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What Are Macros & How Are They Calculated?

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  Published on May 1st, 2020
  Reading time: 3 minutes
  Last modified January 22nd, 2023
what are macros

Calorie counting used to be king when it came to determining food quality, but modern research has finally agreed that all calories aren’t created equal. Macro counting is a new way, for both keto eaters and others, to determine the ratio of macronutrients in their diet and how it can help them achieve their desired goals. [1]

What Are Macros?

Macro is short for macronutrient and refers to the three macronutrients in the human diet: fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Every food is broken down between these. All foods don’t contain all macros. For example, chicken breast contains 36 grams of protein, 3.6 grams of fat, and 0 grams of carbohydrates.

How Do You Calculate Macros?

To calculate your macros, you first have to establish what your basic energy needs are. Calculating macros to get into (or stay in) ketosis requires understanding what your body type, weight, and activity levels will require in order to get there.

This keto calculator will do the heavy lifting for you there. Once you know your baseline and your targets, you can begin to assess foods based on how they fit into your macros.

Let’s say your macros are 5% carbs, 60% fat, and 35% protein. Your goal each day—spread across all of your meals—is to achieve those percentages of macro intake. Every meal that you eat does not have to equal that exact breakdown.

There are many nutritional calculators available that you can plug foods into to find out what macros they fall under, and even ones that will do a daily or meal-specific breakdown. It’s complicated to follow a keto plan and manually calculate all of your macros.

But generally speaking, when you’re following a keto diet, you need to be able to identify foods that fall under your macros or those that will blow them out of the water.

As mentioned above, chicken is a great keto-friendly food because it has 0 carbs. You know that it won’t boost your carb count above 5 percent.

Rationing Your Carbs

One medium apple, however, contains 19 grams of carbs, 0 grams of protein, and 0 grams of fat. If you ate an apple, and only an apple, your macros for that meal would be 100% carbs, 0% fat, and 0% protein.

Calculating Net Carbs

You can also calculate net carbs, which for an apple, would take the 19 grams of carbs and subtract 3 grams of dietary fiber, resulting in 16 net carbs. Net carbs are commonly used to help people with diabetes choose foods that will fall into their daily carb limitations.

Differences in Carbs, Fiber, and Sugar Alcohols

It gets tricky when relying on net carbs for ketosis, however, since carbs, in general, can digest faster or slower, depending on the type and how many other macronutrients are present. Other foods, like sugar alcohols, which can commonly be found on a keto diet, might register as zero net carbs, but could affect glucose or insulin differently and make it hard to get into or stay in ketosis.

Not all foods are equal, even when it comes to assessing carb counts, which is why it’s important to focus on a daily macro target and to make adjustments based on how your body personally responds. Some people, such as those who are highly active, can have more carbs and still be in ketosis.

Do You Calculate Macros?

Have you found success in calculating your macros or do you just eat intuitively? Comment below and let us know your strategy!

Aimee McNew, MNT is a nutritionist and researcher who focuses on women’s health, thyroid, prenatal, and postpartum wellness. She has worked in private practice and written on nutrition-related topics for a decade and is the author of The Everything Guide to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (Simon & Schuster, 2016). She is currently working on her next book.



Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men.N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23;364(25):2392-404. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1014296.

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