If you’ve tried the Keto diet, you’re probably familiar with counting macros. The basic idea is to keep fat high, protein moderate, and carbs low to enter the fat-burning state called ketosis.
What happens if you go over your Keto macros? That depends on the macronutrient.
Most people know that keeping carbs low is the number one rule of Keto. Missing the mark here will generally (though not always) derail your Keto diet.
There’s more confusion, however, when calibrating fat and protein macros. Keep reading and we’ll clear it up.
What Are Macros?
“Macros” stands for macronutrients. The three primary macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—provide the calories needed to fuel your body.
Calories, by the way, are a form of stored energy. In your body, calories are converted to usable energy as ATP, which in turn powers all your cells.
Technically, alcohol is also a macro. But unless you count social lubrication, it has no important functions.
The different macros have different caloric densities. Here’s how that looks:
- Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Fat: 9 calories per gram
- (In case you were wondering, alcohol has 7 calories per gram)
Which Macros Matter Most?
Of all the macros, you could argue that protein is the most critical. Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are needed to build muscle, synthesize hormones, heal wounds, promote neurological function, and much more.
Besides providing energy, dietary fat also helps you build cell membranes and absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K.[*] These aren’t functions you want to miss out on.
Carbs provide a vital form of energy called glucose, but in the absence of carbs (such as Keto or fasting situations), your body can make its own glucose via gluconeogenesis.[*] Because of this, carbs are arguably the most optional macro.
Your Macros on Keto
On a Keto diet, you consume 55 to 75 percent of your calories from fat, 15 to 35 percent from protein, and less than 10 percent from carbohydrates. Keeping your macros in these ratios helps keep the hormone insulin low, signaling your body to burn fat and enter ketosis.
Keeping carbs low is the key. Why? Because carbs raise insulin levels more than the other macros, and rising insulin will kick you out of ketosis faster than you can say “ketogenesis.”[*]
After carbs, protein is the next most insulinogenic macro. Then comes fat, which has a minuscule insulin impact.
This explains why therapeutic Keto diets (which were originally created to help manage seizures in people with epilepsy) demand you eat 80% or more of your calories from fat.[*] That’s what’s required to elevate ketones into the higher ranges.
But assuming you’re doing Keto for fat loss or general health, you’ll have more flexibility.
How Much Flexibility Is There With Keto Macros?
Your macro flexibility will depend on your unique physiology and health goals. Let’s see how this applies to carbs, protein, and fat.
Carb Macros: Can I Go Over Them?
The general rule is to keep carbs under 10 percent of calories, but some people do better on more or less.
For instance, an active person may benefit from a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet that allows 1-2 high-carb days per week. The extra carbs may help active folks refill muscle glycogen, the storage form of glucose accessed during hard or long efforts.
But a sedentary person should consider a different strategy. Obese and overweight people, for example, may want to keep carbs under 5 percent of calories (20 to 30 grams of net carbs per day) to promote ketosis, appetite suppression, and weight loss.
Protein Macros: Can I Go Over Them?
Inadequate protein is one of the biggest Keto mistakes. Why? Because people think that consuming 25 percent of your calories from protein means that three-quarters of your plate should be pure fat.
But that’s not the case. Remember, protein and fat have different caloric densities. By weight, a proper Keto meal should be about half protein and half fat.
The takeaway is to prioritize protein. You may be short on this macro which is critical for muscular and hormonal health.
But wait, won’t all that protein kick you out of ketosis? While it’s true that therapeutic Keto diets (to treat epilepsy, cancer, or Alzheimer’s) call for lower protein intakes, it’s been shown that high-protein Keto diets can be compatible with weight loss.[*]
Fat Macros: Can I Go Over Them?
Fat is the most ketogenic macro. Eating more of it will not interfere with ketone production.
But overeating fat will cause weight gain or difficulty with weight loss. That’s what overeating does, regardless of the macro.
Nuts are the worst offenders here. Start munching these Keto-friendly calorie bombs and before you know it, you’re holding an empty bag. Not ideal for shedding pounds.
The other problem with overdoing fat is that it cannibalizes your protein intake. A leafy salad drenched in olive oil may keep you in ketosis, but it won’t provide the building blocks to keep your body strong.
How To Adjust Your Keto Macros
Determining your ideal Keto macros is a highly individual process. It will take some trial and error.
A good starting point for weight loss and general health on Keto is 60/30/10. (That’s fat, protein, and carb percentages). You can go up or down on the fat and protein a bit, but be more strict about your carb limit.
Once you have a baseline, you can make adjustments. If you’re super active, consider bumping up carbs and protein—and subtracting fat. See how you feel and perform at these different ratios.
If you’re less active, consider reducing net carbs to 20 or 30 grams per day. This will accelerate the transition (called fat-adaptation) to burning body fat for energy.
To keep your macros game on point, log all your meals in the Carb Manager app. If you don’t use a macro tracker, you won’t get the data you need.
In time, you’ll develop an intuitive sense for counting macros.