To get started with your ketogenic diet macros, it’s a good idea to first put the Cronometer app on your phone or computer to track what you eat. It’s a 1-time $3.99 payment I believe, and fully worth it. Any preferred macronutrient tracking method will work, but Cronometer is the only one I’ve used and it’s great.
Any other macronutrient tracking app, tool or method will work, but Cronometer is the one I prefer to log and track with. Logging food is a bit laborious, but I found it fun and educational. It becomes automated once you’re in the groove and have put your go-to keto foods/recipes and their macronutrients saved. It makes it easy to work with.
If you’re like me, you are a creature of habit, and will soon turn to the same handful of meals on any given day throughout the week. Even if you have a meal plan made up for you, you still need to come up with your personal macronutrient numbers: protein, carbohydrate, fat.
Once you have your macro targets, you’ll need to stock up on the essential keto foods and get a ketone tester.
There are 3 methods used to test ketones:
- Blood testers monitor how much beta-hydroxybutyrate you have in your blood. Abbott’s Precision Xtra is a solid option. It also reads blood glucose levels. It doesn’t come with glucose or ketone strips so you’ll have to pick those up separately (these are affiliate links). The Ketonix breath ketone analyzer is a cheaper long-term solution.
- Breath Ketone analyzers like the Ketonix, test for acetone levels in your breath. Acetone levels are in line with how much BHB you have in your blood, so this is the second best option as far as accuracy. To learn more about how breath testing works, here is an informative presentation from Michel Lundell, the creator of Ketonix.
- Urine strips are the third and least reliable method. It’s like a pregnancy test, but instead of a little baby, it tests for acetoacetate (not BHB or acetone).
Testing for ketosis is important because the ketogenic diet is not one-size-fits-all.
There are general rules, like 5-10% of your day’s calories to come from carbs, and around 15% from protein, but everyone is unique and will require different numbers.
From your “nutritional type” to your activity level, there are various factors to consider. Here are two scenarios:
- If you’re an athlete, your body might want more carbs and protein while still keeping you in ketosis.
- Where are your ancestors from? If you hail from an equatorial region, perhaps you’ll handle more carbs versus someone with their ancestry in Northern Europe. I’m half and half, hence the importance of testing to find out.
“One person might maintain serum beta-hydroxybutyrate levels above 1.0 millimolar consistently when consuming 60 grams of carbohydrate and 110 grams of protein daily, while another may need to limit carbohydrates and protein to 25 grams and 80 grams per day, respectively, in order to achieve the same blood ketone levels. At lower carbohydrate and protein intakes, the percentage of calories coming from fat increases even if the amount does not change.”
The most simple way to figure it all out is to test. You’ll then adjust your initial set of macro target numbers based off experimentation and your ketone test results.
You don’t need to wait for a tester. You can get started today.
Start by eyeballing your body fat percentage and your weight, then use those numbers to find your initial macronutrient targets.
In time, you can fine-tune everything. The important thing is to stop eating a bunch of carbs all day and to start eating way more fat and make sure you’re getting enough protein.
There are online calculators that can do all the math for you, but if you want to do the math yourself, that’s what we’ll do right now below.
First, get your body fat percentage:
Knowing your body fat percentage lets you figure out how much protein you need to eat.
You’ll also input your body fat percentage into the Cronometer app which you’ll want to use in the beginning until you get the hang of how much you can eat, and of what.
The quickest way to figure out your body fat percentage if you don’t have a digital scale at home or any body fat calipers laying around is to compare yourself in your undies to other people in their undies.
Various websites offer comparison photos for this purpose: here is a good one.
Once you have your body fat percentage, it’s time to find your protein target.
Do Not Overlook Protein
It’s not just carb intake that gets lowered on a ketogenic diet.
You need to moderate protein as well. But not too much.
If you eat too few grams of protein you can lose muscle, slow your metabolism and burn less fat as a result. The horrible side effects from not eating enough protein will scare you worse than a nightly news segment, so I’ll avoid listing these right now.
On the other side of the spectrum, too much protein can be just as harmful.
He talks about how proper protein intake promotes restored mitochondrial health without instigating muscle loss or affecting physical performance.
The moral of the story is that protein is very important to get right. Too little, you suffer, too much, you suffer.
Here are three methods you can use to find a proper protein target:
Macronutrient #1: Protein
Protein Method #1: With weight in kilograms
The following method for figuring out your protein target I learned from Dr. Mercola’s book on the ketogenic diet, Fat For Fuel.
These are the numbers you’ll need:
- Body Fat Percentage
- Weight in Kilograms
The rule of thumb is this: One gram of protein for each kilogram of lean body mass.
In order to find out your lean body mass, you need your body fat percentage and your weight in kilograms.
Let’s do that now. I’ll use me as an example.
At the time of starting my keto diet, I weighed 175 pounds.
Step 1. Get your weight in kilograms:
- Get your weight in kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2
- 175 pounds (my weight) / 2.2 = 79.38 kilograms
- I rounded down to 79 Kg.
I have 2 numbers now:
- Body fat percentage, 0.25 (based on body images)
- Weight in kilograms, 79 Kg
Step 2. Get your kilograms of fat (how much fat you’re lugging around on your body):
- Multiply weight in kilograms by body fat percentage to get kilograms of fat.
- 79 Kg x 0.25 = 19.75 kilograms of fat
Step 3. Use kilograms of fat to get your lean body mass:
- Subtract kilograms of fat from total weight in kilograms to get lean body mass.
- 79 Kg – 19.75 = 59.25 kilograms lean body mass <— This is the initial amount of protein in grams I decided to eat, MINIMUM, in my ketosis diet.
I actually doubled that number and worked my way down 10g at a time with my Ketonix tester until I found my sweet spot (around 90g per day for me).
I know Dr. Mercola is all about longevity, more so than athletic performance, so this may be a reason why his equation was a bit low for me. But he doesn’t recommend to strictly hold this lower protein amount. Of course, if you’re an athlete or a highly active person, you should be doubling or tripling this number half of the days of the week – along with testing ketones to see how you react to 180 grams of protein on your heavy lifting/CrossFit days, for example.
Of course, if you’re an athlete or a highly active person, you should be doubling or tripling this number half of the days of the week – along with testing ketones to see how you react to 180 grams of protein on your heavy lifting/CrossFit days, for example.
I’m all about longevity, but I also want to maintain muscle and my athleticism.
Regardless of 60, 90 or even tripled at 180, it’s less than what I previously thought was a good amount of protein for me and my moderate level of exercise (previously I would shoot for 180g of protein every single day).
If you’re suffering from a chronic disease, one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass can still be too much. And one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight can be far too much. Here’s what Fat For Fuel says on that subject:
“If you have a serious illness, such as cancer, you may need to lower your intake of protein to minimize activity in the pathways that can contribute to disease.”
Remember that all the experts have their own opinions on ideal protein intake levels for nutritional ketosis.
Protein Method #2: With pounds instead of kilograms
First, get your pounds of body fat instead of kilograms of body fat.
- If you weigh 175 pounds and have 25% body fat, you will have 43.75 pounds of body fat (175 x 0.25).
- Subtract those 43.75 pounds of body fat from your body weight to get your lean body mass in pounds (175 – 43.75 = 131.25).
Second, take your lean body mass in pounds (131.25) and multiply it by a range of 0.7 (if you’re looking to maintain muscle) to 1.2 (if you’re trying to bulk up).
- To keep it simple, I multiplied my lean body mass in pounds by an even 1.0 (1.0 x 131.25) which says I should eat 131.25 grams of protein per day.
As you can see, these 2 methods gave me very different protein targets.
- One method gave me 60 grams of protein.
- Another method gave me 131 grams of protein.
I took both and used them as my starting upper and lower limits, from 60 grams to 131 grams.
Protein Method #3: Easiest method
The best things in life are simple.. like this method I got from Jimmy Moore:
0.5 grams per pound of body weight
This method ended up being the most accurate for me (175 x 0.5 = 87.5). I do 90 grams of protein per day.
I make sure to get as many plant-based sources of protein as I can, especially when free-range meat is not available.
Macronutrient #2: Carbohydrates
Us humans are not meant to store more than a few hours worth of carbs in our bodies. That’s why we have to eat every three hours to feel right.
Cutting carb intake provides many health benefits. It helps you lose dangerous visceral fat you’re lugging around on your body, and it improves blood sugar and insulin balance. Both help safeguard you against type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
We’re on a hamster wheel of carbohydrate reliance thanks to the Standard American Diet.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to break this damaging cycle of carb addiction… the ketogenic diet.
Unlike protein which is essential for us to get via our diets.. there is no “essential carbohydrate.”
Necessary carbs the brain and body need can be made in our livers from the protein we eat via a process called gluconeogenesis.
As far as the target number of carbohydrates, 5% – 10% of daily calories is a good target to shoot for.
Some prefer to use net carbs (carbohydrates minus fiber), but at first, it’s best to keep it simple and just use whatever you’re most comfortable with. Straight carbs is fine. Once you’re accustomed to eating high-fat meals, I’d recommend starting to subtract fiber from carb counts to better fine-tune your diet.
If you’re overweight or have type 2 diabetes, experts say to start at a lower number such as 20 grams of carbs per day.
From Dr. Mercola:
“The exact number of carbs that works best to keep your body in a fat-burning state may be much lower, especially if you’re insulin resistant, mostly sedentary, or have type 2 diabetes. Then your upper limit may be as low as 20 grams, at least at the start.”
Regardless of how much you lower your carbs, it will be tough at first on your mind and body. Eating under 50 grams of carbs per day (more or less depending on you) helps kick your body into the fat-burning, superman keto-state we thrive in. It’s easy if you know what to eat. Low carb, fatty meals don’t leave you feeling hungry when done right.
Your mindset will have to change around food.
- More fats and veggies.
- Fewer noodles, grains, and fruits.
- And absolutely zero packaged foods if you’re going for optimal health.
By using low-carb, nutrient-dense vegetables, seeds and nuts to make up a good portion of your day’s carbs, you’ll get the right micronutrients along with your macronutrients each day.
Additionally, if you Google the term “fat bomb,” you will find many keto-worthy, hunger-stopping snack ideas. Coming up with easy recipes will make a world of difference.
Cutting carbs is tough if used to heavy carb-laden meals. I used to be a waiter at an Italian restaurant, and I was friends with all the cooks – a very unhealthy friendship I see now looking back.
Tips to lower your carbs:
- Cut out or limit condiment usage. This is tough if you love ketchup, but it has a lot of sugar.
- Don’t waste your day’s carbs at one sitting. Add more low-carb veggies to your diet (for phytonutrients, polyphenols and important daily fibers). These will let you munch more.
- Find various “fat bomb” recipes for between meal snacking.
- Athletes may need up to 100g of carbs or more in a day. If you do it right a low carb diet should not hamper athleticism. Studies show that nutritional ketosis doesn’t have to affect athletic performance.
In carb conclusion:
Shoot for 50 grams of carbohydrate or below at first. This number is different for everyone.
If you can, start with 20 grams and test your ketones to find your sweet spot. More than likely you will need to at least be under 100 grams of carbs per day. Unless you’re an athlete, 100 grams will likely be too high. Using a glucometer to see how your glucose reacts while staying within ketosis is the true way to find your ideal macronutrient ratio numbers AND the types of foods you can eat.
Macronutrient #3: Fat
Why is our culture vilifying whole-food sources of saturated fats like butter while at the same time promoting canola oil, a highly processed rancid rapeseed oil that’s treated with deodorizers, as a “healthy” option? It doesn’t make any sense at all, and yet that’s the world we currently live in. – Jimmy Moore
I love that quote from Jimmy Moore’s book, Keto Clarity. It has so much truth to it it’s scary. Luckily, today’s leading experts on nutrition are all starting to come out and say that saturated fat is actually good for you.
How much fat should we eat on a nutritional ketosis diet?
My current target is 176 grams of fat. Along with 40 grams of carbs and 90 grams of protein.
If you don’t eat enough fat, you won’t last.
We need to burn something, and it shouldn’t be carbs. So we need to eat a lot of healthy fats in place of them. You should feel undoubtedly satiated after eating a nice fatty ketogenic meal. This type of “full” is one that will carry you through until tomorrow if you chose.
It’s important to remind yourself that you’re no longer eating like you used to (like you’ve been indoctrinated to).
You will now eat WAY MORE FAT and far less “healthy” and unhealthy carbs.
Trader Joe’s carbs are the same as Walmart carbs when it comes to macronutrients.
If you are looking to get away from burning carbs/glucose fulltime, then you need to cut down on most healthy foods, like fruits and grains as well.
These turn into glucose within your body all the same.
From bananas and tomatoes, to bread, grains and even legumes, your new ketogenic lifestyle will require discipline to abstain from most of these foods.
Later on once keto-adapted, you can test introducing some of these foods back into your diet. See what you can handle while keeping yourself in ketosis (or go berzerk on your binge days if you do a cyclical keto diet).
Once you burn fat for energy, once you’ve reclaimed your ketone burning abilities, you stop craving simple carbs. Your taste buds change. You’re no longer hungry all the time, and going 12 – 24 hours without food no longer seems like a crazy thing to do.
There’s a definite transition period, but if you know all the health benefits to come, and if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, then you won’t mind the initial “getting used to it” part.
Fat Macro Tips:
- Do NOT go low-carb and low-fat at the same time.
- Do NOT go high-fat and high-carb at the same time.
- Realize that low-fat diets are unhealthy and that saturated fats are very healthy.
- Stock up on the right foods: get a good quality olive oil (just like with toilet paper, you should never buy the cheap stuff), grass-fed butter, poultry and meats, organic full-fat cheese, coconut milk, and avocados.
- Have “fat bomb” snacks ready
- Protein: 0.5 grams per pound of body weight
- Carbs: Start at 50 grams (much easier than starting at 20)
- Fat: Eat to your heart’s desire
- Protein: 10-15 percent of your day’s calories
- Carbs: 5 to 10 percent of your day’s calories
- Fat: 70 to 85 percent of your day’s calories
Now it’s time to let the fun begin….
If you have any questions about any of this (or corrections you wish to grill me on), feel free to comment below or send me a message! Thanks for making it down to the end!