At Konscious Keto, we know that the ketogenic diet has become the hottest plan in the country. It's hard to tune into YouTube, read a health blog, or peruse a magazine without mention of the century-old eating style.
Well established and known for its therapeutic, hormonal, cognitive and metabolic benefits: the ketogenic diet was initially founded to remediate the debilitating symptoms of epilepsy in children. It has come to recent acclaim because of its ability to accelerate fat loss, regulate glucose and hormones, and even help with regulating menstruation and improving fertility.
You may have heard and seen enough from those around you to at least want to try a ketogenic diet but may be unsure of how to start or even structure your macronutrient profile to suit your wellness goals.
No worries, we'll walk you through the basics of structuring your macronutrients on a ketogenic diet to set you on the course to achieving your wellness goals while living a low-carb, high-fat, lifestyle.
What are Keto Macros?
Think of keto macros as a framework to help define the amounts of each primary nutrient set to consume daily per your health goals.
Essentially, your macros are a breakdown of the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates you ideally want to consume every day to maintain the state of nutritional ketosis while achieving your fitness or weight-loss goals.
When eating a standard ketogenic diet, the goal is to eat macros in the following proportions: 70% fat, 15% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
The caloric range that best suits your needs will vary based on some factors including gender, weight, and general levels of daily physical activity.
There are several iterations to the ketogenic diet like the standard, moderate, high-protein, cyclical, or therapeutic variations. The version of keto that works for you will depend primarily on your goals and energy demands.
Those who are athletes or very physically active tend to do well on a high-protein or cyclical ketogenic diet (centered around meal timing and eating immediately before or after exercise to support physical performance or muscle recovery).
Settling on the perfect dietary macros to meet your goals may take a bit of time and experimentation, but before long you'll define the ideal targets to produce consistent and reliable results.
Why Should I Calculate My Macros?
Weight loss is not as binary as calories in and calories out, but calorie consumption still affects weight loss or gain.
Along with reducing carbs, and increasing healthy fats, eating in an ideal caloric range to create a deficit will facilitate fat loss, while a surplus of caloric intake will produce weight gain.
Setting a macronutrient intake profile will aid in the successful execution of a ketogenic diet, per your goals. Use an online macro calculator like that provided by ruled.me for a solid starting point from which to embark on your keto journey.
Also, if you've been following keto for some time but have hit a weight-loss stall or are even gaining weight because you've strayed from tracking caloric intake—consider jotting down everything you eat and drink for a week, with a caloric limit that creates a deficit, to jumpstart your fat-loss efforts and reveal what is, or is not working well.
The Science Behind Fat, Carbs and Weight Loss
As is the case with fats, all carbs are not equal in the metabolic response they cause in the body, even if various foods are eaten in portions with the exact same caloric load.
Think of it like this, the absorption and response of 1 ounce of broccoli will differ vastly from how the caloric equivalent of M&Ms will be processed, with the later spiking glucose and disrupting hormone function and the former not.
Consuming fat or sugar in excess can hinder weight loss for different reasons. Eating a diet high in sugar-filled, high-carb foods inhibits fat loss because it causes glucose and insulin surges in the bloodstream and often provides calorically-dense but nutritionally deficient foods—essentially, contributing calories to your bottom line without giving adequate sustenance in return.
Although you may be shocked to hear us say it, excessive dietary fat consumption can also halt fat loss.
Although caloric, or energy, the output is based on many more factors than our physical exertion—there is value to the paradigm of calories-in-calories-out in reference to weight loss.
So while the calories we eat and those that our body exerts as energy to perform everyday tasks or exercise aren't perfectly equal, caloric deficits and surpluses still play a significant role in weight fluctuation.
The macro framework mentioned above on a ketogenic diet is an excellent guide, but again, your caloric target will vary based on some personal factors and your goals.
Using Macros for Weight Loss
A well-targeted macro profile is central to fat-loss success on a ketogenic diet. Rather than looking at macros as a restriction, see the targets as a helpful tool to keep you in the ideal zone to burn fat at an accelerated pace, even without exercise!
Use free macro-tracking apps, like MyFitnessPal, to ensure you stay within your personal fat-burning caloric zone. You can compare food and drink consumption to your weekly results to determine which dietary options best help to achieve your health goals.
Many factors affect weight loss on a ketogenic diet. A lack of activity, chronic stress, underlying medical issues, eating too many calories, and not following the suggested macro range can all negatively impact weight loss.
To optimize weight loss on a ketogenic diet: reduce stress, get moving and stay active, consume whole and nutritious foods, and get adequate sleep to allow time for your body to recover and regenerate healthy cells and muscle tissue.
How to Eat the Right Macros to Get Results
We encourage eating healthy fat as your primary macronutrient on a ketogenic diet, but overall caloric intake matters a lot when the goal is to release body fat.
The thing to keep central in a discussion related to weight loss is that the energy we consume—whether in the form of fat or carbohydrates—any more than our body needs is stored as fat.
Eating more than we need to function at any given time, by its very nature, is fattening regardless of the caloric source.
So, in general, the fat or carbs you eat may not be the source of your fat gain or inability to release fat—neither necessarily make you fat—but it may be your caloric intake that expands your waistline, along with some other hormonal and metabolic factors.
Whether looking to lose fat or gain muscle, there are some common mistakes people make that have a tendency to stall progress. Keep in mind the following to continue the pounds melting away, week after week:
#1. Mind your Calories
Depending on whether you seek to release fat or acquire lean muscle mass, caloric intake is critical to achieving your set goal.
Regardless of whether you eat organic, grass-fed food, and it's sent down to your plate from a cloud in the sky: consuming more calories than our body needs will result in the storage of the energy in the form of fat for later use.
Conversely, one can eat a ketogenic diet filled with protein, healthy fats, and low-glycemic vegetables but have a hard time achieving muscle-mass gain because they aren't eating enough calories to facilitate growth.
Determine your caloric needs based on your goals, lifestyle, and level of daily activity, and keep track of your efforts—especially at the onset of the diet—to provide yourself with valuable information regarding which elements are or aren't working toward the achievement of your goals.
#2. You're Eating Too Many Carbs
You may be eating a ton fewer carbohydrates than in your pre-keto days, and that's great, but some sweet fat bombs here and a handful of nuts there, and you may tally up a lot more carbs in your daily meal plan than anticipated.
If you find your fat loss has stalled, take your meal plan back to the basics. Remove packaged foods and limit or eliminate extra fat bombs for a week to see whether you are noshing on more calories than your body needs to utilize at the time, resulting in increased fat storage.
Return to tracking and weighing your food if required, so you can adjust your caloric limit to suit your current weight, activity level, and lifestyle to begin experiencing desired results again.
#3. Focus on Eating Whole, Nutritious, Foods
Whole foods are king on any dietary protocol, and this holds true on a ketogenic diet. Although there is a myriad of pre-packaged foods baring a keto-friendly stamp on their label today, eating too many packaged foods, with their added preservatives, can stall fat loss when consumed in excess.
If you notice a weight-loss stall, consider limiting or removing all packaged foods and returning to only whole foods like fatty fish, marbled meats, nuts and seeds and low-glycemic fruits and vegetables. Stick with it for a period to see if doing so moves the fat-loss needle in your desired direction.
How to Figure Out Your Fat Needs and Meet Them
Although we've mentioned the macronutrient framework we follow on a ketogenic diet before (fat: 70%, protein: 15%, and carbs: 5%), you may wonder what that means for you, how to determine your own fat needs on a ketogenic diet and further, how to ensure you get them every day.
Nothing will evidence the ideal fat macros to achieve your personal health goals like results. Some experimentation over time will indicate your own ideal targets to produce a consistent and relatively predictable outcome.
However, using a macro calculator like that available on the rule.me site to determine an initial caloric goal from which to work is very helpful.
The calculator mentioned determines your macros based on your gender, height, activity level, and current weight.
So, revisit the calculator as you release weight or alter your activity level and your energy needs change, just to make sure you are on the right track again.
How to Figure Out Your Carbs
Yes, all macronutrients are essential to maintaining the healthy function of our bodies. But carbohydrates reign supreme as the macro that impacts ketosis the most.
Although fat is our body's preferred form of fuel, it will burn carbs and sugar first, before fat or ketones, as they are easy to convert to energy for short bursts of activity—even if not an optimal source.
So, regardless of the abundance of fat and ketones available in the body, if present, the body will burn carbs, a cheaper and faster form of fuel, first.
The body opts to convert carbs and sugar to energy over fat in the presence of both as available options because carbs are broken down quickly into glucose (sugar), which is needed to some degree by almost every cell in the body.
Furthermore, as you increase the number of carbs you consume your body will burn fat and ketones less for fuel—thus, likely, compromising metabolic ketosis.
Calculating the appropriate carb macros is essential on a ketogenic diet to establish or maintain ketosis and experience all of its health benefits.
Otherwise, you'll be eliminating bread, pasta, rice, and their other carb-heavy cohorts without reaping the full benefits of the lifestyle.
Most on a ketogenic diet aim the keep their daily macro ceiling at 20g of net carbs or less, although those on a moderate ketogenic diet, or with women eating keto while pregnant or breastfeeding, carb intake may be a bit higher, with a ceiling of around 100 total grams of carbs per day.
How to Figure Out Your Protein Goals
The exact amount of protein grams to consume each day will vary from person to person.
However, once you establish your daily caloric goals and use a free app like MyFitnessPal to translate those percentages into grams it becomes easier to track your daily actions and achieve success on a ketogenic diet.
In consideration of your overall caloric target, seek to get 15% of your total dietary calories each day from a diverse number of proteins to support tissue development and vitality.
Again, if you are an athlete or otherwise very physically active you may want to consider consuming more protein than is advised on a standard ketogenic diet—to ensure muscle recovery support, and tissue regeneration and repair.
And there's no need to concern yourself with getting too much protein on a ketogenic protocol, even in the context of the high-protein keto plan variation. The keto framework advises a moderate protein intake anyway and even an elevated amount on keto is less than most consume daily on a Standard American Diet (SAD).
Common Keto Macro Mistakes
#1. Calories Don't Matter on Keto
Well, yes and no. Listen, if we consume calories that exceed our immediate needs, our body by default store the overage.
Your caloric target is based on your health goal, needing to create a caloric deficit to release weight and a surplus to achieve lean muscle gain.
Use the macro calculator mentioned above to get an idea of your target macros, per your personal specs and goals, and monitor your results as you go to see which combination of food intake, activity and lifestyle adjustments position you best for success on keto.
#2. Whole Foods Are Essential
It's great that the business world, in-tuned companies, and entrepreneurs, are increasingly innovating in the keto food space.
We have a lot of options on the market to satisfy our sweet cravings and beyond while keeping it keto. But, too much of a good thing can be detrimental, especially to weight-loss progress.
While keto-friendly cookies, bars, and other snacks on the market provide compliant macros, eating them in excess may stall fat loss or even result in unwanted weight gain.
Make it a commitment and goal to compose the majority of your dietary meal plan with whole foods, preferably organic, whenever possible.
#3. Eating Poor-Quality Fats
Just like fat-based foods and glucose-based foods act differently during digestion and energy conversion, the types of fats we eat (healthy saturated fats like coconut-based MCT oil or monounsaturated fats like olive oil vs. trans fats) also produce unique responses in the body.
Eating low-quality vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower, or safflower oils provide negligible nutritive value and trigger inflammation that may prevent weight loss.
Gravitate toward high-quality, anti-inflammatory, oils like MCT oils, avocado oil, or palm oil for added nutrition and fat-burning benefits, as an added bonus.
#4. Eat Your Low-Glycemic Veggies
Contrary to the assertions of some misinformed detractors of the ketogenic diet, eating vegetables and a vast variety of produce that doesn't spike glucose is strongly encouraged on keto.
The ketogenic diet is not just a tactic to drop weight fast. Micronutrient intake, consuming alkalizing foods, and eating foods to support the health of our gut and joints are all as essential to living healthy on keto as cutting out the carbs.
Make an effort to incorporate dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower to your weekly meal plan to add an infusion of vitamins and minerals as well as variety.
#5. You Need to Eat More Carbs
Well, let's put it this way: the standard, most carb-restrictive, version of the ketogenic diet is not for everyone.
Keto is not a one-size-fits-all deal, but many people assume that the only way to experience the benefits of ketosis is to go the more restrictive route and limiting carbs to less than 20 net carbs per day.
Some people find the strict requirements of a standard ketogenic diet incongruent with their lifestyle and unsustainable for the long haul and give up on the eating style altogether without taking into account that the ketogenic diet exists, like most things, on a spectrum.
Consider a modified ketogenic diet, which allows for higher carb macros as we mentioned above, which will enable you to eat more low-glycemic carbs in your plan while maintaining nutritional ketosis.
#6. Wield the Power of Fasting
In addition to keeping fat as our primary macro source, the use of intermittent fasting can intensify ketosis benefits like hunger suppression, mental clarity, enhanced physical performance and longevity, all while providing additional benefits on its own.
In addition to intensifying ketosis, fasting is also long documented to improve cholesterol levels which reduces inflammation.
Also, intermittent fasting enhances the fat-burning effect of the ketogenic diet by forcing the body to burn present body fat as fuel, therefore promoting fat loss!
Don’t Go Under 1200 Calories a Day
The ketogenic diet is about eating with the goal of fueling the body optimally in mind, above almost all else.
While you may need to reduce caloric intake to create a deficit to produce weight loss based on your current situation, it's important to eat enough calories and not deprive yourself of what's needed for excellent function and performance.
Again, utilize the calculator mentioned above to determine a baseline for your caloric and macronutrient target and adjust from there, based on your results.
Using an Atkins Weight Loss Calculator
The Atkins diet has helped many lose weight, and the protocols within the program offer different tiers of carb restriction while still providing macronutrient guidelines to help facilitate weight loss.
If you have more than 40 pounds to lose, the plan advises going with the original, Atkins 20, program which limits carbs to less than 20 net grams per day.
If you have less than 40 pounds to lose and maybe want a little extra room to eat more low-glycemic vegetables in your dietary plan, you'll likely do better on the Atkins 40 program, which allows you to eat, you guessed it, 40 net carbs or less per day.
Atkins is a proven option on the low-carb spectrum of plans. Feel free to check out an Atkins weight loss calculator, to determine if either plan might work well for you.
The benefits of nutritional ketosis and elevated ketone bodies are many, with accelerated fat loss being the item that's top-of-mind for many considering a ketogenic diet.
Don't be intimidated by how rigid you've heard keto is. Although the standard ketogenic diet is quite restrictive, as we've mentioned, there are several iterations of the ketogenic diet, and one is likely right for you.
Consider the variations of the ketogenic diet and determine your target macronutrients with the use of the calculators we mentioned above.
As with any eating plan, trial and error will prove helpful to identify your favorite meals, most effective fitness schedule and lifestyle choices that optimize feelings of vitality.
Rest assured, keto is a lifestyle with many delicious and nutritious options as pleasant to the palette as they are regenerative for the body and mind.
Enjoy the journey of becoming fat-adapted and know that with commitment and consistency you will undoubtedly reach your health goals within the framework of the ketogenic lifestyle.
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