Richard Carlsen is a hero to me. I’ve only known him for about one and one half years, but he’s a hero to me.
You see, Richard has been through a lot in life. He’s a veteran from the Vietnam era, who has managed to raise a family while keeping his wife happy. That is enough, in my book, to register him as a hero, but that is not why he is a hero to me. Richard does all the good things right. He rides bicycles for long periods of times, has a finer appreciation for the feline species of animal (cats to us common folk), and is a recovering Vegan who eats a low-carbohydrate, Ketogenic diet. You’d think that this would make him a hero in my book, but that’s not why either, but the love of cats gets him close.
The real reason Richard is a hero to me, is that he genuinely loves data, and he loves science. When presented with some question about the science behind some specific trait of protein, as an example; Richard is all over it, like a Keto newbie is all over bone broth, butter, and bacon. I wish I shared his love of data and science, but I genuinely don’t. I appreciate both data and science, and I’m actually quite good at understanding the value of comprehending the data and the science, but I really don’t enjoy it like Richard. I’ve been eating this way for quite some time, so I’ve learned to educate myself with the data and the science, but I don’t really enjoy it like Richard. I’m just too lazy for that. I’d rather be out riding my bike.
The “how” we gather and calculate data can be important, for people that value the data. And, this can lead to wars of a religious or dogmatic nature, when it comes to counting and totaling numbers. I’ve witnessed wars for words, when it comes to counting carbohydrates (Net vs Total), daily protein (limits vs requirements) (low vs high), and fat (limits vs satiety). Sometimes, this verbal sparring can turn quite nasty, and I find it distasteful, and generally avoid the combat. But, I occasionally get drawn in, and I end up getting stressed out about things I consider pretty meaningless.
It seems that Macros are a huge topic, and the methods used to calculate them can vary depending on which books you’ve read, YouTube videos you’ve watched, or websites or blogs that you’ve read and followed. And, it seems like I witness daily sparring, as to the proper means of calculating them.
So, I’m going to try to simplify the concept of calculating Macros so that everyone can at least understand how they are calculated; even if none of us would agree on what the specific numbers, limits or percentages should be.
The word Macro, in the context of a Ketogenic way of eating, is actually the shortened abbreviation for the word Macronutrients. The word Macronutrients has many definitions, but to keep things simple; it is the energy providing substances consumed by organisms in large quantities. The three main groups for these food substances are:
- Fats or Lipids
So, when people that eat and talk about “macros”, they are talking about the foods that they eat that contain carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Usually, the disagreements occur when people discuss how much food, in each of these groups, should be consumed from sources outside the body on any given day. These three macros usually appear on food labels using the unit of grams of weight. Generally, most people either think that we should limit the amount of food that our bodies consume to a total number of grams of Carbohydrates, Protein, or Fats in a 24-hour period or that we should eat as much as we want, but maintain a ratio of percentages based on those grams. Other groups of people think that we need to also count calories, and limit our consumption of these foods, so that the total calories consumed is less than a specific number in a 24-hour period. My hero Richard, even takes it further and has utilized formulas that include calculating things like Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) (How Much Fuel We Use (HMFWU) for us red necks), Total Daily Energy Consumption (TDEC) (How Much Fuel We Added (HMFWA) for us red necks), and other funny sounding words.
All of this disagreement, has led to the development of lots of tools and calculators that one can use to calculate their daily macro requirements. Usually, these tools will ask you for information like height, weight, activity levels, etc., and then generate either recommendations in the units of grams or in percentages.
Let me be clear. You don’t need to count daily grams of your Macros at all. There are many people that are in Ketosis or Nutritional Ketosis that don’t count their grams or percentages. I use an app on my phone called MyFitnessPal, and a corresponding website, to log my food, and it calculates my daily dietary consumption of food in grams. It also shows me a pie chart showing me my percentages of Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat, at the end of every day for that 24 hour period. But, this is not a requirement to eat this way. You can simply try to eliminate as many grams of sugar and carbohydrates from your diet, reduce your protein intake to the limits you feel necessary to maintain your health, and eat the rest of your food in the form of good healthy fats.
Here are a couple of scenarios that make Macro calculation difficult. Let’s say I don’t eat any food for a particular day, except for one Bubbie’s pickle. According to their label, that pickle will have 6 calories, and 2 grams of Carbohydrates. Now, most people would freak out, because they would say that I’m on a high carbohydrate diet, because 100% of my Macros for the food that I ate came in the form of Carbohydrates, but they don’t have the entire story. You see, I’ve been burning fat for over 1.5 years now, as I’ve been in Ketosis for that period of time. So, if my body needs fuel; it simply burns 100 or 200 grams of fat from my fat stores depending on what I need. I also assume that my body will need more than the 2 grams of Carbohydrates for the day. It will use Insulin and generate more blood glucose for any part of my body that needs it. So, in reality, my Macro for that day would probably be something like 98% Fat, and 1% Protein and 1% Carbs, depending on what the body can get out of storage.
So, that is how the Macros calculation can get more complicated. Each one of us is different, and can have different needs when it comes to energy consumption on the average day, the types of fuel that our body is conditioned to use, etc. This is why I don’t get all religious about what someone’s macros should be, because the number has little meaning unless you know how it is calculated. And most of the calculators are different and use different techniques.
All that said, if you want to know how to properly calculate your macros, and they have that much meaning to you, just be sure that you understand all the potential variables that can go into their calculation. And, understand that it’s a little like chasing the wind. You may think that you’re being very accurate, but in reality; it is very difficult to be accurate.
Personally, I don’t want to live like that. I’ll still make progress on my journey to good health, because I’m eating well, and I’m getting fairly regular exercise, but I just don’t want to have the burden of tracking all of those numbers.
So, continue to be awesome. Eat the correct foods that will help you achieve your goals. Move around more. Lift heavy things. Watch your macros, if they are important to you. Know how to actually count them.
And, you’ll become a hero.