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How Many Carbs a Day on Keto? The Nitty Gritty of Macronutrients

By Fitoru | 25 December 2019
keto meal

The key to the ketogenic diet is to get your body into a state of ketosis in which you’re breaking down stored fat into ketone energy. The way to do that safely is to restrict carb and sugar intake down to almost (but not quite) nothing. Macronutrient ratios vary by individual and activity level, which can make managing your meal plan each week rather challenging. We have a breakdown to help you figure out how many carbs a day on keto is right for you.

Keto: The Benefits of a Low-Carb Diet

The keto diet helps switch your body’s energy source from predominantly sugar and glucose to fat and ketones. Ketone bodies are molecules that can stand in for almost every energy need in the body, and they are particularly fast-acting when it comes to energy for your brain because they can pass through the blood-brain barrier without an escort. This reliance on fat for energy is done via a few mechanisms: a high-fat intake, a low-carb intake, and the elimination of refined and unnatural sugars.

If you stick to a keto diet you can expect rapid fat burning and weight loss, but there are other health benefits that far outweigh (so to speak) those you can see on the surface. The keto diet has been shown to help lower insulin levels and prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, sometimes without the need for medication (1). 

And your life doesn’t have to change dramatically while on a keto diet. Fueling up with a moderate protein intake allows you to still exercise, build muscle, and stay strong while eating foods like cheese, olive oil, and avocados all day. To find out how exactly that ratio looks on your plate, read on.

Keto: The Benefits of a Low-Carb

Answering the Question: How Many Carbs a Day on Keto?

Mainstream marketing has convinced many that a low-fat diet is the only way to lose body fat, but that’s just not the case. A low-carbohydrate diet does weight loss better by eliminating the majority of fast-acting glucose energy so that your body is forced to put in the extra work of melting down its fat stores, including dangerous visceral fat that can crowd and clog your internal organs. 

But how many carbs per day on keto is the right amount of carbohydrates for you? Let’s discuss. 

How Many Calories per Day

Before we get to carbs, let’s start with calories.

Health.gov provides a very specific chart that breaks everyone’s daily calorie needs down by age, sex, and activity level (2). Here are some of the basics:

  • For men: An active 18-year-old should consume 3,200 calories per day, an active 35-year-old around 3,000, an active 45-year-old about 2,800, and an active 65-year-old 2,600 calories per day. These numbers may be lower for those who lead moderately active or sedentary lives.
  • For women: An active 18-year-old needs 2,400 calories per day, a 35-year-old less at 2,200, an active 45-year-old requires 2,200, and an active 65-year-old woman needs only 2,000 calories each day. As you lose weight on keto and become more active, you may have to regularly tune-up your caloric intake.
The Nitty Gritty of Macronutrients on the Keto Diet

How Many Carbs on Keto

The general rule for keto macronutrients is that your total calories each day should be broken down into a ratio of 5% carbs, 20% protein, and 75% healthy fats. Your personal body weight, height, and fitness goals will determine how many calories you need, as well as the precise breakdown, but there are some parameters you can follow to help you plan for your daily carb count.

While on a keto diet, you’ll want to consume between 20 to 25 grams of net carbs each day to get into ketosis, and an absolute maximum of 35 net grams if you want to maintain ketosis. The wiggle room between 20 and 35 grams is where your individual caloric needs come into play (see the next section for a more specific breakdown of foods in a daily meal plan).

Keep in mind that net carbs are distinct from total carbs. For example, 1 cup of raw spinach has 6.9 calories, 1 of which is from fat, 2.1 from protein, and 3.8 from carbs. The carb breakdown is 1.1 grams of total carbs, with 0.7 grams of fiber, which is indigestible to humans (it feeds our good gut bacteria and helps our digestion move along comfortably). Subtract fiber from total carbs (1.1 – 0.7) and we’re left with 0.4 grams. That means the net carbs for a cup of raw spinach is 0.4 grams, making spinach an excellently filling low-carb, high-nutrient food for keto. 

You won’t need to seek out carbs on keto. That 5% of calories coming from carbs will most likely be covered in just about anything you eat throughout the day. The only reason you may want to increase your carb intake is if the symptoms of keto flu are too much to tolerate and you need to transition more slowly to a low-carb diet. You’ve heard us right: don’t worry about prioritizing carbs, but instead, make sure the foods you eat that do have carbs are worth it nutritionally, and avoid foods like:

  • Grains: Wheat, rice, corn and their products like bread and chips.
  • Most fruits: When you eat fruits, stick to small portions of berries to avoid the naturally high sugar content of most fruits.
  • Beans and legumes: Legumes and beans like green peas, black beans, and even some high-carb contenders like peanuts are best had in small amounts, if at all.
  • Starchy veggies and vegetable oil: Yams and potatoes are starchy, carby vegetables, and vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, and corn oil may be partially hydrogenated.
  • Low-fat dairy: Full-fat dairy products like sour cream, heavy cream, yogurt, and butter give you way more bang for your buck on keto.
  • Sugar and alcohol: Sugar itself is verboten on keto and alcohol is absolutely full of it. There are ways to drink low-carb on keto, but it’s never really advised.
How Many Carbs on Keto

How Much Protein on Keto

Keto is a moderate-protein diet, but for beginners, it can be very easy to try and replace carbs with too much protein. This could lead to long stretches of time with keto flu (more on that side effect at the end of the article), but it’s understandable: protein is full of the amino acids we need to build muscle, which then helps us lose even more weight, right? Protein is also quite filling, meaning that eggs at breakfast, fish for lunch, and chicken for dinner may leave you feeling much more satisfied than fat bombs and keto helpers like MCT oil.

Here’s why you don’t want your protein intake substituting in for carbs: gluconeogenesis. It’s the process by which the body creates glucose from non-carb sources. When you restrict carbs suddenly, your body still wants them very badly, so while you’re waiting for fat loss, your body is looking for more easy glucose. If there’s extra protein left over from a high-protein diet, you’re unlikely to reach ketosis.

That being said, without enough protein, your body may also start to catabolize your muscles for much-needed amino acids. 

So, where’s your ideal protein balance? 

The number is simple: take your weight and multiply it by 0.6 to discover your intake minimum. For example, say you weigh 200 pounds: 200 x 0.6 = 120 grams minimum.

Your maximum protein intake in grams is the number on your scale. So in our example, 200 grams maximum. 

If you’re trying to build muscle while on a keto diet, shoot for the higher range, but if your ketone levels start to indicate you’re falling out of ketosis, tighten up on all your macros to avoid getting kicked out of ketosis.

Protein foods that work well on keto include:

  • Eggs: A single hard-boiled chicken egg has 77.5 calories (2.2 from carbs, 27.4 from protein, and 47.9 from fat, an excellent keto ratio). That is 0.6 grams of carbs, 6.3 grams of protein, and 5.3 grams of total fat.
  • Beef: A ground beef patty that’s been frozen and then cooked for a burger has 923 calories, 0 of which are from carbs (616 from fat and 307 from protein). The total fat is 68.3 grams and protein is at 72.2 grams. This is a high-protein food that can be eaten as part of a balanced meal.
  • Chicken: A cup of plain, roasted chicken breast has 231 calories (0.5 carbs, 45.1 fat, 185 protein). A healthy choice with ultimately 0 net carbs, though more protein than fat.
  • Fish: Half of a fresh pink salmon filet (124 grams) cooked in dry heat has 185 calories (0 carbs, 49.4 fat, 125 protein), giving it a high-protein ratio of 5.5 grams of total fat to 21.7 grams of protein.
  • Pork: Let’s use pan-fried bacon as our example—1 slice (8 grams) of cured and cooked bacon has 41.3 calories (0.4 carbs, 28.2 fat, 12.7 protein), with a breakdown of 3 grams of protein, 3.1 grams of fat and only 0.1 grams of carbs.
  • Soy: A slice of firm tofu (84 grams) has 52.1 calories (8.5 from carbs, 20.4 from fat, and 23.2 from protein). That’s 5.8 grams of protein, 2.3 grams of fat, and 2 grams of carbs.
  • Cheese: A cup of shredded whole-milk mozzarella has 336 calories (10 from carbs, 220 from fat, 106 from protein) which breaks down to 2.5 grams of carbs, 25 grams of fat, and 24.8 grams of protein. 

What About Fats?

You know fats are important on keto, but keep in mind that carbs may be found in your healthy fats as well. Here are a few examples.

  • Coconut oil: No carbs, no protein, all fat at 13.5 grams per tablespoon—perfectly keto.
  • Avocado: One average-sized avocado has 29 grams of total fat and 17 grams of carbs, 13 grams of which are dietary fiber, meaning you’re left with only 4 grams of net carbs and 4 grams of protein, an excellent keto choice.
  • Heavy cream: A whipped cup of heavy cream (120 grams) contains 3.3 grams of carbs, 44.4 grams of fat, and 2.5 grams of protein.
  • Almond butter: A tablespoon of plain almond butter (no salt) contains 3.4 grams of carbs for the 9.5 grams of fat and 2.4 grams of protein it provides.
  • Chia seeds: An ounce of dried chia seeds contains 12.3 grams of carbs, 8.6 grams of fat, and 4.4 grams of protein.

We provide these examples to show you that carbs are everywhere—it’s what makes restricting them on keto so difficult, at first. Some foods like meat and oil have zero carbs, but most foods have some. Which is why we’re walking you through a day in the life of keto meal planning in the next section! 

One Day’s Meal Plan on Keto

To keep your blood glucose steady and your blood ketone levels up, you’ll need the right foods to provide just the right amount of grams of net carbs. Here’s what a keto diet plan may look like for one day in the life of a person who needs 2,000 calories (1,500 from fat, 400 from protein, and 100 from carbs).

  • Breakfast (417.4 total calories/1.2 grams of carbs) 
    • 2 hard-boiled eggs: 155 calories, 1.4 calories of carbs, 54.8 of protein, and 95.8 of fat.
    • 1 keto coffee: A cup of black coffee provides 2.4 calories (1 from carbs, 1 from protein, 0.4 from fat) and 2 tablespoons of MCT oil boosts it to 260 calories of pure fat.
  • Lunch (477.8 total calories/16.6 grams of net carbs)
    • 1 keto blackberry smoothie: 2 tablespoons of flax oil (260 calories), 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt (107 calories), 3/4 cup of fresh blackberries (56 calories), half a scoop of flavored whey protein (55 calories), ice and water (0 calories) for a total of 477.8 calories. The breakdown is total fat 28.5 grams, protein 33.3 grams, and net carbs 16.6 grams. 
  • Dinner (1112.7 total calories/8.8 grams of net carbs)
    • 1 chicken breast: 231 calories (0.5 carbs, 45.1 fat, 185 protein).
    • Sautéed spinach sauce: A cup of heavy cream (821 calories at 26.2 carbs, 774 fat, and 20.8 protein), half a cup of spinach (20.7 calories at 12.2 carbs, 2 from fat, 6.5 protein), and 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast for flavor and vitamins (40 calories at 0 fat, 16 carbs, 24 protein). The total is 881.7 calories.

At the end of the day, you’ve eaten 2007.9 calories (it’s never an exact science when you cook for yourself), and your macros are well in order to get into ketosis at 26.6 grams total.

One Day's Meal Plan on Keto

Keto Flu: The Unseen Side Effect of Carb Manipulation

Getting your ratios right can mean the difference between weeks dealing with keto flu and just a few short days of transitioning quickly into ketosis. Keto flu symptoms include adverse effects like: 

  • Brain fog and sluggish mental acuity
  • Keto headache
  • Malaise and lack of motivation
  • Body fatigue
  • Vertigo or dizziness (possibly due to too-low blood sugar levels)
  • Digestive distress
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Irritability
  • Maddening cravings for sugar

The use of exogenous ketones as supplements may help you get into ketosis faster while you adjust your diet. There are two kinds of ketones, the ones your body derives from fat eaten or stored (endogenous) and those you can consume as a supplement to provide immediate energy (exogenous). 

When you’re struggling to get into ketosis for the first time, exogenous ketones are the crutches that help you walk until you can run. BHB (beta-hydroxybutyrate) is the type of exogenous ketone you can depend on in supplement form. And MCT oil can help boost your internal production of ketones to likewise get you into ketosis faster. They are quite the dynamic duo!

Keto Flu: The Unseen Side Effect of Carb Manipulation

Carbs by the Numbers

The best support you can give yourself on a keto diet is information!

Now you have a better understanding of exactly what “low carb” means, how to calculate macros for your body’s specific needs, and which foods best serve a keto diet. We wish you well on your journey to ketosis!

COMMENTS

  1. Helpful info. Fortunate me I found your website by accident, and I am surprised why this accident didn’t happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

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