“Macros” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the dieting and health world. If you’re not sure what it means or how it affects a ketogenic diet, then we’re here to help.
Macros – or macronutrients – are the food classes required in the highest amounts by any diet. In the keto diet, those food classes are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, as they have an effect on blood sugar, glucose, insulin levels, hormones, and therefore, the state of ketosis.
Fats are 90% ketogenic due to low glucose production when fats are broken down into triglycerides. Proteins are 45% ketogenic as insulin levels rise when you consume protein and typically half of the protein you eat can be converted into glucose. Carbs are 100% anti-ketogenic due to the fact that they increase insulin production and glucose levels.
Understanding macronutrients is very important as you need to know exactly how much of each food class you should be eating in order to enter a prime state of ketosis.
In order to fully understand your macros, you have to consider and understand how the nutrients you consume are being used and converted into energy. We can figure this out through our metabolic pathways.
Metabolic pathways are the paths through which each of our macros are broken down, and the way that our bodies process and handle them throughout the different states that our bodies go through.
We have Three Bodily States
1. The Fed State.
This occurs right after we have eaten a full meal. In this state, consumed fats travel directly to the liver, where they are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids, which continue their journeys afterwards to make chemicals and tissues and to repair cells in the body.
Excess fat is converted into triglycerides and becomes stored in the body as fat cells.
Meanwhile, proteins go through transamination and are turned into amino acids. They go on to make up protein-based compounds in the body and to form neurotransmitters and non-essential amino acids.
Excess amino acids are stored as glucose or move around to repair tissue.
In the meantime, carbohydrates are directly processed into glucose and immediately turned into usable energy. A sudden spike in the levels of glucose in the body causes insulin to be released into the body, which works to store the glucose, turning it into glycogen or fat, the latter of which moves to fat cells.
2. The Fasting State
This state occurs when we have not eaten for between two and eight hours and happens because blood glucose has reached a borderline state, which triggers the production of the glucagon hormone.
This hormone processes any other energy we have in store in the most efficient way. Insulin levels have decreased at this point.
The nutrients in our bodies at this point are processed differently from how they are processed in the fed state, and they all end up processing into the same end product, which is known as acetyl-CoA. This item plays a delicate role in the Kreb’s Cycle to form the energy molecule known as ATP.
What happens is that glycogen from the liver is released, causing more glucose to permeate the bloodstream. This glucose is used by red blood cells and the brain.
Elsewhere, fat cells release unused fatty acids in triglyceride form, which will power the muscles and the liver, usually while we sleep. If needed, the liver will also convert some of these into ketones for added fuel.
This happens more and more the longer we remain in the fasting state.
3. The Starved State
This is a state which occurs when we have not eaten in over 48 hours. By this point, our muscles and liver have run out of glycogen and our body no longer has enough glucose to provide them with more.
To rectify this, the liver will begin working to process lactate into more glucose for the red blood cells while also producing ketones, which will provide energy for the brain and muscles as the ketones oxidize.
What do these three states mean? Well, what this means is that the keto diet tricks the body into believing it is in a starved state, causing the liver to create ketones from our fats and turning them into energy because there is not enough glucose in the body.
This relates back to macros because what we need to do is consume the right amount of each food class in order to best replicate the starved state without actually needing to experience any feelings of hunger.
How to Accurately Calculate your Macros
We all know that the keto diet is a high fat one, as the food class is 90% ketogenic, allowing us to get away with consuming plenty of fats without adverse effects.
But why is it only 90%? What about the other 10%? The smaller percentage refers to the glucose produced by glycerol in triglycerides, which are a product of fat.
However, because you will be eating portions of fat throughout the day in small amounts, as opposed to one big sitting, the body doesn’t register that glucose as there is so little of it. Think of it this way: if you eat 150g of fat a day, you’re only producing 15g of glucose.
Of course, do not overdo your fat intake. Fat is meant to be the only macro in the keto diet that requires adjustment based on your personal protein needs and the amount of carbs you limit yourself to. It is, essentially, the food class that determines how many calories you eat in a day.
The more fat you eat, the more energy you get, but you still don’t want to have an excess of calories because calorie deficit is what leads to weight loss. At the same time, you don’t want too little calories, either. Aim for a moderate calorie deficit.
Try this Keto Diet Macro Calculator from Perfect Keto to find the right balance of fats, proteins and carbs to eat daily.
Protein is a little tricky to balance in the keto diet. Eating too little of it can cause muscle mass reduction and lead to a slower metabolic rate, but eating too much of it can stop ketosis because protein is 54% anti-ketogenic and can raise blood glucose levels.
Striking this balance is essential. It is easier done by spreading out your protein intake throughout the day.
The best way to determine your optimal protein consumption is based on your lean mass and your level of activity. Let’s break this down.
Your lean body mass is the equivalent of your total body fat subtracted from your weight. In order to find your total body fat, or reach a relatively accurate estimate, there are a few methods you can use.
You can use skinfold calipers, which is the most common and preferred method. You can take your body measurements at the waist, hips, and neck for a less accurate but still acceptable measurement.
You can go for dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Lastly, you can use visual estimates based on reference pictures and drawings, but this is the least accurate method. Once you have your body fat, subtract that figure from your weight, and you’ll have your lean body mass.
The next step is to multiply your lean body mass by a specific factor. But what factor is it? This factor is determined by your activity level, which is best defined as how active your lifestyle is during the day. Here’s a general breakdown of each level of activity and the factors you will use for them.
Activity Lifestyle Level
1. Sedentary. This level of activity involves little to no exercise, with light walking being your only form of physical activity, and is typical among those who work office jobs and spend majority of their day sitting behind a desk. The factor for a sedentary activity level is 0.6.
2. Lightly active. In this category, you may perform light exercise such as walking and light cycling about one to three times a week or will have a job that only involves small amounts of activity, like being a doctor, nurse, or teacher. The factor for a lightly active activity level is 0.7.
3. Moderately active. This level involves moderate exercise in the form of cardio or muscle training about three to five times per week. Jobs that fall under this category are relatively active ones like waiters and chefs. The factor for a moderately active activity level is 0.8.
4. Very active. In this category, you are likely to exercise intensely five or more times a week, training your muscles, performing hard cardio, and doing other rough exercises at fitness level. You may also have a very active job and work as a farmer, construction worker, or landscaper. The factor for a very active activity level is 0.9.
5. Athlete level. As the name suggests, being a part of this area means working out daily at a professional level. The maximum factor for any activity level is 1.0.
In order to find out your optimal protein intake, simply multiply your lean body mass in pounds by the factor that matches your lifestyle’s activity level. No matter what, your optimal protein level should remain the same based on your activity level, regardless of the diet you choose to be on.
The rule with the keto diet is to eat as little carbs as possible. Carbs are processed food groups, meaning that the amount you eat is converted to pretty much exactly the same amount of blood glucose.
If you are on the standard keto diet, you should not be consuming more than 30g of carbs per day, but there is some leeway depending on what your needs are.
A keto diet typically demands that you have no more than 50g of total carbs and 25-30g of net carbs per day, dialed back to as low as 20g of net carbs or even total carbs depending on why you are on the keto diet.
Smaller carb intakes are needed for therapeutic keto dieters, and those who are aiming to lose weight can try and lower their total carb intake too.
So How Many Calories Should you be Eating?
Generally, a keto diet doesn’t require too much calorie counting, but if you’re really gunning to lose weight, then doing so can be helpful.
There are a few things to consider when calculating your total necessary calories. Firstly, there is an amount of essential body fat mass that is vital and cannot be lost or burned off. This fat level is at 3-5% for men and 8-12% for women.
Secondly, your body can only release a maximum of 69.2 kcal or 290kJ per kg of non-essential fat daily.
Thirdly, you should never eat less than 30g of fat per day on the keto diet as this is important for preventing gallstones.
What does this information mean? Well, basically, there is a limit to how much fat you can burn per day before you begin losing muscle mass and slowing down your metabolic rate.
So don’t be overly ambitious in your calorie restrictions and weight loss goals. Stick to a moderate calorie deficit, and speak to a dietician or doctor if you have concerns.
Now, for some final tips. Don’t stress yourself out too much by weighing yourself several times a week. Many people, especially women, experience weight fluctuations regularly due to water retention and hormone production.
In fact, if you’re coupling your diet with exercise, you may even gain weight because you are losing body fat but building more muscle mass, and muscle mass is heavier than fat.
Limit your weigh-ins to once a week at the very most. Ideally, there may come a point where you no longer care about the number on the scale and focus more on your overall health and fitness. Monthly weigh-ins can help give you an idea of where you’re going, but there’s no need to obsess over the numbers on the scale.
Lastly, remember to recalculate your macros every month! Life changes, exercise and activity level changes, and weight loss will require adjustments to your meal plans. Good luck out there!
Need more help? Check out Ketogenic Diet Beginnings Here!