Figuring Out Your Macros

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So many people who are just starting out on a low carb diet want to know the answer to the ultimate question.  What percentage of macronutrients should I have and how does that translate into serving sizes?  Well, I am here to say that the answer is not so easy, as the right balance is different for every person.  For instance, for those that are growing or physically active, a higher percentage of protein may be needed.  For those that are not as active, those that are overweight, pre-diabetic or have Type 2 diabetes, a lower percentage of protein may be needed, with a higher percentage dedicated to fat.  And remember, when we say fat, we don’t just mean dietary fat.  If we are very overweight, we also need to burn some of that percentage of fat from body fat stores.  (see my post “Don’t Force the Fat” HERE).

So I want to say up front that I’m not a HUGE fan of tracking macros all of the time because I think it sometimes forces people to eat “up to” these macros instead of listening to their bodies.  I think tracking macros, or just tracking food choices in general, is helpful when you reach as stall in weight loss, or your blood sugars are creeping up and you need to investigate a cause or to help you be accountable or get back on track.  Otherwise, I think getting overly concerned with eating up to some magical, one-size-fits-all macro percentage is not helpful.  There is no one magical percentage for all people.

Here are some helpful graphics from Dr. Theodore Naiman, of www.burnfatnotsugar.com.  These are helpful general guidelines to give you an idea of where to start.  (When he says “unlimited fiber” he is referring to plant fiber, NOT fiber from processed foods or grains.  (See my article “Low Carb Mistakes – Net Carbs – Fiber” HERE.)  Those who are sensitive to fiber or those wanting to maintain ketosis may need to limit fiber.  It would also be very helpful to watch his video “Diet” first to determine the types of foods we should be consuming. (HERE)

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For those wanting to occasionally track macros, these images would put macros in the neighborhood of about 65% fat, 25% protein and <10% carbs, once again, with adjustments made up and down with protein and fat.  Those wishing to achieve ketosis, which I believe is highly advantageous to those wanting to lose weight or reverse insulin resistance, you may want to lean more towards ketogenic macros, which is more like 75% fat (this includes both dietary fat and burned body fat – if you are overweight, 75% fat should NOT be coming from your plate), 20% protein, 5% carbs.

This takes some time and experimentation, as well as watching your health markers (weight, blood glucose, etc.)  Helpful apps are available to help you track macros (such as “My Fitness Pal.”)

I have found that most people that are overweight, pre-diabetic or Type 2 that are new to low carb do extremely well just getting the carbs way down and replacing much of those carbs with healthy fats. Tracking exact macros is usually not very crucial at first.  I like the teaching of Dr. Sarah Hallberg in this matter…20-50g carbs (depending on your metabolic profile), four “palm-sized” portions of protein each  day, and fat to satisfaction (not unlimited fat.)  (Her video HERE).  This will get most people about 80-90% of the way with their health and weight loss goals (maybe even 100% of the way, depending on the person.)  Often adjustments then need to be made as you try to fine tune your program to reach your ultimate goals.  This is when tracking macros can take on more importance.

Don’t overlook all the other important aspects of good health and achieving a healthy weight.  Having the right macros while ignoring these other important aspects of health can stall or prevent progress.  Give these areas top priority with your healthy diet:

  1. Getting adequate sleep.
  2. Managing stress.
  3. Regular exercise (cardio / strength training).

Bottom line, don’t obsess over meeting some magical macros that someone determined for you.  Determine for yourself, by your health markers and weight, the ideal macros for you.  I don’t typically track macros for myself because I’ve been doing this so long.  But I do at times go through periods where I track my food choices through My Fitness Pal to help me stay more accountable if I feel I might be off track.  It often helps me decide what I’m going to eat for my last meal of the day if I see where I’m lacking from my earlier meal, lol!  I like that I can also track electrolytes and micronutrients as well.

Hope this is helpful in getting you started with a healthy low carb lifestyle this year!