You Are What You Eat
When you start following the keto way of eating, one of the first things you often hear is how important it is to “track your macros”. So what exactly ARE macros, and how do you “track” them?!
Macros (short for macronutrients) are the fat, protein and carbohydrates that make up our food and provide energy to our bodies. One gram of fat contains nine calories; protein and carbs each contain four calories per gram. Your ideal amounts of each will vary based on your age, gender and activity level, but it’s generally recommended that you get 70-75% of your calories (macros) from healthy fats, 5-10% from carbs and 15-25% from protein. Eating the correct proportions of each of these will help prevent you from losing muscle mass while you are burning fat.
Keeping Track Of It All
There are a few things you’ll need to get started. To monitor your weight, you’ll need to purchase a digital scale that also measures your percentage of body fat if you don’t have one already. I got mine for under $50, and it’s been going strong for over five years now. You’re also going to need a kitchen scale. This is essential for keeping track of what you’re eating. They’re pretty inexpensive – you can buy one for under $15. And lastly, you’ll need to have a set of measuring cups and spoons.
Monitoring the level of ketones your body is producing on a regular basis is important, as it will tell you whether or not you’ve got your macros in the correct proportions. You can buy keto urine test strips for this purpose. They’re inexpensive, convenient and easy to use, and you can order them online (I order mine through Amazon). They provide instant feedback that will help you make adjustments to what you’re eating as needed. I highly recommend using them, especially in the beginning, to get yourself on the right track and into fat burning mode.
Begin keeping a record of everything you eat throughout the day by entering it into an online macros calculator. Carb Manager and My Fitness Pal are two of the more popular ones I’ve seen, but I have always used the one at Cronometer.com. I find it relatively easy to use, and they have nutritional stats for a huge list of food items, including many you’d find in popular restaurants. Most carb calculators have a paid version you can subscribe to if you choose, but I’ve always done just fine with the free version. Check out a few of them and find the one you feel most comfortable with.
When you created an account with whichever one you decide to use, you’ll be asked to provide some basic information, such as your age, gender, height, current weight and body fat percentage (some of them have a calculator for that too, if you haven’t had a chance to get a scale yet or measure it some other way). With Cronometer, you can have your daily macros targets set for you based on whether you want to follow a strict, moderate or relaxed keto diet.
Again, make sure you are recording everything that you eat and drink during the day in the food diary. Yep, e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! Accuracy is super important. If you “cheat” on your entries, the only one really being cheated is you. You’re not answering to anyone but yourself, so honesty pays!
Some of you may be thinking all the measuring is really that important. After all, as long as what you’re eating is keto-friendly, it’s all good, right? Please don’t sabotage yourself by making this mistake! Believe me when I tell you, it’s so easy to underestimate how many calories you’re actually consuming if you’re not measuring what you eat. I did this for the first couple of months that I was eating keto. I was resistant to the idea of having to weigh everything – it seemed so tedious! – so I just ate what I wanted that was keto-friendly. I did lose some weight just because I had cut down on the carbs so much (I even gave up my beloved wine … THAT was hard!) But it wasn’t much for the amount of time I had been trying.
I finally decided to listen to all the sage advice I was getting from successful ketoers (is that a word?!) that insisted I should measure everything, and let me tell you what an eye-opener that was! Even though I was eating keto foods, I was eating WAY too much in the course of a day, and not in the right proportions. Once I adjusted what I ate and when I ate it, the weight started to come off. And once you get used to weighing your food (on Cronometer you can save items to a “favorites” list for easy reference) I promise it gets easier and just becomes part of the routine. You really start to get a good sense of how much of which macros are in the foods you eat a lot of (not to mention that now I know how much every bowl and dish in my kitchen weighs!) So please don’t repeat my mistake – instead start off on the right foot and give yourself the best chance for success!
Cronometer will tell you your protein requirement based upon the information you entered. But if you would prefer to calculate it for yourself, you can use this formula:
~ Subtract your body fat percentage from 100; this will give you your lean body percentage.
~ Multiply your current weight by your lean body percentage; this is your lean body mass.
~ Now multiply your lean body mass by .5; this is the amount of protein in grams that you should eat daily.
So just to give a simple example to demonstrate, let’s say someone weighs 200 pounds and has 45% body fat. Their formula would look like this:
100 – 45 = 55% lean body percentage
200 (current weight) x .55 = 110 <– (this is your lean body mass)
110 x .5 = 55
So this person will need about 55g of protein per day in their diet.
There are some factors that affect our individual protein requirements. For example, someone who works out a lot or is very active will require more protein than someone who is sedentary. We also require more protein as we get older in order to maintain our muscle mass. There is some disagreement among the various experts as to how much protein is optimal. My best advice is to start with the number you got from your calculations here (or the amount that your carb tracker suggests). You can experiment with adding a little at a time and see how that affects your weight loss and how you’re feeling. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so give yourself enough time to let your body adjust to any changes you make in what you’re eating. If you find that the scale isn’t moving but that you’re losing inches, you’re probably on the right track. And always keep an eye on your ketone levels; if you see them dropping (and nothing else about your diet has changed) you’ve probably reached your protein max. If you do make changes, make them one at a time; otherwise you’ll have a hard time knowing what was helpful and what wasn’t.
When tracking your carbohydrate intake, pay attention to net carbs rather than total carbs. To find the net carb content of any food (if it isn’t already listed either on the label or on your macros calculator), you simply subtract the grams of fiber and any sugar alcohols it contains from the amount of total carbohydrates grams.
I know that in the beginning this all may seem like a lot, and it can feel a little overwhelming. Just take a deep breath. Relax. You’ve got this! Take a few minutes to become familiar with your carb tracker. Watch and read any tips or tutorials they have. Find where you’ll enter your food information each day. Most of them really are pretty user-friendly, so I’m confident that you’ll be a pro in no time!
So now I’d like you to just take a moment to congratulate yourself. This is a major step in your keto journey, the first big stepping stone along your path to optimal health. Taking good care of yourself feels great! Are you ready? You are officially on your way to being the best you you can be – be proud of yourself, and make it amazing!