Question: Should I use the 40/40/20 ratio to gain muscle?
Answer: While using ratios — in this case, 40/40/20 — to determine your macronutrient requirements is a good starting point, it isn’t accurate. Your body does not work on ratios — it works on the appropriate amount of macronutrients for your body weight.
Here is an example of why ratios don’t work for bodybuilders:
Mary, a very fit and active 165 pound athlete, has a maintenance intake of 3500 calories. She wants to maintain her weight and increase her strength and general body composition through bodybuilding. Based on her caloric needs, 40 percent of her calories should come from carbohydrates, an additional 40 percent should come from protein, and 20 percent should come from fats.
40 percent of 3500 is 1400, or 1400 calories. One gram of protein equals four calories. Her recommended protein intake, based on the ratio formula, is 350 grams.
Unfortunately, this number conflicts with the recommendations given by major personal training and national nutrition organizations, including the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA) and the International Sports Science Organization (ISSA). The NCSA recommends taking in 0.65 to 0.80 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For Mary, this results in a number of 107.25 to 132 grams of protein, nearly 2 1/2 times less than than the ratio formula.
The ISSA recommendation isn’t that far off — they recommend consuming 0.90 grams of fat per pound of body weight. That translates to 148.5 grams of protein.
Furthermore, studies have shown there are no discernible benefits for athletes that consume more than one gram of protein per pound of total body weight. That means Mary shouldn’t consume more than 165 grams of protein per day. The ratio recommendation is twice this amount.
It isn’t clear where the 40/40/20 ratio recommendation originated from; bodybuilding magazines and fellow bodybuilders emphasize this ratio to enhance muscle building, but have not explained its origin. It does not appear to be based on any scientific figures. As you can see, the ratio formula is not a reliable way to determine your protein intake.
Female Bodybuilding: Protein Recommendations
If you’re a female bodybuilder, I would not recommend using ratios to determine your protein intake. As shown above, the 40/40/20 ratio can lead to very inaccurate protein recommendations that are not consistent with the recommendations given by nutrition and personal training organizations.
Instead, follow these recommendations:
- NCSA recommendation: 0.65 to 0.85 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
- ISSA recommendation: 0.90 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
- Maximum requirement (based on scientific data): one gram of protein per pound of body weight.
As a general rule of thumb, consume no less than 0.65 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Don’t go overboard either — consuming more than one gram of protein per pound of body weight is just wasted protein. Protein is expensive. Save your cash and your calories.