What the heck is a MACRO?
I cover this topic briefly in my article Keto Diet For Beginners, here we’ll dive more into what macros are and why they matter.
I’ll break down each KETO macro and explain its importance and answer some of the common questions I’ve been asked about them. I will also provide some links and tools that I’ve used related to figuring out macros and tracking them.
The Keto Macros
Here is the breakdown of where your calories should come from when eating a ketogenic diet. Don’t worry about doing the math, this is here to provide information and clear up any confusion you may have.
The percentages are a general breakdown, and you will see different percentages sometimes (like 5:25:70, this has to do with differing protein needs, discussed below) but they will all be close.
You will notice when you calculate your macros using a macro calculator (more on this in a minute) that it will be slightly different, and that is OK!
This is because every body has different needs, we will discuss this further into the article.
Here’s what the percentages mean, let’s keep the numbers simple and just use a 2,000-calorie diet:
- 5% (or less) of the calories you consume will come from carbs. In this example, you may have up to 100 calories from carbs. Each gram of carbohydrates is 4 calories, so in this case it would be 25g (100 calories ÷ 4 calories per gram = 25)
*Note that it is recommended to stay under 20 grams, especially when you are getting started.
- 20% of the calories you eat should come from a protein source. In our sample, this would be 400 calories. Protein has 4 calories per gram, so if you are eating a 2,000-calorie diet, you should be around 100g of protein.
- 75% of your calories will come from fat. This comes out to 1,500 calories. Fat is more calorie-dense, at 9 calories per gram, in our sample, this would be 167 grams of fat. (This number was shocking to me in the beginning! We will discuss that in a second too!)
How do I figure out my Macros?
In the beginning, you should use Carb Manager to calculate your macros. It is a free site/app, it has a paid version, but all I’ve ever used was the free version, and it got the job done!
First, it will ask you some basic set up information, like what to track and units of measure. You can leave all of these as defaulted (make sure it is set to Net Carbs) and enter a username.
Second page asks your:
- Activity Level
Third page is for your goals.
Notes on Calorie Deficits
If you want to lose weight, set this somewhere between 0% and -20%.
My advice? Don’t worry about going over on calories in the first few weeks.
Because the single most important thing about Keto, is staying under on carbs,
and that is where your focus should be for now. Everything else is secondary.
Whether or not calories matter for weight loss on keto is a much-debated topic in the Keto community, and there is a lot of information to cover about it, look for a future blog post for more info.
Once you have entered this information in carb manager, it will pop you over to the Daily Log.
If you choose to track your food and macros (you don’t HAVE to!), Carb Manager is an excellent resource for you. I tried many trackers; this was my favorite. Feel free to contact us with any questions!
Let’s Break the macros down a little further, shall we?
The quick answer: They are a limit, you do NOT need to meet it, you should stay under 20 Net Carbs (Net Carbs = Total Carbs minus Fiber (and SOME sugar alcohols, see below)
Some people track total carbs, but the main school of thought is to use Net Carbs.
Most of your carbs should come from leafy greens and other low carb veggies like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
Net vs. Total
As mentioned above, most of us Keto peeps look at net carbs as opposed to total carbs.
Fiber and certain sugar alcohols pass through you without being digested
therefore your body doesn’t use them for energy. This means that they don’t count toward that level you need to stay under for ketosis to happen.
Remember Net carbs = Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar alcohols (sometimes, see below)
The argument to track total carbs is based on theories that carbs from fiber have an impact on blood sugar and metabolic health, not as a blood sugar spike, but as a slow rise in blood sugar.
This is one of those topics that need further research, and would be a personal choice, and maybe something to look into further if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic.
I plan on doing more research on this topic and sharing what I find with you. I think that tracking total carbs would be very restrictive.
For example, 100 grams of avocado (about half of a medium fruit) is 9 total carbs, but only 2 net carbs. You would hit 20 total carbs very quickly.
Sugar Alcohols & Alternative Sweeteners
I will write a full article on this topic very soon; I see a lot of questions on this topic! I’ll keep it short and sweet here! (see what I did there?!?)
However, there are still several points I want to hit.
There are three categories of alternative sweeteners:
- Sugar Alcohols
- Artificial Sweeteners
- and Plant-Based.
I’m only going to talk about how they affect carb count here, and not glucose spikes or the glycemic index ( that’s an entire article on it’s own) with a few important notes.
If you want to buy something that is supposed to be sweet and it says “Sugar-Free” Please, please, please do yourself a favor, and read the ingredients looking for maltitol!
Otherwise you could very possibly end up with the worst stomach upset you’ve ever experienced.
Maltitol is a sugar alcohol, and is the absolute WORST offender for digestive upset, if you see it, put that item down, no matter how delicious it looks, and run.
- Or you WILL be running.
- To the bathroom.
- Like every 5 minutes.
- Don’t believe me?
Check out the reviews on Amazon.com for Haribo Sugar-Free gummy bears. They are hilarious. And true.
So, what sweeteners can I subtract from total carbs?
Here’s the low down on the common ones:
Subtract all of the carbs from Monk Fruit and Stevia (both plant-based and may not show any carbs on the label)
- Subtract all of the carbs from Erythritol, Xylitol*, Lactitol and Mannitol (PET WARNING!!! Xylitol is toxic to pets!! I don’t use it for that reason!)
- Subtract HALF of Maltitol*, Sorbitol, Isomalt and Glycerin. (If you are feeling daring and staying close to home!)
- Probably subtract all of artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin (Sweet’n’low), and aspartame – I say probably because it can depend on the person. I avoid them because they trigger migraines for me, and I’ve become very iffy on artificial or processed anything because of my Keto research.
No Fruit?!? Isn’t that a food group?
Good news, you can have fruit.
Just in limited quantities, and the ones that are lower in sugar.
Most berries are fine, but you should monitor serving sizes.
Also note, that there are a lot of seasoned Keto folks who do Carb Cycling (more on this soon) where they will eat some “Good” carbs (like fruit and higher carb veggies) with a meal once in a while, but eat KETO the majority of the time.
I would not recommend trying this until you are well established in Keto. It can prolong the process of becoming fat-adapted and slow your progress.
The food groups.
I don’t want to dive too deeply into this topic here, but I will say this;
The food groups were created by the U.S. Government in the 1950’s and have evolved into today’s food pyramid. The food pyramid has us eating mostly grains and starches, followed by fruit and veggies.
We are cutting all the grains and starches out, as well as the high sugar/carb fruits and veggies, but not all of them.
The important thing to note is that we can get the nutrients we need from low carb veggies, low sugar fruits, meat and fat, we don’t have to have high sugar fruits to do that
The food group that we ARE cutting out is the grains and starches group.
Why? I’m Glad you asked!
They are high in carbs, don’t provide nutrition that you can’t find elsewhere, and they can cause inflammation.
The wheat and grains that we eat today are often so processed that the nutritional values that WERE there are stripped out.
If we are filling up our bellies with grains and starches, we leave less room in our diets for other, nutrient-dense, whole food.
Carbs are everywhere!
Carbs are in almost every single processed food. Here is an article (link) I wrote that delves into the topic of hidden carbs, and a list of Sugar’s alter egos that my hubby put together (Thank you Brandon!!). ( you’re welcome /Flex)
It was SHOCKING to me when I started reading labels, that foods like a bad of grilled frozen chicken breasts has maltodextrin in it.
It was eye-opening. Before your first trip to the store, I would look at these two resources. Sugar’s Alter Egos and How to spot hidden carbs.
he quick answer: Protein is VERY important; your body uses protein to build and repair tissue.
The protein macro is a goal.
It does not HAVE to be perfect, but you shouldn’t be too far under or over.
This was the hardest macro to get just right in the beginning. It was difficult not to go a little bit over on protein, I usually did, but it didn’t seem to cause any problems for me losing weight.
You can use a macro calculator to figure out close to where it should be.
I find Carb Manager to be the best one, and it can also be used to track what you eat, if you chose to do that.
The free version is all I’ve ever needed.
Why should protein stay moderate and not high?
Too much protein can kick you out of ketosis. This happens because some of the excess protein that is not used turns into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.
This glucose (sugar) has to be used up before resuming the fat burning that we want. Some argue that it would have to be A LOT of excess protein to stop ketosis, and not likely to happen.
Others believe you should be very careful to not go over at all.
My theory is that this depends on the person and their metabolism and activity level. I plan on doing further research on this topic and will share my findings with you.
How much protein do you need?
There is some math involved. 🙂 There are several macro calculators out there, and some of them come up with different numbers from each other, which I found extremely frustrating.
Most of them try to figure out your lean muscle mass based on too little information (such as just your weight and height) without knowing how much of that weight is fat and how much is muscle.
Carb Manager can get close enough for a good starting point, so don’t fret about this too much now.
You need about 70 to 120 grams of protein per 100lbs of lean muscle mass. This is such a wide range because it depends on how active you are.
- Sedentary – no more than 80g per 100lbs of lean muscle mass
- Active – Somewhere between 80g and 100 g per 100lbs of lean muscle mass
- Lift Weights – Between 100g and 120g per 100lbs of lean muscle mass
How do you calculate lean body mass?
Again, this is not a requirement, however, if you do want to calculate it (I did, but I’m a nerd like that) there are a couple of ways you can go about it:
Before I got my totally cool body comp scale, I used this free site to figure it out using measurements. https://www.calculator.net/body-fat-calculator.html
By the way, it is also pretty cool to have some starting measurements, it is a great way to check progress, especially if the scale isn’t moving!
- A body fat/body composition scale
This definitely is not a necessity and the technology is not 100% accurate.
But I will say that I’ve had a lot of fun with the Renpho scale I got off Amazon, and it was only $25!
Costs just a little more than a cheap regular ol’ scale, and it comes with an app that will give you the breakdown of a bunch of stats and records your progress.
So, if you’re in the market for a new scale, check it out.
I got mine a couple of weeks after starting keto, so I have been able to track my progress for a year and a half without having to manually record it.
Check it out the screenshots of my progress to date:
High Fat – Fat is a lever
Huh what? A Lever?
What this means is that while your fat macro may be at 167 in our example above, you don’t have to strive to hit that number if your goal is to lose body fat.
This will allow your body to burn through the dietary fat, then get to work on breaking down the body fat. Woot!
Eat enough fat to keep you full. If you have fat, you don’t need to eat a lot of it!
Isn’t fat unhealthy?
Some fats are, but most are not! It has been pushed on us our whole lives that fat is bad, and we should eat a low-fat diet, but this is NOT TRUE!
Especially targeted was saturated fat, like butter, cheese and fatty beef. They were believed to be the leading cause of heart disease, when in fact saturated fats provide us with vital nutrients. They are not the bad guys giving us heart attacks.
There was a study done in 2010 on Saturated Fat and Health that disputes the commonly held belief about the link to heart disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2974200/
There are three types of fat: saturated, unsaturated, and trans-fat.
Avoid trans-fat, it truly IS the bad one!
It is recommended to eat a combination of both of the first two types of fat listed.
Most foods that contain fat are a combination of these, when it is put into a category it just means that there is significantly more of that type. Eggs are considered both.
Healthy fat = Fat from naturally occurring sources.
Think about it like this: Corn Oil vs Avocado oil.
An avocado has a very high fat content, it takes minimal processing to extract the oil from it. Many times, the fruits or seeds are simply pressed to extract the oil.
Whereas with corn, the oil is extracted from the germ, and requires more aggressive processing techniques, such as using solvents like Hexane .
There is not sufficient research currently to conclude whether or not there is residue left on the food after processing.
Getting Fat into your diet
It can be challenging to change your mindset about fat, it is often one of the biggest obstacles for people starting on Keto.
We have been conditioned to believe that it’s bad for so long, it can be hard to get over.
Eating fat does NOT make you fat!
It nourishes your body, and gives it clean, long-burning fuel. Try to keep this in mind if you struggle with aversions to eating fat.
A few easy ways to get fat into your diet are to:
- Eat more eggs
- Have a mixed green salad with a high fat dressing like Easy Keto Ranch.
- Eat nuts (watch portions, they do have carbs)
- Have some cheese (be careful not to overdo the cheese! It can cause constipation, stalls, and/or inflammation in some people)
- Avocados are GREAT!
- Have a big FATTY steak (I can destroy a ribeye, let me tell ya!)
Thinking about Keto but not sure where to start? We’ve taken loads of feedback and questions and created a FREE 7-day meal plan + Bonus shopping lists to help you get started and take some of the guess work out of the first week!
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