What are macros?
There are quite a few terms that we throw around in the keto world but macronutrients, or macros for short, might just be the one that gets the most action. Macros are the large components which make up the bulk of your daily intake. They are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Macros are the structural blocks from which our body’s energy is produced. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are the small supplemental pieces of the puzzle that assist the macros with doing their job correctly. These are vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Most people don’t give too much thought to either unless they are following a specific diet, such as keto.
The foods we eat are made up of macros in various percentages. For example, an avocado is composed of around 75% fat, 20% carb, and 5% protein, whereas a banana is 95% carb and very small percentages of protein and fat. Since a ketogenic diet is high fat, moderate protein, and very low carb, it is important to be mindful of the foods we eat so we stay within our optimal range for ketosis. This is where a good macro calculator is essential. It will help you figure out your exact requirements to achieve healthy ketosis and also can easily be updated as your nutritional goals evolve.
As you can see from the macros pie graph, your macros should be distributed at around 70% good fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. This is where all that talk of butter and bacon comes into play. I’m not saying that’s what we live on, but they definitely flow freely in the world of keto. As always though, make sure you are getting the right (grass-fed) butter, and make sure your bacon has no added sugars. Most ketoers get their fat from avocados, coconut oil, MCT oil, grass-fed butter, nuts, dairy, red meats, and fatty fish. I eat most of this list every day. Macadamia nuts are my life right now, great source of good fat, and they are deliciously filling. Always keep in mind that keto is moderate protein, it’s easy to go over especially if you eat a lot of dairy. Which brings us to the next section.
Why do we count macros?
That’s not a tough one, we count macros to make sure we keep our bodies in a state of ketosis. There is a thing out there called “lazy keto”. Lazy keto is following a ketogenic diet but not keeping track of your macros. This works for a lot of people and that’s great, but for some of us, it’s necessary to track our intake. It’s especially important in the beginning when you are just learning the ropes, but also whenever you start to feel poorly while following the diet. That usually means you are not taking in the proper number of nutrients and your body is getting pissed.
After a time of eating a very low carb diet, your body adjusts to its new fuel source and becomes what is called fat-adapted. When you are fat-adapted, your system is comfortable with burning fat for fuel and has learned that this is the new norm. This is what allows the occasional breathing room in your macro equation without throwing you off course. Let me stress though that I do mean OCCASIONAL. Going off the rails every weekend for instance, will absolutely wreak havoc on your health and leave you in a worse place than when you started. This is why keeping track of your macros is fairly important, and it’s just a good habit besides. When you are monitoring your intake, it’s a lot easier to pinpoint and diagnose any issue or stall that may arise. You can effortlessly check what you’ve eaten or drunk recently and see if you need to make some adjustments.
How do I track my macros?
The percentages illustrated above are only meant to be a guideline, you should always track your macros in grams. Once you have entered your information into the macro calculator, you then choose the specific set of numbers based on your individual goal. Whether you are at a point of maintenance, trying to lose weight, or trying to gain, will determine the daily amounts of each macro component you need. It is generally recommended staying under 20-30 grams of carbs per day to start. Some people can take in more and still achieve their goals, you will have to tweak your numbers to find the optimal range for you.
It is important to try to get as close to your goal numbers as you can. While a few grams here and there shouldn’t cause an issue, constantly being over or under can lead to other health concerns. Women especially need to be mindful of getting enough fat in their diets. Hormones and menstrual cycles rely on fat for proper function.
There are a number of tracking apps out there, among the most popular are MFP ( Myfitnesspal), Cronometer, and Carb manager. There are advantages and drawbacks to each one. Obviously none of the will work if you don’t use them, so make sure you are logging every single thing you eat and drink during the course of the day. The most popular at the moment is MFP, this is the app I currently use. The free version works well enough, the general consensus among its users is that the paid version isn’t necessary. I really like the fact that it has an incredibly vast database of foods, including a ton from individual bloggers. You can scan food right into the app from a product’s barcode making it super simple to log almost anything. It doesn’t track net carbs and you can’t set the carb count to exactly 20 grams with the free version, but as long as you can do simple math, it works just fine. I would advise trying a couple out and seeing what works best for you. I’d love to hear what apps you like and why in the comments.
Your individual macros are a formula calculated by using your current height, weight, age, activity level, and whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain your current weight. It’s important to understand the concept of BMR when following any diet or caloric restriction. BMR is your Basal Metabolic Rate, or the number of calories your body needs to maintain its vital functions including respiration, digestion, circulation, temperature regulation, and basic cellular activity. If you eat less than your minimum calorie requirement for an extended period of time, your body will hijack the necessary nutrition from another organ or system. It will cannibalize muscle, organ tissue, and shut down what it deems unnecessary functions in its effort to survive. At no time should you take in less the calories required to maintain your BMR. You are not going to lose weight any faster by starving yourself, in fact you will most likely gain weight, and your metabolism will slow down.
You have to eat, you have to fuel your body so it can function and heal. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain that they hit a plateau and are struggling to lose weight, only to find that once they increase their fat intake, they begin losing again. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Keto is not a magical fix, but a healing lifestyle. Stick to the plan, stay the course, track your numbers, and you will look and feel better every day.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I look forward to your feedback.