintaining his weight by eating roughly 2000 calories per day. So let’s make Bob’s macronutrient ratios together.
There you have it, some baseline numbers to set your macronutrient ratios at, and even a few examples to get you started on calculating your own macros based on your goals and activity levels. Embrace experimentation and don’t be afraid to switch it up if you’re not getting the results you want, or, if you’re not happy with your energy levels.
Remember, eat the best quality food you can - drink water, eat animals that themselves have eaten well, and eat copious amounts of vegetables. Work hard to reach that goal weight or body composition, and maintain it to enjoy your health for the rest of your life.
About the author
Scott Wolowich is an advocate of the natural lifestyle, and anything to do with a barbell. He went to the University of Guelph in Canada, and was a competitor on the varsity wrestling team during his time there. In recent days, he focuses on strength training, olympic lifting, and tweaking his diet for max performance. Follow Scott's posts for a dose of real experiences mixed with scientific evidence for optimizing the Paleo lifestyle for athletic performance and everyday life. Scott also writes about nutrition and fitness at www.strongsumo.com.