This article is about macronutrient partitioning using a ketogenic diet and tracking food. What is it, and why should you bother?
What Is Macronutrient Partitioning and What Has It Got to Do with Keto?
Keto is a macronutrient partitioning way of eating. That is, we eat specific amounts of each of the macros to help our body produce ketones. There are three macronutrients – carbohydrate, protein, and fat. When we structure our food intake to keep our carbohydrates low, our protein moderate, and our fats high, our body produces ketones. Yay!
The exact quantities of the different macronutrients needed for individuals to produce ketones will vary from person to person, and factors like age, health conditions, activity levels, and goals will play a role in determining how your macronutrients should be partitioned in relation to caloric intake.
If you don’t feel confident to calculate your macros factoring in these variables, I highly recommend hiring somebody who knows how to do it. When you have your macros calculated, you will know how many carbohydrates, proteins, and fats you should consume in a day in order to achieve your health goals.
Of course ingredients matter with keto, so it’s important to use a good food list to make sure your food choices are healthy. You can get a good keto food sent to your email address by signing up for email alerts on the Ketogenic Success homepage.
What is tracking and why do we need to understand it on a ketogenic diet?
Tracking is a way of determining how many carbohydrates, proteins, and fats we are eating. Simply put, it’s weighing and measuring our food in macros by using weight and volume. It’s hard to look at a plate of food and know what’s on there in the way of carbs, proteins and fats, but we can re-train our eyes by doing a little research into what macronutrients make up the foods that are on our keto food list.
We could just eat foods from a keto food list without tracking, but if you're eating keto-legal foods in ratios that don’t result in you making some ketones, it isn’t really a ketogenic diet is it?
For the most part, your carbs will come from plant based foods, your healthy protein will come from animal sources, and fats can be animal based or come from fruit oils. There are some variations to this – for example eggs and organ meats contain carbs, and almonds contain all three macronutrients. 1oz (28g) of almonds contains 6.1g carbs, 6g protein, 14.2g fat.
To save you having to learn the macronutrient quantities in each food by heart, some smart people have made apps to help us! There are lots of different apps that you can use to help you find out the macros in each food and also, Google exists! My personal favourite app for tracking is Cronometer because of its accuracy and ease. I just use the free version.
Take some time to get to navigate your app. Personalise your app with your own macros and stats, and just get in there and take a look at the foods and what they contain in the way of macros – don’t be afraid to press all the buttons because it’s really hard to break the app, and you can start fresh the next day! The more you use it the more you learn. Just don’t use the macros that the app gives you – I haven’t found one that takes all those variables into consideration yet!
How to Track
So you’ve got your individual macros, you’ve got your food list, and you know how to find out the macros of individual foods by using an app or using Google. Now what?
Decide how many times you are going to eat each day. This will vary from person to person depending on goals and lifestyle, but let’s just allow this example to show us how to figure out the macros for a person who eats 3 times each day and has the following macros – 20g total carbs, 80g protein, 170g fat (these are just random macros that I made up – yours will be different!).
The next step would be to divide those macros by three (because you’re going to eat 3 times each day) – 6-7g carbs, 25-27g protein, 56-57g fat. This tells you the macronutrient partitioning for each meal. I like an even split like this for meals because then I can easily see what a plate of food should look like for me no matter what time of day it is.
Now we know what each meal should look like in numbers, it’s time to figure out what those numbers would look like as food on a plate. If we just refer back to the almond example for a moment, we can see that 1oz or 28g of almonds would be our total allotment of carbohydrate, and would take up some of our protein and fat allowance too.
It’s going to be a bit weird to have those almonds sitting on that plate as part of a meal, so let’s just use some other foods to make it into a meal that looks like something you might sit down to eat! For this example, I think we’ll make a plate of food out of chicken, broccoli, and butter.
Remember we’ve got 6-7g carbs, 25-27g protein, and 56-57g of fat to play with for this meal, and conveniently the following amounts of these foods comes to 6g carbs, 27g of protein, and 56g fat.
- Chicken breast – 2.8oz or 80g
- Broccoli – 3oz or 85g
- Butter – 2.5oz or 70g
Putting It All Together
You can do whatever you like with cooking this food and making it up onto a plate. If this were a meal for me, I’d slice up the chicken into thin strips and pan fry them gently in the butter, then I’d chop up the broccoli and toss that in the pan with the chicken and cook until it’s done the way you like it. Season with salt and pepper, and pour it into a bowl, including any fat from the pan.
And here we have one meal for the macros discussed in this article! It’s easy and very simple – I recommend keeping things this simple while you’re starting out and then you can fancy it all up once you’ve got a better level of understanding.
I suggest you do a similar thing with any other meals you put together and make it easy for yourself by taking a picture once your meals are assembled. Keep the photos in a keto photo album on your phone and then you’ll have a little catalogue of meals you know work for your macros. This is where the magic happens in training your eyes around what an appropriate plate of food looks like for you on a ketogenic diet.
Aside from your calculated macros and your app, all you really need for equipment is just your regular baking equipment. Measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a set of scales.
Do I Really Need to Do This?
Some of you might think this is all a bit silly. I mean, shouldn’t we eating be a lot more natural than this? Shouldn’t we be able to naturally rely on our appetite and palate?
I think these are points worth considering. Have we had the right kind of exposure to healthy foods in appropriate quantities and qualities to be able to trust our appetite and palate? Most people reading this article were raised on highly processed foods and heavy use of carbohydrate – this would cause a person to see these kinds of foods as normal, no matter how non-traditional they are to our species. Our ancestors may not have had measuring cups and spoons, and scales, but they also didn’t have the interference of hyper-palatable and highly processed foods to disturb their natural human palate. I know my own personal history with eating out of a cereal box definitely skewed my education on eating naturally!
This is why we need to have a relearn and a re-think about what an appropriate plate of food looks like for us. For a variety of reasons we’ve been steered away from traditional diets into thinking that eating cereal out of a box could be considered a meal – I’ve got a solid history of meals that just involved cereal in front of the telly, and I developed the metabolic diseases that foods and eating practices like these lead to! The foods we are raised on change the way our brain determines what our plate should contain – in many cases, this is very different to what we need our plate to contain for health. Getting back to a healthier way of eating really does require our eyes and palates to experience a re-education, and this is where tracking comes in. I don’t recommend tracking every day for the rest of your life, but I do recommend looking at tracking as a tool to re-educate yourself so that this way of eating can be sustainable.
Now you’re all set!