Is there an optimal ratio of carbs to protein?

I was tempted to bash the current low-carb craze sweeping across the nation – for something like the seventeenth time – but I’ve come to accept the fact that if you don’t talk about the pink elephant in the middle of the room people will soon ignore it. So let me discuss some research of more relevance to the population attracted to MyRevolution – healthy people with an active lifestyle. Or at least the study results can be applied to a leaner and healthy population, because the first study was a Norwegian short-term project with 5 (!) obese subjects in the pilot study 32 slightly overweight men and women in the follow-up. The second also a short-term study – on obese rats.

Ok, maybe it doesn’t look very relevant at first glance, and I didn’t think so at first either – but I listened to a podcast where Layne Norton interviewed the lead researcher of the second study, Suzanne Devkota. She had teamed up with Donald K Layman, which is a renowned researcher with a long list of accredited journal publications – as well as being Layne Norton’s PhD mentor…so despite the weaknesses in study duration and population I think we can still extract something useful out of it. It also ties in well with my own real-world observations and my nutrition philosophy as per the Health & Fitness Concept and the BioRhythm Diet.

Based on the study results, the researchers of both studies recommended a balanced ratio between carbs, proteins and fats – about 30-40% of each macronutrient – and this not only improved several immunological genetic markers but also shifts the metabolic signaling from adipose (fat) tissue to muscle tissue. In practical terms, you should get improved nutrient partitioning into muscle and better fat loss (or less fat storage depending on energy balance). I can’t help but wonder if some of the effects were seen due to a doubling of protein intake, from 12-15% to 30-35% – but earlier research also points to the benefits of lowering carbs from a high’ish 65% to a more balanced 30-50% range.

One major caveat, though – and this was brought up in the podcast by Layne Norton as well – what goes for an obese and sedentary population isn’t automatically true for the active and athletic population. Suzanne Devkota recommended a range of 30-40g of carbs with an equal amount of protein per meal. Better blood glucose and insulin control, and the carbs are easily burnt off for fuel or stored as glycogen in liver and muscle. And that would be true if you are around 70-80kg and sitting around for most of the day. Funny how the simple concept of CONTEXT is lost on so many, and those prone to read research like this are usually also the ones who move around a lot – hence, research on obese rats and inactive humans can’t automatically be assumed to apply to everyone.

So – an athlete or cardio bunny (who ironically, are the ones most prone to eating low-carb because they think there’s some inherent magic about it) with a high activity level and training load, or a heavier 100kg+ bodybuilder with 3-5 workouts per week, Suzanne mentioned 60-70g of carbs per meal being a more realistic range. In the first meals of the day if you are mostly sedentary and work out in the afternoon and evening, obviously. Not too far off from my own recommendations in the BioRhytm Diet – I also prefer keeping carbs at the same level or lower than proteins. It not only makes you feel better mentally, but several lines of research points to improved training effects when saving up carbs for post-workout and later in the day.

Don't be one of these

Then – everything changes when you go to the gym and push through a moderate- to high volume of lifting weights or interval work. The glycolytic system supplies energy to working muscles, and carbs ingested in the post-workout period are preferentially stored in muscle – even without any major insulin secretion due to GLUT4 transporter translocation to the muscle cell surface. In practical terms it means that your insulin sensitivity is improved and you can shuttle more nutrients into muscle, and you can even keep burning off fat as energy while this process is going on.

In the post-workout recovery period (4-6 hours and even more depending on volume and intensity) you can and probably should get in meals with a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein – for an 80kg guy that would be in the range of 80-100g of carbs to 40-50g of protein, for a 60kg woman we’re talking 50-70g of carbs to 25-35g of protein. Immediately post-workout a combination of sugars seem to be the best option since it takes advantage of various transporter mechanisms, so fruits, Nitro Fuel and even some sugary candy. If you train earlier in the day, you may lower the carb:protein ratio back to 1:1 and then increase it to 2:1 for the last 1-2 meals of the day, as per the BioRhytm principles. This will be ample time to refuel your muscles for the next day and improve sleep quality.

For those not familiar with Layne and his research into optimizing protein synthesis and optimal meal frequency, read his article Protein: how much and how often here… Basically:  ingest a protein source providing a minimal threshold of amino acids (leucine in particular) spaced out every 3-5hrs or so to avoid the refractory response. This is when the muscle synthesis machinery stops responding if you keep amino acids constantly elevated. You want pulsation, a wave-like rise and fall in amino acid levels. Given that most foods take a few hours to digest a viable strategy is to eat a meal every 4-5 hours, then ingest a fast protein source such as whey or even BCAAs with or without some carbs 2hrs before and after meals. Carbs actually seem to prolong MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis) even if they don’t specifically add to the amplitude or total effect.

My own application is similar but more moderate at the moment, I like to eat when I’m hungry and since my OCD is running strong already I don’t want to worsen it by carrying around BCAAs in order to get a protein pulse every two hours.

I’m not very hungry in the morning, so I’ll start my day with a light meal of 200g of strawberries and blueberries, 50g of MyoProtein (a blend of whey and casein) sometimes “spiked” with additional whey, and either some almonds, walnuts or Vital Arctic Oil omega-3s. Yeah, I know salmon oil sounds gross mixed with berries and a protein powder, but the lemon flavor actually tastes awesome here.

My second meal is 2-4 hours later depending on hunger, and consists of regular white jasmine rice, about 30-40g of carbs worth, with 5-6 eggs and a little cheese, some steamed kale (“grønnkål” in norwegian) and various veggies.

Third meal 3-4 hours later is also one hour before hitting the gym, and another lighter meal with white rice, a banana, chocolate whey protein and coconut oil or MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides are burned off as energy instead of stored). About 30-40g of carbs, 40g of protein and 10g of fat.

Hit the gym and then it’s whey, BCAA and fruits as soon as I get home. I prepare a meal of wild game meat or salmon with white rice which is ingested within an hour after the workout – so I basically peak amino acids with a fast source of proteins and carbs, then let them taper off with a slower digested meal. I eat until comfortably full. Carb count is anywhere from 100-140g depending on hunger, and protein about 60-70g total.

Then it’s usually 4 hours until my final meal of the day, where I focus on slower proteins and a high’ish amount of them (60-80g) to provide nutrients throughout the night’s fasting period. I prefer some tuna, turkey or meat, and then rice blended with M-Factor dark choco and some more MyoProtein (50% casein, remember) – yummi yummi for my tummy… So another 120-140g of carbs in the last meal of the day. And I sleep like a baby through the night, waking up around 6am every morning without an alarm clock. I’m fairly proud of that one, I used to be one of those who rarely got out of bed before noon, and if I did my head was in a fog for half the day…

If I’m hungry, and if my evening meal is delayed for some reason (on the few occasions I have the energy for a social life after a 10-12 hour work day and 1 hour workout), I will have a small snack with whey or BCAAs and some fruits or rice. You might wonder why my carb choice seems so monotonous (and GASP, containing so much fructose and high GI stuff). Well, not only did I get in the shape of my life dieting for a photo shoot in August, but a food intolerance test I did earlier this summer also showed maximum reactivity to potatoes, sweet potatoes and most grains (including oatmeal) – but that’s fine with me. I like my rice.

Yes, I'm also in the picture. I'm the guy behind that beautiful girl stealing all the attention.

Study references and links:

Brattbakk HR, Arbo I, Aagaard S, Lindseth I, de Soysa AK, Langaas M, Kulseng B, Lindberg F, Johansen B: Balanced Caloric Macronutrient Composition Downregulates Immunological Gene Expression in Human Blood Cells-Adipose Tissue Diverges. OMICS 16.6.2011. Article link: Feed your genes…

Devkota S, Layman DK: Increased ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein shifts the focus of metabolic signaling from skeletal muscle to adipose. Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2011 Mar 4;8(1):13. Article link: Suppversity Blog…





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25 Kommentarer

  1. Patrice
    oktober 25, 20117:35 pm | | Svar

    Er karb-inntaket lavere hviledager?

  2. Victor
    oktober 26, 20118:18 am | | Svar

    Nice read Børge! I have a few questions.

    - which calories do you suggest to eliminate when your dieting and when?
    - on what time do you usually consume your last meal?
    - would it matter for the ratio if you fuse early meals in the day. Like eating 50-60g carbs, 90g protein and 60g fat around 12.00 am. Or would would the big mealinhibit disrupt fat oxidation, because of the carbs.



  3. Chris
    oktober 27, 201112:01 pm | | Svar

    So for optimal muscle gains, the total energy intake per meal is not important as long as you get a protein feeding containing the minimal leucine threshold every 3-5hrs?

    I could for example consume ~30g of MyoProtein alone, and count that as a ‘meal’?


    1. Stefan
      oktober 29, 201110:40 pm | | Svar

      Sort of. Total energy intake is still important, as gaining muscle isn’t just about promoting synthesis but also preventing breakdown

  4. Tristan Cutchin
    Tristan Cutchin
    november 29, 20119:41 pm | | Svar

    Simply a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw great design .

  5. Yong Faille
    Yong Faille
    desember 30, 20114:47 pm | | Svar

    he blog was how do i say it… relevant, finally something that helped me. Thanks

  6. Bro
    mars 21, 20129:34 am | | Svar

    Hei Børge,

    Jeg kommer nå til å kjøre ditt opplegg. Men det er til den hensikt om å gå ned i vekt. Jeg har prøvd dette før jeg viste at du kom med denne artikkelen, men denne gangen skal jeg kjøre en skikkelig plan.

    jeg veier 86 kg, er 170 høy, fettprosent i fjor på 9 % når jeg var 75 kg. Har trent i ca 6 år.

    Så jeg lurer på noen ting.

    Er det ok jeg kjører slik i forbindelse med trening og mat:

    Mat før trening(1,5 time før)
    20 gram prot og 30 karbohydrater fra havre

    Rett før trening:
    10 gram BCAA

    Under trening:
    30 gram vitargo og 10 gram BCAA

    Etter trening:
    30 gram vitargo og 40 gram whey proteiner,

    Ellers blir opplegget slik du skriver, karbsa kommer fra før trening ut kvelden.
    Skal ligge på ca 2900 kalorier, hvorav fordelingen pr dag skal være slik:

    300 gram prot.
    100 gram fett
    180 gram karbs

    Vil dette funke?

  7. Rory/Desmond
    mars 27, 201211:05 am | | Svar

    Hi, love your articles. Im wondering about how you got to do those food intolerance-tests? I live in sweden and here I basically need to be bleeding throughout my eyes if I want something checked out(Im also a hypochondriac) so I was curious. As a child I had the WORST allergy problems(and the meds back then sucked) if that says anything, I havent noticed any food allergies but I dont know what to look for(except choking to death).

    Now I just got some problems with grass-pollen and such shit in the spring/summer-time(I was actually absolutely allergy-free when I was in school years ago).

    I have allot of health-problems otherwise so Im curious about these things(I dont have allot of motivation to train very much right now although I still lift).

    Think Im gonna try this biorhytm-diet, just ate a can of macrille and I feel great(ok probably allot of placebo but whatever).

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