Guide to AMDR: Macronutrient ranges and recommendations

A diet with a balanced distribution of macronutrients—meaning fat, protein, and carbs—may help reduce disease risk and support lasting weight loss. Here’s what you need to know.

Vitamins and minerals aren’t the only nutrients that affect your health. Macronutrients—a group that comprises protein, fat, and carbohydrates—play an important role in wellbeing, too. Simply put: “Macronutrients provide calories for energy,” says Caroline Passerrello, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Your body needs them in large quantities.”

Our daily intake of protein, fat, and carbs influences everything from weight to disease risk. For this reason, the National Academy of Sciences provides specific intake recommendations, known as AMDRs, for all three macros. “These are overall guidelines of what you should be eating to have the best health outcomes,” Passerrello says. Keep reading for the scoop on these guidelines and learn how to use them in supporting your wellness goals.

What is AMDR (Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range)?

The term may sound super technical, but it’s actually pretty simple. AMDR is the recommended range of intake for a macronutrient. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates each have their own AMDR. AMDRs are drawn from ample scientific evidence showing that they have a protective effect on health for most people, Passerrello explains. The AMDR for each macronutrient is expressed as a percentage of the total calories you consume in a day. We’ll take a closer look at the AMDRs for protein, fat, and carbs in a sec.

How does AMDR differ from Recommended Dietary Allowance?

Admittedly, this is where things can get a little confusing. Along with AMDR, Recommended Dietary Allowances are part of a larger group of research-based nutritional values known as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). DRIs are used for a variety of public health purposes—perhaps most notably, informing the nutrition labels you see on foods. As an FYI, here’s a quick guide to DRIs:

  • Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): An RDA is the suggested amount of a nutrient a person should get through diet every day. This average daily amount will meet the requirements of almost all healthy people of a certain age, sex, or life stage. Take iron as an example: The RDA for adults who do not menstruate is 8 mg of iron per day, while the RDA for adults who do menstruate is 18 mg per day.
  • Estimated Average Requirement (EAR): This is the daily amount of a nutrient that will fulfill the needs of half the healthy people within a certain group. Scientists use this value as a base for calculating a nutrient’s more specific RDA.
  • Adequate Intake (AI): When there’s not enough scientific evidence to determine an RDA for a nutrient, experts may set an AI instead. This is a daily intake level believed to provide enough of a nutrient for a healthy person, based on factors such as observational data. The AI for the mineral manganese, for example, is 1.8 mg per day for women and 2.3 mg for men.
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): UL is the maximum amount of a nutrient an average person can safely consume in one day without experiencing adverse health effects. Going back to iron as an example, the UL for adults is 45 mg per day, a level based on digestive upset as an adverse effect.
  • Estimated Energy Requirement (EER): EER is the average daily energy—in other words, the number of calories—needed to maintain energy balance in a healthy person, based on factors including age, sex, weight, and level of physical activity.
  • Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR): This is the recommended proportion of a person’s daily calories that should come from protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

AMDR for protein

The AMDR for protein is 10–35%; many experts suggest shooting for the upper end of that range, Passerrello notes. All human cells and tissues contain protein. The body relies on this macronutrient for growth, maintenance, and repair. Protein may also support weight loss by lowering levels of the "hunger hormone" ghrelin. In addition, protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, which may help you feel satisfied for longer.

AMDR for carbs

The AMDR for carbohydrates is 45–65%. “Carbs are broken down into glucose, the body’s main source of energy,” Passerrello says. (Of course, your situation might be a little different if you’re following a low-carb diet like keto.) For the biggest health benefits, she recommends seeking out complex carbs found in foods such as vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Compared with simple-carb sources such as sugary snacks, food containing complex carbs digest more slowly, providing a steadier release of energy. Plus, they’re often higher in good-for-you fiber and nutrients.

AMDR for fat

The AMDR for fat is 20–35%. Dietary fat is a nutrient your body needs to absorb key vitamins—including A, D, E, and K—as well as antioxidants. Fat also helps protect organs and keep the body warm. This macronutrient adds texture and flavor to meals, and stimulates the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin that helps people feel satisfied. Just bear in mind that some fats are healthier than others. Unsaturated forms—found in fish, olive oil, nuts, and avocado—are your friends. On the other hand, saturated and trans fats—found in red meat, butter, and some fried foods—may negatively affect heart health when eaten in large amounts, so you might want to consider limiting them in your diet.

Benefits of AMDR

While macronutrient ranges don’t reflect all aspects of a healthy diet, they do provide simple targets for consuming carbs, fat, and protein in amounts that generally support good health. This may make meal planning easier for certain people. A diet with this distribution of protein, fat, and carbohydrates may be helpful for disease prevention—for example, by protecting against metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that raises a person’s risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. In a 2015 study, people whose diets adhered to AMDRs were 25% less likely to have high blood pressure than people whose diets did not. AMDRs may also help with weight management by making meals more satisfying—provided you don’t go over your daily calorie requirement, Passarello notes.

The upshot: Do AMDRs matter?

Most people don’t need to count macros or calculate percentages at every meal to have a healthy pattern of eating. Still, a little know-how about AMDRs for carbohydrates, fat, and protein may be helpful in providing big-picture guidelines to inform your meal planning. “Think of it as another tool in your healthy eating kit,” Passerrello says.

AMDRs are just one element of good nutrition. “It’s not about just hitting those ranges,” Passerrello notes. A healthy diet is also about choosing a variety of wholesome foods that deliver a range of other nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.

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Sharon Liao is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, nutrition, and fitness. She lives in Redondo Beach, California.

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