The keto diet can be an effective way to shed pounds without some of the hunger, cravings and muscle loss that sometimes accompany other weight loss plans. But it can also be tricky to follow. That’s where knowing about keto and macros can help.
Macros, or macronutrients, are the energy-supplying nutrients — fat, protein and carbohydrates — that the body needs in large quantities. Fat, protein and carbs are the three main components of a keto diet, in that order.
- Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient, supplying nine calories per gram.
- Protein and carbohydrate each supply four calories per gram.
“The ketogenic lifestyle is a very regimented diet or way of eating, without a lot of room for cheating,” explains Pam Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian with Abbott. “Tracking your macros can help you maintain ketosis and help assures you’ll be following a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb plan. This is important because precise intakes of macros lead to better results, including weight loss and body composition changes.”
Here’s what you need to know about tracking macros, and how they can help you get the most out of your keto plan.
“The ketogenic lifestyle is a very regimented diet or way of eating, without a lot of room for cheating.”
Pam Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian with Abbott
A Different Kind of Diet
Most weight loss plans work by cutting calories. The ketogenic diet works differently, in that it changes the way your body uses energy. How does it do that? Normally, your body burns glycogen for fuel, much of which comes from dietary carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet encourages your body to use byproducts of fat metabolism, known as ketones, for fuel instead. This causes your body to enter a fat-burning state called ketosis, which suppresses your appetite and may make it easier for you to eat less.
The trick to achieving ketosis is significantly increasing the percentage of fat in your diet, while simultaneously cutting out most carbs. On a typical keto plan, you’ll get your calories from roughly 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates.
But the keto diet isn’t just another low-carb plan. “The keto diet is really different from other low-carbohydrate diets that allow higher intakes of protein,” says Bede. “After we digest and absorb protein, our bodies can convert it to glucose if needed. If you eat too much protein while on the keto diet, you may not be able to reach or maintain ketosis.”
Reaching ketosis can be a challenge, even for the most dedicated dieter. “After years of relying on carbohydrates for energy, it takes a couple of weeks to fully adapt to this way of eating,” explains Bede. “Once you’ve had a chance to adjust, stick to the plan rather than undoing all of your hard work.”
Enter macros. Tracking these nutrients to make sure you’re eating them in the right ratio helps ensure you’re getting results from your keto plan. The two most popular ways to track macros are through a food journal or a macros tracker app.
There are a lot of different macros tracker apps to choose from these days. All of them serve the same primary function — to show you the percentage of calories you’ve consumed from each macronutrient based on the food you’ve tracked that day. Some go a step further, allowing you to track your weight over time, plan healthy meals, compete in wellness challenges with friends and even scan barcodes of food packaging for easier tracking.
Food journaling requires a few extra steps but is an equally effective means to track macros. Rely on information found on a food’s nutrition label and valuable tools like the USDA Nutrient Analysis Library which allow you to determine the nutrient content of generic and branded foods as well as fresh produce. Once you determine the macronutrients found in your food, simply follow these formulas when journaling:
For percentage fat:
Multiply total grams of fat by nine. Divide the result by total daily calories. Multiply this number by 100 for percent calories from fat.
For percentage carbohydrate:
Multiply total grams of carbohydrates by four. Divide the result by the total daily calories. Multiply this number by 100 for percent calories from carbohydrates.
For percentage protein:
Multiply total grams of protein by four. Divide the result by the total daily calories. Multiply this number by 100 for percent calories from protein.
Striking a Balance and the Keto Flu
While your macronutrient ratio will play the most critical role, it’s not the only consideration when adhering to the keto diet. Certain lifestyle factors, like hydration and exercise, will also contribute to your success.
Dehydration can exacerbate symptoms of keto flu — temporary side effects of your change in diet, including headache, fatigue, nausea and muscle cramps. Manage side effects by sipping on calorie-free and electrolyte-rich beverages throughout your day. Add in regular exercise which can help boost your resting metabolic rate and support the desired outcomes of the keto diet.
And despite keto’s emphasis on macros, you still need to remember the value of micronutrients. Potassium, calcium, and vitamins C and B are just a few of the micronutrients that are essential to support optimal health.
“When you start the keto diet, select food groups will disappear from your plate,” says Bede, referring to those typically packed with the aforementioned nutrients. “It’s important to consider the vitamins and minerals these foods provided.” She recommends finding alternate sources of nutrients or adding those foods — fruits, vegetables and grains — back to your diet in incremental quantities or consider taking a supplemental multivitamin.
Hitting the Keto Sweet Spot
Despite best-laid plans, it can sometimes be difficult to follow diets like keto because they require such strict attention to detail. “We know that being successful on keto requires a lot of rigor and regimentation,” says Bede. “So you want to be sure to invest time in meal prep and meal planning.”
Having convenient keto options on hand, such as Keto shakes and powders, can help you hit your macros when you’re on the run or simply don’t have time to prepare a balanced keto meal or snack.
And don’t forget to stock your kitchen with your favorite keto-friendly foods: cheeses, olives, oils, avocados, cold-water fish, and eggs are all tasty on their own, and work beautifully in combination. “Having keto staples like these readily available is the key to long-term success,” says Bede, “especially when you really enjoy eating them.”