Just getting started on a keto diet or trying to get the most out of your keto meal plan? Customizing your macro goals is going to be key for your success, especially if you are looking to lose weight or gain muscle.
Just like most diets, a ketogenic diet is not a one size fits all approach or a license to eat as much fatty foods as you'd like. There is a balancing act to this style of eating and tools at your disposal that can help you stay on track and get the results you are looking for. And it all starts with your macros!
Keto Diet Macros
To learn more about the keto diet and how it works, check out our RD and MD breakdown here.
Counting macros is trending across the diet world. And this nutrition approach may be even more crucial when it comes to certain diets like keto. A ketogenic meal plan requires strategic and strict control over your macronutrient intake—especially carbohydrates—and it can be a real challenge to stick to this diet or tell how successful you are without paying attention to your intake.
How to Count Macros on Keto?
The keto diet is intended to provide a very specific amount of macronutrient ranges to promote ketosis and trick your body into metabolizing more fat for energy instead of sugars. Thus, theoretically turning you into a fat-burning machine.
The average macro ratio breakdown for a keto diet looks like the following:
- 5% of calories coming from carbs
- 25% of calories coming from protein
- 70% of calories coming from fat
So how exactly do these percentages translate into actual food options you can quantify?
Learning how to count macros requires you to have a basic understanding of food and nutrition labels. Or at least a really good macro tracking app that does most of the hard work for you.
And it's also important to understand your daily calorie goals. Macros are essentially your calories organized into three groups of nutrients: fat, carbs and protein. And each of theses nutrients corresponds to a different calorie amount.
- Carbs provide 4 calories per each gram
- Proteins provide 4 calories per each gram
- Fats provide 9 calories per each gram
Technically, alcohol is a also considered a macro, providing 7 calories per gram. However, because alcohol is not an essential nutrient and most are not turning to it as a source of nutrition, it is not typically counted in your daily macros. But it should be included when looking at overall calories.
Weight Loss Macros
Even though a keto diet is designed to allow you to use fat more efficiently, using fat for fuel isn't necessarily the same thing as losing body fat. In other words, it is still possible to gain weight on a keto diet if you are eating more calories than you burn. And using dietary fat and stored body fat more efficiently doesn't override your overall diet and calorie intake.
While there is some argument for ketosis itself causing a spike in overall metabolism and contributing to weight loss outside of calorie control, this theory hasn't been proven (1,2,3). And cutting calories remains the most widely accepted method to successful weight loss.
Get up to date on current research looking at how effective keto is for weight loss here.
Many people report weight loss on a keto diet because it cuts out a significant amount of processed foods, sugars and many food groups, which can lead to lower calorie intakes. In addition, fat is thought to be incredibly satiating, and this in combo with the type of foods that fit into a keto diet could allow someone to feel more satisfied with their meals even at a lower calorie intake (4).
However, the research is still slightly stronger with protein for its ability to promote fullness over fat alone, and opting for a higher protein intake on a keto diet may offer more benefits than just high fat intake (5).
Even though it is commonly claimed that high protein intakes can mess with ketosis, the research doesn't necessarily show this—with intakes as high as 2.2 grams of protein/kg body weight not pulling one out of ketosis (6). And since the fat intake itself is not actually what is causing weight loss or promoting ketosis, it is possible to eat less fat on a keto diet and lose weight as long as calories are controlled and carb intake is kept low (7,8,9).
In summary: to promote the most weight loss possible on a keto diet you should control calories, keep carb intake low and consider opting for a higher protein intake.
Macros for Weight Gain
When it comes to muscle gain or active individuals looking to pursue a ketogenic meal plan, the amount of protein consumed is an important factor because if its role in maintaining and building lean tissue.
Protein can be used as a source of glucose (through a process called gluconeognesis) when carbs are not present in the diet. And on a keto diet, a small amount of glucose is still needed to maintain blood sugar and promote basic functions. It is likely that some protein is used for this. But protein's main function is to maintain all of your cells, hormones and enzymes, including your muscle mass! And when you aren't getting enough protein from your diet, you may begin to breakdown your muscle to satisfy your dietary needs.
And on the flip side, having excess protein is a key component to gaining more muscle mass.
Since active individuals and especially those looking to add muscle mass need more protein to begin with, they may not be getting enough on a traditional keto diet. For active individuals, the recommended intake of protein for maintaining muscle is 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight (10). And those looking to gain muscle may need as much as 2.2 to 3.4 grams/kg when looking to add lean mass. This range is higher than what has currently been researched on a ketogenic diet and more studies are likely needed to evaluate the effect of a ketogenic diet on muscle gain (11,12).
Getting enough calories is also an important component to gaining lean mass. And while fat may be an easy way to grab extra calories for less volume of food, eating a high fat low carb diet may not be the ideal approach to muscle gain for everyone when in a calorie surplus.
Learn more about the best dietary approach to weight gain and muscle building here.
Calculate Your Keto Macros in 4 Easy Steps
Step 1. Calorie Needs
Whether you are looking to maintain your weight, lose weight or even gain weight, the amount of calories you eat is a major determining factor in how successful you will be, even on a keto diet. In other words, just because something is labeled as "keto" doesn't mean it is going to help you reach your goals.
Learn how many calories you need a day to lose weight here.
Once you know how many calories you need a day to maintain, lose or gain weight, you can start to calculate your keto macros accordingly.
Step 2. Carb Needs
According to research, a carb intake less than 20 to 50 grams per day is sufficient to promote ketosis in most people—but the amount you actually need can vary from one person to the next (13).
For a general rule of thumb, choosing a carb intake of 20 to 25 grams per day is usually a good starting place. However, if you find you are having trouble sticking to that low an intake of carbs, you can start a little higher, at 50 grams.
- 20 grams of carbs = 80 calories
- 50 grams of carbs = 200 calories
It is also good practice to use your total calorie intake as a gauge. If you are at a lower calorie range—less than 2,000 calories a day—20 grams would be adequate for reaching 5% of your calories from carbs. But If you are at a higher calorie range, you may need slightly more carbs.
For a 1,500 calorie diet, 20 grams of carbs would provide roughly 5% of your total calories.
- (80 calories from carbs / 1,500 calories) x 100% = 5.3%
For a 2,500 calories diet, 20 grams of carbs would provide only 3% of your calories and you may benefit from increasing your carbs some.
- (80 calories from carbs / 2,500 calories) x 100% = 3.2%
Based on these factors, use the following guidelines to estimate your starting carb needs:
- Calorie range <2,000 calories/day: 20 grams of carbs a day or less
- Calorie range 2,000 to 2,500 calories/day: 25 to 30 grams of carbs a day or less
- Calorie range >2,500 to 3,000 calories/day: 30 to 35 grams of carbs a day or less
- Calorie range >3,000 calories/day: 35 to 50 grams of carbs a day or less
Net Carbs Explained
Choosing more foods that are high in fiber is not only important for digestion and overall nutrition on a keto diet, but can also help you manage your carb intake on a keto meal plan.
When counting your carbs on keto you should be looking at daily net carbs over total carb intake. Fiber is a type of carb that is not easily absorbed by the body (meaning it won't effect blood sugar levels or insulin the same way sugars do) and it can be subtracted when looking at controlled carbohydrate intake. You should take your total carbs each day and subtract the amount of fiber you consumed to get your net carb amount.
Tip: If your intention is to go into ketosis on a ketogenic diet, it may be worth testing your ketone levels regularly and tailoring your net carb intake based on this.
Step 3. Protein Needs
Your overall protein needs are determined by your fitness level, health goals and total calorie needs. If you are looking to lose fat or gain muscle, you may require slightly more protein than the average person. And if you are eating a high calorie diet, you may benefit from getting more calories from protein.
Choose one of the following:
Little to no exercise. Choose this if you sit at a desk most of the day and do not plan to exercise. Or you are doing light exercise, training 1 to 3 days per week. Choose this if your exercise regime includes walking and other activities that do not cause you to break out into a sweat.
Moderate exercise 2 or more days per week. Choose this if you are working out a couple days or more each week and breaking a light sweat.
Hard exercise 3 or more days per week. Choose this if you are working out multiple days a week and breaking into a full sweat.
Based on your activity level from above and overall fitness goals, the following amounts of protein are recommended:
- Maintain/sedentary: 0.6g/pound of body weight per day
- Fat loss/mod active: 0.9g/pound of body weight per day
- Gain muscle/very active: 1.1g/pound of body weight per day
For example, a 150 pound moderate active individual looking to lose weight would need 135 grams of protein per day. (150 x 0.9 = 135)
Or a 150 pound individual who is moderately active but looking to gain muscle mass would need about 150 to 165 grams of protein per day (150 x 1.0 to 1.1 = 150 to 165).
Step 4. Fat Needs
As for fat needs, this will can easily be calculated based on your remaining calories for the day.
- Take your carb amount from step #2 and multiple your grams of carb by 4 to get your calories from carbs.
- example: 20g x 4 = 80 calories from carbs
- Now do the same with your estimated protein needs from above.
- example: 150g x 4 = 600 calories from carbs
- Now add you carb and protein calories and subtract from your total daily calorie needs.
- example: 1800 daily calories - (600 calories protein + 80 calories carbs) = 1,120 calories remaining
- Now divide your remaining calories by 9 to get how many grams of fat you need per day.
- example: 1,120/9 = 124 grams of fat per day
And to calculate these amounts as a percentage, just divide the calories from each macro into your daily calorie needs and multiply by 100%.
- (80/1800) x 100% = 5% of calories from carbs
- (600/1800) x 100% = 33% of calories from protein
- (1,120/1800) x 100% = 62% of calories from fat
The total amount should equal 100% (5 + 33 + 62 = 100).
For the best healthy fat options, click here.
Keto Diet Tracker
One of the best ways to manage your intake and ensure you are hitting your macro and calorie goals on the reg is by tracking your food intake. It is probably the single most effective tool you can use to hold yourself accountable and make sure you are being consistent. In one study, participants who kept a food log lost twice as much weight as those who did not.
You'll also learn more about your diet patterns, get to understand basic nutrition, and become a keto meal planning pro in no time.
And with the amount of macro control that is needed on a keto diet, paying attention to your food choices every day is a no brainer. Outside of testing your ketones levels, keeping a close eye on your carb intake daily is your best bet for staying in ketosis.
Learn more about how to track your keto diet intake using the Trifecta app here.
Vegan Keto Diet
Considering carbs come from anything that grows our of the ground—pretty much all plants—eating a very low carb vegan diet can feel like a serious challenge. Not to mention a majority of traditional vegan proteins are also a considerable source of carbs and don't fit well on a keto diet—like beans, lentils, and grains.
However, not all veggies are considered high carb and there are a number of healthy plant-based fats that are perfect for a keto diet and provide small amounts of protein.
Low Carb Vegetables
When looking for the best keto friendly veggies, it's best to use a tracking app with a vast food and nutrition database. Not all produce comes with a nutrition facts label, so at times it can be hard to decipher how many carbs you may be getting. And not everything you read online is accurate!
In a nutshell, vegetables can be broken up into two main categories: starchy and non-starchy. And while the carb content can vary among each type, opting for a variety of your favorite non-starchy veggies is a great way to get more nutrition and add bulk to your vegan keto diet. Just be sure to track your intakes and use portion control where needed.
|Starchy Veggies||Non-Starchy Veggies|
Fruit can also be included on a keto meal plan. Just look for lower carb options like some berries and melon varieties. Also, be sure to check the nutrition facts labels and serving sizes!
Low Carb High Protein
It is not that easy to get higher protein intakes on a low carb vegan diet and keep calories controlled. While many plant based healthy fat sources can also be a source of protein—like nuts, seeds and nut butters—they are also pretty calorie dense and can rack up quickly.
- 2 Tablespoons of almond butter = 190 calories, 18 grams of fat and only 7 grams of protein.
- 1 Tablespoon of chia seeds = 60 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein
And while these macros are not terrible at first glance, 1 to 2 tablespoons of food is not a large volume.
The trick is to find the most nutrient-dense vegan proteins (the most amount of protein per calorie) and include these foods at every opportunity. Again, tracking your intake and getting to know your food choices a little better is key for this.
Here are some of the top low carb vegan protein options that work well on a keto diet:
|Food||Protein (g) /100 calories||Carbs (g) /100 calories||Fat (g) /100 calories|
|Low Fat Yogurt||13g||5g||3g|
|Soy Veggie Burger||9g||8g||3.5g|
Keto Diet Menu
Now that you've got your macros figured out, you can start building your ultimate keto menu based on your favorite foods. Here are some of our favorite keto recipes using a la carte to help get you started:
- Keto Surf and Turf
- Shrimp Stuffed Avocado
- Keto Burgers
- Coconut Cashew Fried Chicken
- Shrimp Ceviche
- Pulled Pork
- Keto Fried Rice
- Low Carb Chicken Alfredo
Keto Breakfast Ideas:
Comprehensive Ketogenic food list
Knowing what foods fit into a keto diet is one thing, but it's important to include plenty of foods you enjoy eating. After all, the best diet for you is one that you can stick to!
For a more detailed breakdown of what foods fit into a ketogenic meal plan and which to avoid go here.
Keto Meal Prep
Learning how to keto meal prep is a valuable tool on a strict diet like keto. But prepping food and ingredients can be really time consuming and requires some level of culinary skills, which not all of us have!
If you're not interested in making all your food yourself, considering opting for a meal prep delivery company, like Trifecta, that provides you macro-balanced and nutritious options—eliminating nearly all the work and all of your excuses.
Check out the Trifecta keto meal plan: