You may have heard the term "macros" being thrown around a lot if you're following a ketogenic diet. If you've been confused about what that means, don't worry — we're here to help. Macros are shorthand for macronutrients. What are macronutrients, exactly, and why are they important? Here is the basic information you need to know.
What Are Macros?
Macros (macronutrients) are the class of compounds that provide us with the majority of energy (also known as calories). They are broken into three main categories: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. All three have their own specific roles and functions in the body, which is why they are so important to consume. These compounds are found in all the food we eat, in varying amounts. We may think of carbs as being things like bread and grains, but even fruits and vegetables have certain amounts of carbs in them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals — these provide us with a much smaller amount of energy yet are still important in the production of enzymes, hormones, and other substances that are necessary for us to live.
The 3 Macros to Know
- Protein: This compound is made up of smaller compounds called amino acids. Protein is responsible for being the building block of life — it helps create, maintain, and restore all our muscles, organs, and tissues. Major sources of protein are meat, beans, and dairy, just to name a few. On a ketogenic diet, protein is consumed in moderation in comparison to fat, making up anywhere from 15 to 20% of caloric intake.
- Fat: Without fat, our bodies wouldn't be able to absorb other nutrients. It's important for growth and development too, but it also helps protect our organs and keep our bodies warm. Nuts, seeds, oils, dairy, fish, and meat all contain fat, although some are better sources of fat than others. On a ketogenic diet, fat is the primary macronutrient consumed, making up about 70 to 80% of calories.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs are particularly important for supplying energy to the body and we burn them first, before fat and protein, for said energy. Grains are the most common source of carbs, but sugar and starchy vegetables, among others, are also sources. In a keto diet, the term "net carbs" is often mentioned; this means the grams of total carbohydrates in a food minus its grams of total fiber. Fiber is a carbohydrate that your body can't digest, so it doesn't count toward the amount of carbs that are used for energy. Carbohydrates are heavily limited on a ketogenic diet, making up 5 to 10% of calories consumed.
Why Are Macros Important When Talking About Keto?
Regardless of what dietary strategy you subscribe to, it's important to understand macros because having a sense of your personal carbs, protein, and fat intake can affect your overall health.
On a ketogenic diet, for example, your balance of these three macros are different than someone who isn't following the diet, since you're limiting your carb intake and therefore eating a greater amount of protein and fat in order to get into the desired metabolic state where fat, rather than carbohydrates, is the body's primary fuel source. Keep in mind, the specific ratio you consume of these macros very much varies based on your age, gender, activity level, and personal wellness goals.
Keto for Newbies: Curious about the ketogenic diet? This high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb lifestyle aims to put your body in a metabolic state called ketosis, where your body burns fat instead of carbohydrates. See all of Kitchn's coverage on keto here.