“Keto macros” is one of the most buzz-worthy terms thrown around the keto community. From “hitting your keto macros” and “staying within your macros” to “fitting your macros” and “finding the right macros,” it pops up again and again in the keto crowd. If you’re new to the lifestyle, you’re probably wondering what keto macros are and how to calculate them. This article covers everything you need to know about keto macros and how to get started on everyone’s favorite low-carb, high-fat diet.
What Are Keto Macros?
To understand the answer to this question, you first need to know what macros are. “Macros” are short for “macronutrients,” which are the types of foods you need in large amounts to maintain health. They come in three broad groups of nutrients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. (We’ll discuss these individual macronutrients below.)
In contrast, micronutrients are dietary components, including vitamins and minerals, that the body needs in small quantities to maintain health. Another key difference between micronutrients and macronutrients is that the latter provides calories.
In the context of the ketogenic diet, the term “keto macros” refers to the balance (or ratio) of macros you need to eat to get into ketosis. This is known as the ketogenic macronutrient ratio in the science community and is presented as 4:1, meaning 4g of fat to every 1g of carbs and protein combined.
However, to achieve the perfect keto macros ratio to meet your specific goals, you’ll need to personalize them. One way to do this is by calculating your keto macros, but first you should learn about the ideal balance of each keto macro.
Despite being the main source of energy in most diets around the world, carbs are not an essential nutrient. Fatty acids from fat and amino acids from protein are both essential to the diet—but there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.
Even so, there are two reasons why carbs are recommended as a central nutrient. First, the body finds it easier to use carbs to make energy than it does proteins and fat. Second, the brain cannot use fat and protein for energy, so it relies on carbohydrates.
But here’s the twist—when carbs aren’t available, the brain can also use, and even thrive on, ketones derived from fat. Your body is perfectly capable of surviving without carbs, and the keto diet is proof.
To achieve ketosis, you need to limit carbs to 20–50g per day, which means roughly 5–10 percent of your daily calories are from carbohydrates.
But there’s a little room to maneuver when measuring your carb intake on keto: focus on net carbs rather than total carbs. A net carb is what you get when you subtract fiber grams from total carb grams. For example:
1 cup of broccoli
Total carbohydrate: 6g
Dietary fiber: 2.4g
Net carbs: 6g – 2.4g = 3.6g total
The reason you can focus on net rather than total carbs is that fiber isn’t a digestible carbohydrate. That means it doesn’t contribute to energy, doesn’t raise blood glucose, and doesn’t impact ketosis whatsoever.
Your body needs protein to grow and repair tissue, make essential hormones and enzymes, and support normal immune system functioning. The body breaks down dietary protein into amino acids, and only nine amino acids are essential, meaning your body cannot survive without them.
You can get all nine essential amino acids from animal sources of food as well as from a variety of nuts, seeds, and keto-friendly vegetables.
Unless you’re an athlete, protein intake on keto needs to be moderate (or adequate), which is defined as:
Minimum requirement: 0.8g per kilogram* of body weight
Physically active: 1g-1.6g per kilogram of body weight
Safe upper limit: 2g per kilogram of body weight
(*Here is a convenient kilogram to pound calculator.)
As a general rule, 20–25 percent of your daily calories should consist of protein on a keto diet. It’s best to stay moderate with protein on keto because your body can turn excess protein into glucose, which, in turn, may raise blood glucose levels and kick you out of ketosis.
Like protein, fat is an essential nutrient. More specifically, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for normal growth, development, and functioning. Fats help the body use fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and they provide structure to cell membranes.
On a keto diet, fat replaces carbs as the main source of energy in the diet. Up to 80 percent of your daily calories need to come from fats on a keto diet. But your body doesn’t use fat directly on keto. Rather, the body converts fats into acidic molecules called ketones, which provide up to 70 percent of the energy the brain needs during ketosis.
There is no set upper limit of fat intake for keto. However, you should watch how many calories you’re getting from fat if your main goal is weight loss.
How to Calculate Keto Macros
If you know your daily calorie requirements, you can calculate keto macros by hand. Simply use the recommended daily percentages for each macro and divide those among your calorie requirements. Or take the simpler route of calculating your personal keto macros with a keto calculator. This is a built-in feature on some websites and apps that helps you calculate the exact amounts of each macro you need to reach your goals on a keto diet.
Keto calculators work by using data such as height, weight, and activity level to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Based on your TDEE, you’ll be able to determine how much of each macro will help you reach your goals.
Keto macros—the amounts of each macronutrient you need to eat every single day to reach your keto diet goals—are central to reaching ketosis. While there are general estimates of how much of each keto macro is ideal on a keto diet, it’s best to calculate yours based on your daily calorie requirements and goals. Whatever your personal keto macros are, make sure you’re getting each one to stay healthy.
Images from iStock/thesomegirl (main), TanyaJoy (post).