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Counting macros can play a big role in helping you reach your keto diet goals. You may have even heard seasoned keto followers say things like “if it fits your macros” or “I need to start tracking my macros.” But what are macros, and why are they so important? We’ll answer all your keto macros questions here, complete with simple tools to help you tally them.
What Are Macros? Table Of Contents
What Are Macros? (Macro Meaning)
Macros is a shortened term for macronutrients. They are the fat, protein, and carbohydrates that give your food an energy value, and you can find them on nutrition labels. Choosing food with different macro ratios can help you tailor your meals to meet your diet goals.
Each type of macro has a caloric value, which determines the calorie count on a nutrition label.
One gram of fat is 9 calories’ worth of energy. On a keto diet, you enter a state called ketosis, where fat is your primary source of fuel. So, when it comes to keto macros, you’ll get the majority of your calories from fat.
One gram of protein contains 4 calories. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of our cells. Protein is crucial for hundreds of body processes, as well as maintaining lean body mass.
One carbohydrate is worth 4 calories. Carbohydrates break down into sugar in the body, and also trigger an insulin response, which (among many other functions) signals your body to store body fat [*].
Too many carbs will prevent your body from entering ketosis, which is why we limit them so much on a keto diet.
On keto, you will most likely focus on counting net carbs, which exclude fiber, sugar alcohols, and allulose. This is because fiber, sugar alcohols and allulose either don’t get absorbed or don’t get metabolized, meaning they don’t spike blood sugar or affect ketosis. Learn more about how to calculate net carbs here!
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What Are The Ideal Keto Diet Macros?
If you’re wondering, “What should my macros be?” this is your place to find the general guidelines. Keto and low carb diets have different macro ranges.
Keto Macro Percentages
Keto macros are:
- 60-75% fat
- 20-25% protein
- 5-10% net carbs
To figure your macros on keto, you start with a limit for your net carbs, calculate how much protein you need based on your lean body mass, and the remainder of your calories come from fat. (More details on these calculations are below!)
Low Carb Macro Percentages
On a low carb diet, macro ranges are:
- 40-70% fat
- 15-30% protein
- 15-30% net carbs
In contrast to a keto diet, low carb macros are all calculated by percentages, and a higher percentage of carbs are permitted.
Ideal Macros For Keto vs Low CarbPin It For Later!
How To Calculate Macros For Weight Loss
Counting macros can help you pinpoint the best foods to eat for weight loss, and also how much to eat. If you want to use macros in this way, you will need to gather some information about yourself and make a few calculations.
The keto diet is one of the most effective ways to lose weight [*] – without feeling miserable! – but low carb diets can work quite well, too.
How To Calculate Macros For a Keto Diet
Step 1: Calculate your TDEE
To calculate keto macros manually, you’ll need to determine your TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. TDEE is the number of calories you burn in a day, and determined by basic factors like age, gender, weight, height, and activity level.
To find TDEE, you will also need to determine your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate — that’s the number of calories your body expends for life-sustaining functions. The most accurate way to find it is with the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation [*]:
BMR for women = 10 X weight (kg) + 6.25 X height (cm) – 5 X age (y) – 161
If you don’t know your weight in kilograms and height in centimeters, you can convert like this:
Height in cm = height in inches X 2.54
Your activity level, combined with BMR, determines your personal TDEE:
Step 2: Calculate caloric intake necessary for your goal
Calculating TDEE helps you figure out how many calories to consume each day in order to maintain your weight. But if you want to lose fat or build muscle, you’ll need to adjust your calorie intake based on those goals.
For weight loss, a calorie deficit of 10-20% is recommended, meaning you’ll subtract 10-20% from your calories. Here is the calculation for a 15% deficit:
For muscle gain, a calorie surplus of 10% is recommended, meaning you’ll add 10% to your calories:
Step 3: Calculate your lean body mass
For keto macros in particular, you also need to calculate lean muscle mass, which will help determine how much protein you need to eat to maintain it. It’s your total weight, minus weight of fat:
If you don’t know your body fat percentage, see the section below on ways to calculate it using various tools, and how to estimate if you don’t have these.
Step 4: Set your carb limit
For keto macros, you’ll always want to set your limit on carbs first. This is the primary mechanism that will get you into ketosis and keep you there.
Most people will want to start out with limiting carbs to 20g or 25g per day:
Some people start higher if they have a great metabolism or are very fit, but 20-25g is a good starting point and you can experiment with increasing later.
Once you set your carb limit in grams, you can calculate the percentage of your calories that will come from carbs if you like:
Step 5: Calculate your protein goal
Next, you need to set your protein goal, which is crucial for calculating keto macros accurately. This is the grams of protein that you want to strive to eat each day (not less!), in order to maintain your lean body mass. The equation for that is:
The protein ratio is the number of grams of protein to consume per kilogram of body weight.
For more detail on the protein ratio, what it means and how to calculate it, we go into more detail about it below.
And if you want that as a percentage of your calories that will come from protein:
It’s important to try to reach your protein goal each day, because if you don’t, you will lose muscle. On the other hand, don’t overdo the protein – if you eat it in excess, it will convert to sugar in your body, via a process called gluconeogenesis.
Step 6: Calculate your fat based on remaining calories
Now that you’ve calculated how much protein and carbs to eat on keto, the rest of the calories you need will come from fat:
Grams of fat to eat = goal caloric intake X percent fat / 9
How To Determine Your Body Fat Percentage For Macro Calculations
Body fat percentage can be calculated using various scanners (like a DEXA scan at a gym or doctor’s office) for the highest accuracy.
If you want to measure at home, the easiest way is to use skin calipers.
If you don’t have these either, compare how you look visually to these to get a very general estimate:
Image source: https://www.builtlean.com/2012/09/24/body-fat-percentage-men-women/
How To Get The Protein Ratio For Macro Calculations
Your protein ratio is measured as the number of grams per kilogram of lean body weight (aka, everything except fat), accounting for your typical activity level. This ratio helps you figure out how much protein you should eat on keto.
It sounds a little complicated, but this ratio is especially useful if you follow a keto diet. Too much protein strains your kidneys and keeps you out of ketosis, while too little protein will cause you to lose muscle mass.
With your daily activity level in mind, here are guidelines to help determine your protein ratio:
- Sedentary: 0.6g to 0.8g protein per pound of lean body mass
- Light activity: 0.7g to 0.9g protein per pound of lean body mass
- Moderate activity: 0.8g to 1g protein per pound of lean body mass
- High activity: 1.0g to 1.2g protein per pound of lean body mass
- Athlete/bodybuilder: 1.2g protein per pound of lean body mass
Notice that each has a range, and you can experiment with what feels comfortable for you and gets you the results you want.
The protein ratio is used to calculate your daily protein goal, which is step 4 above.
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How To Calculate Macros For a Low Carb Diet
To calculate low carb macros, you’ll use many of the same equations as the ones needed for keto macros, but it’s a little easier. Some of the steps are the same, and some are different:
1. Calculate your TDEE
This is exactly the same as step 1 from the keto macros calculations above.
2. Calculate caloric intake necessary for your goal
This is exactly the same as step 3 from the keto macros above.
3. Calculate carbs, protein and fat by percentage
Once you know how many calories to eat, you’ll simple plug the percentages into the equations for each macronutrient to get the number of grams to eat:
Grams of protein to eat = goal caloric intake X percent protein / 4
Grams of fat to eat = goal caloric intake X percent fat / 9
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Free Low Carb & Keto Macro Calculator
A quality keto macro calculator will help you determine ideal fat, protein, net carbs, and calories you should consume in a day. No need to spend time calculating these figures yourself.
Unlike other calculators, this one works for both a low carb or keto diet and walks you through all the calculations. Simply fill in a few details like your height, weight, age, and more, and the calculator instantly determines your ideal macros based on your goals.
Best of all, it’s free! Try it here:
How To Count Macros
You can easily incorporate counting macros into your daily life. There are many ways to do it, and they are all affordable (or free).
How to track macros
How you count macros depends on personal preference. Some record them with paper and pen, others estimate their macros (a “lazy” form of keto), and still others find apps that will do the tallying for them.
When you prepare food, scrutinize your nutrition labels and record macros based on your serving sizes. A food scale can be helpful for measuring foods that you can’t easily portion into servings.
In case you didn’t know, every dish in my keto recipe index contains a nutrition label, too!
Do I have to count macros?
You don’t have to count your macros to follow a low carb diet. Plenty of people have been successful with a low carb or keto lifestyle by simply eating keto foods.
However, depending on your goals, counting macros can be beneficial. Anyone looking to lose weight, overcome a diet plateau, or learn the fundamentals of keto will benefit from macro tracking.
Keto Meal Plan To Fit Your Macros
You don’t need to spend hours looking up carb counts for food or decoding nutrition labels. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of counting macros, a macro meal planner can simplify the whole process.
My Wholesome Yum app does all the math for you:
- Simply drag and drop meals into your plan.
- The app will instantly calculate your total calories, net carbs, fat, and protein, and compare them against your personal macros!
- Available for Apple, Android, and desktop computers — and syncs across your devices
You can see at a glance whether your plan fills your macros too little or too much, so you can adjust your portions and recipes accordingly.
Try it for a week (free!) and see if it helps you stay on track: