‘Macros’ are short for macronutrients; fat, carbohydrates, and protein. When you are eating a ketogenic/low-carb high-fat diet, it is essential that you are hitting your macros in order to trigger the body to be in a fat burning state &/or losing weight if that is also your goal.
why dietary carbohydrates are not necessary
Unlike all other organs which happily run on ketones (fat) for fuel, your brain is an exception in that certain brain cells require glucose (about 50 grams per day) because those brain cells can’t run on ketones (fat). This causes a lot of confusion and is why some say that you must fuel your brain’s glucose requirements by eating carbohydrates, which turn into glucose in the body. But here’s why that’s wrong.
If you are in nutritional ketosis, the process of converting fat (dietary or stored) to ketones will naturally produce 1 gram of glucose for every 10 grams of fat burned for fuel, which means that you will naturally produce enough glucose for your brain’s daily needs while in nutritional ketosis (a fat burning state). The body has the capability and mechanisms for fueling itself without relying on you to eat carbs.
Eating 20-30 grams of total carbohydrate per day is enough to trigger nutritional ketosis, produce your brain’s daily requirement for glucose in the process, and keep most people satisfied with their diet.
Keeping carbohydrate under 30 grams for men & 20 grams for women is essential for triggering your body to run on fat for fuel.
The body does have a daily minimum requirement for protein. This will vary depending on how active you are, how much muscle currently have, and if you are trying to build muscle. If you don’t eat at least 20-30 grams of protein a day, your body will cannibalize the muscle you already have on your body in order to fuel its daily needs. So, you want to eat enough protein daily so that you don’t lose muscle, but you don’t want to eat too much either which can signal the body to reduce fat burning. Keto expert Maria Emmerich says that the optimum protein can be calculated by
.7 x your lean body mass
You can find your lean body mass by using a scale that will tell you your body fat percentage. If you don’t have a scale, you can guess by comparing how your body looks to these examples.
- If your body fat is 28%, then subtract that from 100 to get your lean body mass (72%).
- Now figure out how much 72% is in pounds by taking your weight and multiply it by the percentage of lean mass as a decimal. Say you weight 150 pounds in this example.
150 x .72 = 108 pounds of lean body mass
- Now you can calculate your optimal protein macros by multiplying your lean body mass in pounds by the magic number .7 to find your optimal protein intake daily in grams.
108 x .7 = 756 = 75.6 grams of protein per day
Maria advises that during weight loss to not go above this number. However, when you are eating keto to just maintain your weight, you can eat more protein.
When you have been eating keto by restricting carbohydrates to less than 30 grams per day, your body becomes what we call fat adapted, which means that it is happily running on fat for fuel. The body doesn’t care whether or not the fat comes from the fat you eat or the fat on your thighs. If you want to lose weight, then you’ll need to
- Restrict dietary carbohydrate to less than 30 grams for men, for women it’s usually less than 20 grams daily.
- Hit your protein macros daily.
- Restrict your fat, in order to signal the body to make up the difference by burning your stored fat.
Thus, if you want to lose fat, you must restrict your fat. Eating too much fat will signal the body to stop burning stored fat for fuel.
calculate your macros
Maria has developed a calculator that will tell you your ideal macros in order to lose, lose quickly, or maintain your weight by eating a ketogenic diet. Remember that if you are trying to lose, your calories will be low, (most people fall between 1000-1400 calories if they want to lose weight) in order to signal your body to burn stored body fat.
making your macros work
Now that you know your macros, you have two options to make sure you hit your macros; track and log your meals/macros in a program like My Fitness Pal, or use preplanned meal plans that have done the work for you.
my fitness pal:
After you join My Fitness Pal, go to food, –> settings and enter in your macro goals from the keto calculator above according to your goal to maintain, lose, or lose quickly. When you enter in the macros make sure that you are entering your macros in the number of grams per day, not as percentages of your daily calories. I highly encourage you to preplan your meals ahead of time, which makes hitting your macros easier.
If you hate counting and tracking then I suggest that you plan your meals ahead of time and/or use preplanned meal plans that have done the work for you. Even if you purchase preplanned meal plans, you will still need to be sure that the fat, calories, protein, and carbs in the plan are right for your personal macros. I periodically offer free weekly meal plans to members of my community.
meal planning guide
If you don’t want to pay for meal plans, then my suggestion is to create a go-to list of keto recipes that you like and use my meal planning program to help you organize those favorite recipes, and plan, shop, and keep you on a meal prep schedule every week so that you can crush your keto goals.
free weekly Keto Planner ~ Meals, Exercise, & IF At-A-Glance
I created this handy free planner tool to help keep me on track with my daily goals of intermittent fasting (18-hour fasting window), my planned meals for lunch and dinner, and what my planned fasted workout activities are. Isn’t that handy? This is a simple printable that you can use in conjunction with entering your macros with My Fitness Pal. It’s my gift to you when you join the community.