- Keto macros refer to the macronutrients carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
- Online calculators can provide your keto macro ratio which will emphasize fat over protein or carbs.
- Macro tracking is associated with an obsession with being thin and is not recommended by dietitians.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.
If you’re on the keto diet, you’ve probably heard people talk about macro tracking.
“Macro represents our macronutrients, which are the building blocks of what provides us with energy and fuel,” says Lon Ben-Asher, RD, registered dietitian at Pritikin Longevity Center, a health and
There are three macros:
- Carbohydrates, which are the main source of fuel for the body.
- Protein, which support cell generation and muscle growth.
- Fats, which promote brain health and vitamin absorption.
While many diets, including the
, focus on one macronutrient over the other, everyone needs a balance of all of these to be healthy, says Cara Harbstreet, RD, founder of Street Smart Nutrition.
“As a dietitian, I don’t place more weight or importance on any one of the three, because a combination promotes both short-term and long-term health,” says Harbstreet.
That said, people on the keto diet often track their macros to ensure they’re sticking to the diet, which emphasizes getting most of your calories from fat.
Here’s what you need to know about macros on the keto diet.
What is a keto macro ratio?
Keto diets for weight loss typically follow a macro distribution of approximately:
- 60% of calories from fat
- 30% protein
- 10% carbohydrates
This focus on fat is designed to kick-start ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body burns fat for energy instead of carbs. In the short term, research shows that following the keto diet has some benefits, including controlling hunger and promoting fat loss.
However, this macro breakdown can have negative effects like an increased risk of long-term osteoporosis and is at odds with a more balanced approach to diet, Harbstreet says. “On the keto diet in particular, the intake ratios for macros are skewed.”
For optimal health, most people should follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated in 2020, which recommends adults to:
- 20% to 35% of their calorie intake comes from fat
- 10%-35% protein
- 45% to 65% carbohydrates
Harbstreet recommends experimenting to see which macro distribution works best for your body and lifestyle, but within the range outlined in the Dietary Guidelines, rather than the range recommended by keto diets.
“The wide range of each macronutrient category provides additional opportunity to customize one’s diet to best suit one’s lifestyle, budget and preferences,” she says.
How to calculate your keto macros
On keto, your target macro range is calculated using the following factors:
- Sex: Males can typically eat 50-60 grams of protein and maintain ketosis, while females can eat 40-60 grams and maintain ketosis.
- Age: Metabolism declines with age, so you may need fewer calories as you age.
- Body size: Larger bodies generally have a higher basal metabolic rate and need more calories. If you’re on keto, most of those extra calories will come from fat.
- Activity level: If you are very active, you will need to consume more calories than an inactive person, so you may need to eat more fat while on the keto diet.
- Goals: If you want to lose weight, you need to aim for a calorie deficit, and if you want to gain weight, aim for a calorie surplus. Keto diets recommend a deficit of up to 30% or an excess of up to 15%.
Keto Macro Calculators consider all of the above criteria to give you a recommended daily calorie intake and recommended daily grams in each macro category.
Some calculators also take into account additional factors, including the amount of carbs you want to eat (usually between 20 and 50 grams) and your body fat percentage, since weight and body fat don’t always correlate.
Who can benefit from tracking keto macros?
Some people who follow keto for health reasons, including people with health conditions like epilepsy or diabetes, may need to track their macros to make sure they’re getting enough nutrients.
Others, like those on intense exercise regimens, might need to increase their protein intake or decrease their carb intake to see desired results, Ben-Asher says.
It’s best to work one-on-one with a dietitian if you’re concerned about your macro intake and its effects on your health and well-being.
Should you follow macros for keto?
Neither Ben-Asher nor Harbstreet recommend tracking macros whether or not you follow a keto diet.
“Motivations for tracking macros are typically rooted in a desire to be slimmer or leaner, as opposed to a desire to be healthier,” says Harbstreet.
“Macro tracking can be a slippery slope to messy eating,” she says. She considers tracking macros an example of orthorexia, an obsession with healthy or clean eating. Over time, orthorexia can lead to malnutrition as you remove food groups.
Additionally, tracking macros hasn’t been shown to increase weight loss, Ben-Asher says. He likens counting macros to counting calories, which many people find unpleasant and hard to stick with in the long run.
Instead of tracking macros
Rather than tracking macros, Ben-Asher recommends eating a variety of food groups and colors, focusing on fiber-rich foods that will keep you feeling full longer. This is essential for creating a calorie deficit that results in weight loss.
“It’s more important to focus on the quality of the food than the breakdown of macronutrient percentages,” he says.
Some research shows that the high amount of fat consumed on the keto diet helps you feel full and may contribute to this calorie deficit.
Unfortunately, eating a variety of foods can be tough on keto, with restrictive macro settings; this is why Ben-Asher does not recommend following the keto diet.
If you want to become more aware of your eating habits, Ben-Asher recommends MyFitnessPal, which lets you track what you eat without counting calories or macros. Harbstreet prefers a more intuitive approach of listening to your body and following its signals.
Many people on the keto diet track macros to ensure they get most of their calories from fat. However, the promotion of macro-target keto diets is at odds with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Additionally, tracking keto macros can lead to an unhealthy focus on macros. Rather than tracking macros, Harbstreet and Ben-Asher recommend eating a varied diet focused on nutrient-dense foods.
“I do not recommend the keto diet, nor do I endorse the practice of macro tracking, as I am convinced that both contribute far more to the development of eating disorders and orthorexic tendencies than they do. improve overall health,” says Harbstreet.