Your carb to protein ratio describes the number of carbohydrates that you’re consuming relative to the amount of protein that you consume. The ratio of carbs to protein can vary depending on your goals, but the 4 to 1 ratio is the most popular amongst athletes and endurance runners.
In this article, I’m going to give you the best 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio foods and snacks. I’ll also share my top tips to make eating a 4 to 1 macro split as easy as possible so that you can use this concept to maximize your performance.
What Is A 4-1 Carb To Protein Ratio Food?
A 4-1 carb to protein ratio food is exactly what it sounds like: a food that has 4 times the number of carbs than protein.
In other words, it’s food that contains four grams of carbs for every one gram of protein. For every five ‘parts’ of the food, four are carbs and one is protein.
While I’m going to give you a full list of 4-1 ratio foods below, here is a quick example.
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter and one tablespoon of jelly on two slices of wholewheat bread.
- Macro breakdown: There are around 44 grams of carbs and 11 grams of protein in this meal. This is a 4-1 ratio of carbs-to-protein.
Who Should Eat 4-1 Carb To Protein Ratio Foods?
In reality, anybody who is trying to boost training or sports performance can benefit from consuming 4-1 carb to protein ratio foods. However, research suggests that this macronutrient split is particularly beneficial for endurance athletes or those who train daily that rely on maximally promoting glycogen resynthesis during exercise.
There are multiple different carb-to-protein ratios that have been proven to benefit athletes, endurance runners, or average gym-goers. Alongside the 4-1, 3-1, and 2-1 carb to protein ratios are also common.
The right ratio for you depends on your unique training program and your preferences. But generally, a 3-1 or 2-1 ratio is better for those of you who are less serious about training and are following less intense weight lifting or endurance programs.
If you’re serious about your training and you’re following an intense workout program, or you have a high level of training frequency (training 5+ times per week for 1-2 hours per session), then a 4-1 carb to protein ratio is recommended.
Whether you’re training for a marathon or a powerlifting competition, you will benefit from eating a higher amount of carbohydrates in order to fuel your given activity.
Research shows that eating 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio foods after intense exercise can increase your glycogen stores. Glycogen is a stored form of energy that consists of multiple glucose molecules. It is stored in the liver and muscles, and gets broken down when your body is in need of extra energy.
After intense exercise, your glycogen stores get depleted, so they need to be replenished. You can top-up your glycogen stores by consuming post-workout carbohydrates.
Eating a higher ratio of protein (such as a 2 to 1 ratio) may decrease glycogen replenishment and thereby slow down your recovery.
Therefore, if you train intensely every day, you will benefit more from a 4:1 carb to protein ratio. This higher carb ratio will shorten your recovery time and enable you to continue training daily.
What Are Some 4 to 1 Carb To Protein Ratio Foods?
Below is a list of some of the best 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio foods, snacks, and meals.
I’ve tried to make it as precise to the 4-1 ratio as possible, but as you’ll see there are some cases where it falls slightly below or slightly above this ratio since it’s impractical to structure every meal down to the exact gram.
- Related Article: Is It Okay To Go Over Protein Macros? (Here’s What Happens)
½ cup cooked chickpea
|17 grams||5 grams|
½ cup cooked kidney beans or black beans with 1 tbsp BBQ sauce
|25 grams||6 grams|
1 medium (180 grams) apple with 1 tbsp natural peanut butter or 25 grams chopped nuts
|22 grams||6 grams|
1 medium (100 grams) banana with 1 tbsp natural peanut butter or almond butter
|25 grams||6 grams|
30 grams of chopped nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts) with 1 Medjool date or 4 dried apricots
|22 grams||5 grams|
5 large / 10 baby carrots with 4 tbsp hummus
|16 grams||4 grams|
½ cup dry oats with 1/4 cup almonds or walnuts
|19 grams||5 grams|
½ cup dry oats with 8 fl oz cow’s milk
|35 grams||10 grams|
200 grams Greek yogurt with 1 tsp honey
|34 grams||10 grams|
300 grams Greek yogurt with ½ cup blueberries, 1 banana, and 4 tsp honey
|68 grams||20 grams|
1 medium wholemeal pitta with 1 ½ tsp hummus
|38 grams||10 grams|
½ cup uncooked whole wheat pasta with ½ cup tomato sauce, 1 cup kale, and 1 cup broccoli
|45 grams||11 grams|
1 medium (200 grams) sweet potato with 2 tbsp natural peanut butter or almond butter
|44 grams||12 grams|
2 slices wholemeal bread with 2 tbsp natural peanut butter and 1 tbsp jelly
|48 grams||13 grams|
¼ cup (uncooked) quinoa with ½ cup kidney beans and 1 cup each of broccoli and kale
|41 grams||14 grams|
½ cup (uncooked) rice with 2/3 cup green beans
|24 grams||5 grams|
- Related Article: 33-33-33 Macros: What Is It, How It Works, & Sample Meals
Practical Tips On Eating With A 4:1 Macro Ratio
Here are some top practical tips on how to eat meals that provide a 4:1 carb to protein ratio:
- Adjust according to your tastes
- Add flavor using sauces
- Eat your 4 to 1 carb to protein foods within 30 minutes
- Don’t stress about the exact amounts
- Eat real foods
- Use fruits, vegetables, and nuts to your advantage
Adjust According to Your Tastes
Adjust the exact amounts of each ingredient in your meals to meet your preferences but make sure your food still reaches a 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio.
You can adjust the meals listed above according to your preferences but make sure you stick to a split of four parts carbohydrates to one part protein. It might seem complicated at first but you will get the hang of calculating the ratios very quickly.
For example, if you’re making a bowl of Greek yogurt and blueberries for a snack but you don’t enjoy eating it plain, you could add a tbsp of honey. Doing so will increase the total carbs in the dish by around 20 grams. To make up for this and maintain a 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio, you’ll need to increase the amount of protein in the dish by around five grams, which equates to approximately 50 grams of Greek yogurt.
This is just one working example but, as you can see, it’s fairly easy to manipulate the amounts of each ingredient in your meals and snacks to achieve the perfect 4 to 1 ratio.
I highly recommend not doing these calculations manually though. You can use an app like MacroFactor to help you quickly adjust ingredients as you’re planning meals.
Eat Your 4 to 1 Carb to Protein Ratio Foods Within 30 Minutes
Aim to eat your 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio meals within the first half an hour of completing your workouts.
Research indicates that the crucial time period for optimal glycogen replenishment, muscle tissue repair, and muscle adaptation is the first 30 minutes after your workouts. Therefore, you should aim to consume a carb-rich meal and a high-quality protein source within this time period for optimal results.
Don’t Stress About The Exact Amounts
Aim for a 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio but don’t stress if you are one or two grams above or below your target.
When you’ve got a goal and you’re training towards something significant, like a marathon or a competition, it’s natural to want to get everything perfect. But don’t stress about getting your ratio down to the exact gram.
If you end up eating a few grams extra of the carbohydrate-rich component of your meal, it’s unlikely to affect the ratio (or your progress) too much. Don’t overcomplicate things or worry too much about the specifics. Try and relax so you can enjoy your meals!
Eat Real Foods
Create your meals using real foods. You don’t need any expensive pre-made products to achieve a 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio.
You’ll be able to find lots of different pre-made meals and snacks that claim they have the perfect 4 to 1 ratio of carbs and protein but they are often pricey and pointless, and exclude other essential micronutrients needed for your overall health.
You don’t need to splash out on expensive protein bars and protein shakes to get the perfect ratio. Instead, use real foods to create delicious, fresh meals.
Use Fruits, Vegetables, and Nuts to Your Advantage
Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are particularly helpful to adjust the carbohydrate or protein contents of your food if you need to.
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of healthy carbs and fiber, and nuts contain lots of protein per gram. This makes them ideal if you’re struggling to reach the 4 to 1 carb to protein ratio.
You can easily add an extra handful of nuts into your oats or yogurt to bump up the protein contents. Or you can stir some more vegetables into your rice to increase the carbohydrate contents.
Note that if you have a calorie target, you’ll need to be careful if you’re adding a bunch of nuts to your meals because they are very calorie-dense!
Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 5, 17 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-5-17
S Potgieter BScDietetics, MNutrition (2013) Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition, South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26:1, 6-16, DOI: 10.1080/16070658.2013.11734434
Ivy J. L. (2004). Regulation of muscle glycogen repletion, muscle protein synthesis and repair following exercise. Journal of sports science & medicine, 3(3), 131–138.
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.
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