Whether you’re following the ketogenic diet or just starting to learn about it, you’ve probably heard the term “tracking macros” or “counting macros.” But what exactly does it mean to track or count macros?
Macros were around before the keto diet. But minding them has gained major popularity thanks to the keto diet. Why? Because the keto diet is based on eating large amounts of good fats, drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake, and moderately limiting protein intake so that your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose.
But along with eating more fat and less protein and carbs, it’s also about consuming the right amounts of each based on your goal to lose fat or even maintain your weight.
Maybe your macro goals are around weight loss ,or perhaps they’re in conjunction with specific fitness goals, like a goal to build muscle. Or perhaps you have certain health goals, like reversing diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight, or using a special meal plan as adjunct therapeutic treatment for medical conditions.
Either way, this is where “macros” (short for macronutrients) come in.
What are Macros?
Macros, short for macronutrients, are the daily calories your body needs to achieve your goals while on the low-carb keto diet, broken into categories of optimal grams of fats, grams of carbohydrates, and grams of proteins (i.e. macro ratios). They are also your literal map for keto success. (In contrast, micronutrients are vitamins and minerals.)
But there’s not one daily macros sweet spot that works for everyone.
How to Calculate Macros
The optimal amount of macros is different for each person, based on age, height, weight/body composition, activity level, body fat percentages (this is different than BMI), and weight goals.
How do you know what your optimal macros should be? The easiest way to determine the correct amounts is to use a macro calculator like the MyMojoMacros calculator. Just input the requested information (such as your current weight, age, gender, etcetera) and it will calculate the breakdown of proper calorie intake, protein, carbs, and fat needed for you to lose, gain, or maintain your weight, depending on the health goals you set. (Expect a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight.)
Regardless of what number of calories are recommended, the general consensus within the keto community is that you want to keep your net carbs to 20 or less grams per day to lose weight, unless you’re an active athlete, in which case you can up your net carbs a bit.
Note: Factors such as age, gender, family, and personal medical history, and genetics influence how your body responds to specific macronutrients and whether or not they help keep your body in ketosis. For this reason, we recommend you discuss your intended diet with a medical provider or registered dietitian who knows your health history, has an understanding of the ketogenic diet, and can help you make choices that are best for you around healthy eating, fat loss, meal plans, and low-carb diets.
How to Track Your Macros
Once you know your macros, you should count (track) them to give yourself the best chance to get and keep your body in a ketogenic state.
Calculating your macros means knowing the total amount of calories, fat (ideally healthy fats), protein, and “net carbs” (described below) for everything you eat and drink and keeping track of them each day to ensure you don’t surpass your daily goals.
Yes, it’s a bit of work, especially if you want to be concise, eat fewer calories to lose weight, and make sure your eating habits support ketosis; you’ll need to count calories, read nutrition labels, ideally focus on whole foods (like meat, dairy, and veggies), monitor portion sizes, and ideally use a food scale and macros tracking app to make sure your calculations are precise (more on this below). And yes, everyone gets off track now and then. But don’t be discouraged. It’s all part of the journey and after a while, it really does become second nature.
We know from experience that it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re eating within your macros when you’re actually exceeding them. We also know that once you start keeping track and eating to your macros, you’ll find you’re less and less hungry over time and have far better overall success (including more stable blood-sugar levels!). Plus, it’s kind of fun, and definitely empowering, to see cool charts and graphs of your daily food intake.
You can manually track your daily macros intake or calculate your totals using an app, such as Cronometer, MyFitnessPal, or Carb Manager (see our review on keto apps here) or an online recipe analyzer like the one at Happy Forks. (NOTE: If you purchase the Keto-Mojo Promo Bundle, you’ll receive a 20% discount off the Cronometer Gold subcription.)
What Are Net Carbs?
Plainly put, “net carbs” are the total grams of carbohydrates in any given food minus its grams of sugar alcohols and fiber. Here’s the basic formula:
Net carbohydrates = total carbohydrates – fiber – sugar alcohols (if applicable).
If you are not familiar with sugar alcohols, we tell you all about them here.
Here’s an example of the net carb calculation, using a medium avocado, which, incidentally, does not contain sugar alcohols:
A medium avocado contains 17.1 grams of total carbs and 13.5 grams of fiber. So, to get its net carbs, you subtract the fiber (13.5 grams) from the total carbs (17.1 grams), which leaves you with 3.6 grams of net carbs (i.e., 17.1 grams carbs – 13.5 grams fiber = 3.6 grams net carbs for 1 medium avocado). Talk about reason to enjoy guacamole!
Now that you know about calculating macros, you have the power to set your daily intake of macros to manage your body weight, ketosis, and calorie goals, not to mention to get even more familiar with keto terms. Speaking of, here’s a new one to keep you going: “iifym.” It’s an abbreviation you’ll see used in blogs, on social media, and beyond and it means “if it fits your macros.” So go on and get ready for an educated next keto meal, including a keto treat, provided it has the right calories and grams of carbs. In other words, iifym!