There’s so much to learn when going keto. Between learning about what types of food to avoid, how to prevent serious side effects, and keeping your taste buds happy, living keto is an ongoing learning process.
If you’re just starting out on your keto journey, you may have heard the term macro thrown around a few times. Even if you’ve been following a ketogenic diet for a while and know what macros are, you might not know how to calculate them (or why you should be).
This guide will explain what macros are, why you need to know yours, and how to calculate them like the keto pro you were destined to be.
What are Macros?
Macros is short for macronutrients. In layman’s terms, these are the food components that give us energy. Macronutrients include protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
It’s important to track your macros on a keto diet for several reasons but overall, knowing your macros will help you plan your meals efficiently and effectively.
Even if you just know the basics of keto at this point, you should understand that the body uses macronutrients in a specific order when finding fuel. First, it uses carbohydrates (broken down into glucose). If glucose is unavailable, the body switches to using fat as energy. Finally, it relies on protein.
When trying to enter or remain in ketosis, you want to be consuming a diet high in fat with minimal protein and very limited carbohydrates. When you determine your macros, you’ll know exactly how many grams of each macro you should be consuming. This takes out the guessing work.
Think of it this way. You’ve been given a recipe. However, the recipe only lists ingredients. You know what you should be putting into the recipe but have no idea how much. But when you calculate and track your macros, you’ll know the exact measurement of each ingredient you should be using.
Here’s what you need to know about different macros.
On a true ketogenic diet, you’ll be taking in more fat than any other macronutrient. One of the greatest advantages of eating a diet high in fat is that you’ll feel fuller after eating and for longer.
But it’s all about eating the right types of fats. Butter, avocados, and nuts are great sources of healthy fats. These are the ones that will put your body in ketosis and turn it into a fat burning machine.
Our bodies can’t go without protein. It preserves lean muscle and repairs any damage caused to muscles during exercise or physical movement. Even if you are using a ketogenic diet to lose weight, you don’t want to lose muscle mass.
This is why the number on the scale isn’t always the most important. If you’re shedding fat and either maintaining or improving your muscle mass and strength, you’re on the right track.
However, it’s important to not consume too much protein on a ketogenic diet. If your body has an excess of protein, it will be stored as fat throughout your body.
Before starting a ketogenic diet, most don’t realize just how many grams of carbs they’re consuming daily. Here’s why this is such a big deal. We don’t need carbs to survive! Yes, they do provide the body with energy by transitioning into glucose after consumption. But because there are alternative sources of energy for the body to use, minimizing carbs from our diets can save us from several health side effects, like weight gain and insulin resistance.
Here’s one quick tip to keep in mind. When you’re tracking carbs on a ketogenic diet, you should be focused on net carbs. To determine the number of net carbs in a product, subtract fiber grams from carb grams. The remaining number is net carbs.
We subtract fiber because our bodies don’t really absorb it. Fiber is considered a carb but because it doesn’t affect our blood sugar levels or find a home in our bodies as fat, we can subtract it from the overall number of carbs in a product or ingredient.
Required Information for Tracking Macros
Before you start tracking those macros, you’ll need to gather up a few tidbits of personal date and information. Don’t skip past these. Some provide you with the insight you need to make the most of tracking macros while others are an intricate part of the equations you’re about to learn.
Body composition is different between the genders, making daily calorie intake basics unique to each.
Height and weight
Don’t estimate these numbers. They’re both important to accurately determining your macros. If you need to, hop on a scale. When it comes to height, you’ll need the number in just inches.
Age plays a role in your body composition. Even if you’re fit, muscle mass gradually declines with age, especially past 30.
Body fat percentage
Knowing your body fat percentage allows you to calculate your lean body mass. Need to know how to measure your body fat percentage? You have a few options.
- Set of calipers: This is an old-fashioned but accurate method to determining body fat percentage. Order your own or head to the gym (most have them) and measure according to these directions.
- At home scale: Here’s the easiest way to measure your body fat. Purchase an at home scale with a body fat feature. Keep in mind that these aren’t the most accurate, but they should give you a promising idea of what percentage you’re at.
- Professional methods: These are only for the most serious macros counters. There are several professional methods you can use to determine your body fat percentage. One is underwater weighing. The test is expensive but incredibly accurate. You can also be scanned, another expensive but accurate option. In most cases, these types of methods aren’t necessary, but they are available.
Knowing the minimum number of calories you burn in a day helps to calculate your basil metabolic rate. This is used in tandem with your body fat percentage to determine how many calories your body actually needs.
How to Calculate Macros
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for. While there are plenty of macros calculators out there, including those designed specifically for the ketogenic diet, knowing how to calculate your own macros will provide you with more knowledge and power over your health. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1. Determine how many calories you need
This is a crucial step. Our bodies use calories all day. They use about 60% while resting, even sleeping, and 30% for physical activity. The remaining 10% are used for digestion. Every one’s daily calorie intake is different. Here are a few ways you can find your perfect number.
The first thing we need to do is determine your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This is the number of calories your body burns just to perform basic operations throughout the day. There are a few ways to do this.
Option 1- Harris-Benedict Formula
This method is incredibly accurate and preferred by most. You’ll need:
- Your weight (W)
- Your height (H)
- Your age (A)
Now you’ll plug those numbers into one of the following equations. They’re different for men and women so use which one applies to you.
- Men: 66 + (6.23 x W) + (12.7 x H) – (6.8 x A) = BMR
- Women: 655 + (4.35 x W) + (4.7 x H) – (4.7 x A) = BMR
Option 2 – Estimate
If you’re in a hurry, here’s how to estimate your BMR. Keep in mind these equations don’t take your individual body composition into account.
- Men: 11 x weight in pounds = BMR
- Women: 10 x weight in pounds = BMR
Option 3 – Sterling-Pasmore Equation
There’s one more way we can calculate your BMR. You’ll need your body fat measurements for this.
- Body fat percentage (e.g. 0.17) x weight = fat mass
- Weight – fat mass = lean body mass
- Lean body mass (in pounds) x 13.8 = BMR
Now that you have your BMR, one way or another, we multiply it by your daily activity level number. See which fits your daily activity the most.
- Primarily sedentary – You spend most of the day on the couch or at your desk working. Your number is 1.2.
- Sedentary – You get in about a half hour of exercise once or twice a week. Your number is 1.375.
- Moderate – You work out regularly but nothing too strenuous. You enjoy walking around the neighborhood after dinner. Your number is 1.55.
- Active – You regularly hit the gym for intense cardio workouts and strength training. Your number is 1.725.
- Extremely active – Whether you live at the gym or work a highly physical job, the majority of your day is spent burning calories and using muscle strength. Your number is 1.9.
What you have is your daily calorie intake you would need to maintain your current weight. If you’re hoping to lose weight, lower the number by about 20%.
Step 2. Figuring out your macros
Now that we know how many calories you should be taking in, we can start breaking down the numbers by macro type. Here are some numbers to keep in mind.
- 1 gram of protein – 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
If you’re following a traditional keto diet, it should look like this.
- Fat – 75%
- Protein – 20%
- Carbs – 5%
If you’re following an altered keto diet, use your own percentages.
Now we’ll determine the exact grams of each macro you should be consuming, based on your calorie needs and keto percentages.
- To figure out fat grams, multiply calorie intake by 0.75. Divide this by 9.
- To figure out protein grams, multiply calorie intake by 0.20. Divide by 4.
- To figure out carbohydrate grams, multiply calorie intake by 0.05. Divide by 4.
A bit overwhelmed? Let’s introduce a couple of imaginary keto followers. Meet Gary, a 32-year-old male and Sarah, a 25-year-old female. Here’s how their numbers would break down.
- Gender: Male
- Age: 32
- Weight: 200 pounds
- Height: 72 inches
- Body fat percentage: 18%
- Activity level: moderate
Let’s start plugging in the numbers using our first option for determining BMR.
- 66 + (6.23 x 200) + (12.7 x 72) – (6.8 x 32) = BMR
- 66 + 1246 + 914 – 217 = 2,009
If we also use the estimation process of determining Gary’s BMR, we end up with a BMR of 2,200. As you can see, estimating isn’t entirely accurate but should be close if you’re choosing this method for yourself.
We multiply Gary’s BMR by his moderate activity level.
- 2,009 x 1.725 = 3,465
We take away 20% because Gary is hoping to lose some weight. That leaves us with 2,772 calories.
Gary’s following a traditional keto diet. So, his macros come out to 231 grams of fat, 138 grams of protein, and 34 grams of carbs. Gary’s a big guy so his numbers are higher than most. Let’s look at Sarah.
- Gender: Female
- Age: 25
- Weight: 140 pounds
- Height: 58 inches
- Body fat percentage: 26%
- Activity level: sedentary
Let’s start plugging in the numbers using our first option for determining BMR.
- 655 + (4.35 x 140) + (4.7 x 58) – (4.7 x 25) = BMR
- 655 + 609 + 272 – 117 = 1,419
Let’s also use our third option for determining BMR for Sarah.
- 26 x 140 = 36.4
- 140 – 36.4 = 103.6
- 6 x 13.8 = 1,429
As you can see, the Sterling-Pasmore equation will also provide you with an accurate BMR.
We multiply Sarah’s BMR by her sedentary activity level.
- 1,419 x 1.375 = 1951
Sarah isn’t trying to lose weight, so we leave her daily calorie intake at 1,951.
Sarah is following a traditional keto diet though. So, her macros come out to 162 grams of fat, 97 grams of protein, and 24 grams of carbs.
And there you have it. You can now calculate your macros!
Why Do You Need to Track Macros?
There are several benefits associated with tracking macros, whether you’re going keto or not. Here are just a few benefits to remind yourself of when it seems like the additional work isn’t worth it.
- Meal prep is easier
When you know the exact amount of the main food types you should be eating, it becomes easier to quickly spot recipes you need to stay away from and find ones that match your needs. This will take the stress out of meal time as you’ll always be equipped with a new recipe to try. When eating keto, we always recommend planning out meals in advance so you’re less likely to stray when hunger strikes.
- You’ll be less likely to stray from your diet
This brings us right into our next benefit. When you know precisely what your diet should look like, you’ll be more likely to stick to it and do so correctly. With some diets, including the ketogenic diet, you could find yourself making mistakes without realizing it. Food labels can be confusing and nutritional facts can be misleading. By tracking macros, you’ll find your diet is much more accurate.
- You’ll learn more about how ketosis works
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health. As you learn more about tracking macros, other pieces of the keto puzzle will begin to fall into place. The more you understand, the better you’ll be able to control your ketosis and use it for all its advantages.
Counting macros isn’t easy. It takes determination and planning. The benefits are well worth the effort but here are a few tips to make tracking macros as simple as possible.
- Stay positive
If you approach macros with the wrong attitude, you’ll be doomed to fail from the start. Don’t look at your numbers as restrictions. As humans, we don’t like being told we can’t have something. Instead, think of your macros as the tools you need to reach your health goals.
- Buy a food scale
To be as accurate as possible with your diet, invest in a high-quality food scale. This will ensure you’re consuming the proper number of grams of macronutrients.
- Use an app
If you’re having trouble keeping all your numbers in order, use an app to keep track of your macros. While there are specific apps that will help you out, sometimes just tracking the numbers in a virtual note is enough to keep you on top of everything.
- Meal plans
Whenever possible, plan out your meals. Try sitting down on Sunday night and planning out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next week. Planning a night out with friends? That’s okay. Take a moment and research a restaurant’s food so you’re not caught off guard when it’s time to order. Whenever possible, make your food in advance. Pack it in storage containers or sandwich bags so you have meals and snacks ready to go at all times.
You know the drill. It’s not just about what you eat but what you do after you eat. Increase your cardio activities, whether it’s just going for a light stroll after dinner or hitting the gym five days a week.
- Update macros
As your body changes and your goals as well, you might need to update your macros from time to time. After significant weight loss, recalculate. Also, if you’re not seeing results like you had hoped, try calculating again.
There’s so much to learn about ketogenic diets. In fact, many believe there are still plenty of benefits we haven’t discovered.
Don’t let going keto overwhelm you. We all start off as novices. Learning how to count macros (and understanding what they really mean) is a great step to take towards reaching your ketogenic goals.