Your carb to protein ratio is the number of carbohydrates that you consume relative to the amount of protein that you consume. Eating the right ratio of carbohydrates and proteins in your diet makes a huge difference to your progress, performance, and physique.
The ideal ratio of carbs to protein can vary depending on your specific goals and your training style, but one of the most common ratios is the 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio, which is used by many people looking to gain both size and strength, and optimize their pre and post workout nutrition.
For those wanting to follow a 2:1 carb to protein ratio, I’m going to give you a list of the 8 best foods, meals, and snacks that stick as close as possible to this ratio.
I’m also going to cover exactly what 2:1 carb to protein ratio foods are, who should eat these foods, and how to implement a diet like this.
What Is A 2-1 Carb To Protein Ratio Food?
A 2:1 carb to protein ratio food is a food that contains two grams of carbohydrates for every one gram of protein, resulting in a 2 to 1 ratio.
There is a long list of 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio foods later in this article, alongside a range of meals that satisfy this criterion, but here is a quick example to show you how the 2 to 1 ratio works in real life:
- Eating two slices of wholewheat bread with 20 grams of peanut butter provides you with a meal that perfectly fits the 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio.
- It contains 36 grams of carbohydrates and 18 grams of protein.
- For every two grams of carbs, you get one gram of protein.
Note: At this point, I’m going to get a bit technical about how eating a 2:1 carb to protein ratio works and who should specifically eat this way. This is because I think it’s important for people to understand the reasons why you should or shouldn’t eat a 2:1 carb to protein ratio. But, if you’re already set on eating a 2:1 carb to protein ratio, and just want the food list and meals I’ve prepared, simply skip this section and scroll down.
2-1 Carb To Protein Ratio: How It Works
Studies show that eating a combination of carbohydrates and proteins prior to resistance training can maximize protein synthesis in your body (muscle building). As well, ingesting this ratio of macronutrients both during and after your workout may increase your muscle glycogen and decrease muscle damage, meaning improved performance and faster recovery.
Here’s how this process works:
- Glycogen, which is stored glucose molecules that the body gets from eating carbohydrates, gets used up during your workouts to provide you with energy.
- Post-workout, you need to replenish these stores to maximize your recovery, and this can be done by consuming 2:1 carb to protein ratio foods (i.e., eating more carbs than protein).
- However, in order for you to maintain or increase your muscle mass, your body needs to create new muscle proteins, a process known as protein synthesis.
- For this to occur, you also need to supply your body with the necessary amino acids (the building blocks of protein) by eating adequate amounts of protein around your workout.
- A 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio ensures you’re not skipping your protein intake at critical times throughout the day when protein synthesis is the main goal.
Related Article: Is It Okay To Go Over Protein Macros? (Here’s What Happens)
Are you tracking your macros properly?
Who Should Use A 2-1 Carb To Protein Ratio?
There are three cases where eating a 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio may be beneficial.
1. Bulking Phase
The first is for someone who is in a bulking phase and is currently following an intense training program. A bulking phase is when someone wants to put on lean muscle mass.
When you are bulking, you need to consume more calories than your body needs (caloric surplus). Since muscle building is a very expensive process (i.e. it uses a lot of calories), the body won’t begin the process unless it knows that all of the energy requirements stated above are covered. Once these are covered, with the remaining calories left, the body can then start the process of muscle building.
Carbs can help you achieve those extra calories that you need, especially if you eat those that are energy-dense (ones that have a lot of calories in a small portion of food). Thus, a 2 to 1 ratio can help you achieve that caloric surplus.
Additionally, when you are training intensely multiple times a week, a higher protein intake is necessary to increase muscle mass. Having a lower protein ratio (such as a 4:1 or a 3:1 ratio) may leave the body with an inadequate supply of amino acids to build new muscle tissue. I’ve written about the 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio previously.
2. Maintenance Phase
The other reason you might want to have a 2 to 1 ratio is in a maintenance phase. A maintenance phase is when someone just wants to maintain their body-weight.
Having a 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio can help you when you exercise a lot, but you don’t want to lose or gain weight. During an intense workout, glycogen stores are lost (a stored form of energy). This is because the body’s glycogen stores are constantly getting broken down to provide glucose to the working muscles.
When training intensely multiple times a week, a high amount of carbohydrates in your diet is necessary to replenish these lost glycogen stores each day. So by eating a 2-1 carb to protein ratio, you make sure that you are not using protein as an energy source, and you use it to repair your muscles and keep them stable.
3. Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
The third case where a 2 to 1 carb-to-protein ratio is ideal is around your workouts, or even during your workouts depending on how long your sessions are.
Consuming carbs and protein for your pre- and post-workout meals provides the body with a source of readily-available glucose for energy before your workout, and glucose to replenish your glycogen stores after your workout.
This is particularly important for athletes or serious gym goers who are training hard multiple days per week, perhaps leading up to a competition or game, and are looking to build strength.
Who Should NOT Use a 2-1 Carb To Protein Ratio?
When it comes to the most appropriate carb to protein ratio it is not always 2-1. It will entirely depend on the phase you are currently in.
For example, if you’re in a weight loss phase, you are more susceptible to muscle loss due to being in a caloric deficit (eating less calories than your body needs). Here a 1-to-1 carb to protein ratio will be more suitable in order to preserve muscle mass.
If you continue to aim for a 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio on a restricted number of calories during your cut, this leaves you with very few calories leftover for fats. This can be a cause for concern, particularly in females, as fats are required to maintain hormonal balance and reproductive function.
Related Article: Do Macros Matter for Weight Loss? (Yes, Here’s Why)
Implementing A 2-1 Carb-To-Protein Diet
Step #1: Find Out How Much Protein You Need
According to the ACSM, the ideal amount of protein for regular lifters is around 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight each day to maintain muscle mass. For athletes and regular lifters who are trying to gain muscle, 1.6-2.0 kilogram per gram of body weight is more appropriate.
Example: I’m a woman who weighs 125 lbs (57 kg) and workouts 4-5 days per week. This means I should consume 91 – 114 grams of protein each day.
Step 2: Calculate Carbohydrate Intake
Once you’ve figured out the number of grams of protein you can multiply that number by 2 to get the number of grams of carbs.
By multiplying your protein number by 2, you get a 2-1 carb-to-protein ratio.
Example: My carb intake would be 182 – 228 grams each day, which is 2X my protein intake in order to achieve a 2:1 carb to protein ratio.
Step 4: Figure Out How Many Calories You Need For Your Goals
Everyone will have a different number of calories that they should eat per day whether they want to lose, maintain, or gain weight.
The total number of daily calories will also depend on how much someone trains and the intensity of their training sessions.
Use a calorie calculator if you’re unsure.
Example: For me, my caloric requirement is 2100 calories to maintain my weight.
Step 5: Figure Out How Many Calories Come From Carbs & Protein
When you figure out how many grams of carbs and protein you need to eat each day, and you know your daily calorie requirements, you can figure out how many calories need to come from each macronutrient.
Both carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram.
Example: for maintenance at 2,100 calories, aiming for around 100 grams of protein and 200 grams of carbs.
- Protein: 100 grams = 400 kcals (100 x 4)
- Carbs: 200 grams = 800 kcals (200 x 4)
Step 6: Figure Out How Many Calories Are Needed For Fats
Once you have calculated how many calories you need from proteins and carbs, you can figure out how many calories need to come from fats to complete your daily intake.
Example: if I’m aiming for 2,100 calories a day and 1200 are coming from protein and carbs, I am left with 900 kcals to come from fats.
- Fats contain 9 calories per gram, so 900 kcals equates to 100 grams of fat each day. This equates to around 42% of your daily intake coming from fats.
Step 7: Check That Your Fat Levels Aren’t Too Low
It’s important to note that your macronutrient split may need to be adjusted if you decide to enter a cutting phase.
As I said previously, dropping your fat levels too low (below 20% of your total daily calories) can result in a decrease in normal hormone production.
Example: If my fats were less than 20% of my total daily calories, I would, at a minimum, increase them to the 20% mark, and subtract calories from carbs. While this would impact the 2-1 carb to protein ratio, it’s necessary to maintain optimal health.
Related Article: 15 Cheap Carbs for Bulking (That Are Still Good For You)
Should You Eat A 2-1 Carb To Protein Ratio At Every Meal?
You don’t need to stick to a 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio in every single meal and snack that you eat. Ideally, you should aim to achieve this ratio for your pre-and post-workout meals.
If you’re following a 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio, don’t stress about getting every meal to fit this ratio. As long as you achieve this workout in your overall daily intake, you will still be able to reach your goals.
For example, if your breakfast is higher in protein and your dinner is higher in carbs, this will balance out by the end of the day. However, aiming for a 2 to 1 ratio in the meals that you eat around your workouts is more important.
Registered Dietitian, Brenda Peralta, recommends limiting your fat intake around workouts because they are pretty much useless for protein synthesis or glycogen replenishment. Instead, focus on consuming this ratio in your pre-and post-workout meals, and include fats elsewhere in your diet.
Another thing to be aware of is the portion sizes of implementing a 2:1 carb to protein ratio in your pre-and post-workout meals. The 2 to 1 ratio is not the only important factor here. You also need to think about your overall calorie and macronutrient intake.
For example, just because chia seeds have a 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio, it doesn’t make them an ideal post-workout meal or snack.
One tablespoon of chia seeds contains around 3 grams of protein, so you’d have to eat a large volume of chia seeds to eat a substantial amount of protein after your workout.
After your workouts, try to find foods that contain substantial amounts of carbs and protein so that you can achieve your daily targets.
You’re going to want something that is more substantial and satiating to keep you going until your next meal. You also need to consider the calorie contents of your post-workout meals.
A bowl of chia seeds may not contain enough calories to replenish your energy stores and this can be a detriment to your progress. Not to mention, an inadequate post-workout snack will leave you feeling hungry and lethargic for the rest of the day.
Take a look at the examples of some great 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio meals below.
What Are Some 2-to-1 Carb To Protein Ratio Foods?
The following foods all contain approximately a 2 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein when eaten on their own.
|40 grams per cup||18 grams per cup|
|20 grams per cup||9 grams per cup|
|54 grams per tin||19 grams per tin|
Black Bean Noodles
|14 grams per oz||7.5 grams per oz|
|9 grams per cup||5 grams per cup|
Dark Chocolate (such as Lindt)
|2 grams per square||1 gram per square|
|3 grams per tbsp||1.2 grams per tbsp|
8 Meal Examples With 2:1 Carb-To-Protein Ratio
Most of us won’t want to sit and eat a bowl of dry lentils, even if they do have the magical ratio of macronutrients. Therefore, here are 8 examples of delicious and nutritious meals and snacks that provide a 2:1 carb to protein ratio.
1 cup Greek yogurt, 50 grams granola, 1 tbsp honey
|50 grams||28 grams|
1 cup cooked oats, 1 medium (100 grams) banana, ½ scoop protein powder, 150 ml milk
|48 grams||24 grams|
2 slices wholewheat bread, 2 eggs, 1 tsp butter
|38 grams||21 grams|
1 (90 grams) seeded bagel, 1 medium (150 grams) avocado, 1 egg
|54 grams||21 grams|
1 cup cooked pasta, 100 grams chicken breast, 200 grams chopped tomatoes, ½ cup green beans
|60 grams||35 grams|
1 large (250 grams) baked potato, 1 can tuna, 1 cup sweet corn, 1 tsp mayonnaise
|60 grams||34 grams|
2 large (50 grams each) carrots, 2 ½ tbsp hummus
|7 grams||3 grams|
1 medium (180 grams) apple, 2 tbsp peanut butter
|23 grams||12 grams|
Related Article: 30 Ways To Increase Protein Intake Without Protein Powder
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About The Author
Athina Crilley is a Biochemistry graduate, a qualified personal trainer, and nutrition coach. She is passionate about helping women to balance their hormones and cycle. She is the host and producer of Finding Flo podcast, which covers all things women’s health and nutrition.