How macro tracking has the benefits of a keto diet—without the deprivation

You likely know someone who is doing or has done the keto diet. Maybe your mom, a coworker, a friend or your neighbor has been ranting and raving about the benefits of keto, while trying to hide that the task of avoiding carbs is not that fun.

I don’t know about you, but I like carbs. A slice of pizza every once in a while, some fresh fruit, maybe a piece of cake at a birthday party—these are things I want to be able to enjoy without guilt that I’m “breaking the rules”.

And, yes, it’s true, if you suddenly slash your carbohydrate intake, you will likely see some weight loss. But, keto is not just about avoiding carbs. There are other factors to consider and other reasons why I see macro tracking as the better approach for a well-rounded eating pattern.

If you’re considering going keto vs. tracking macros, here is my pitch for why macros will give you the best results long-term—both for your body and mind!

1. Your body needs carbohydrates.

Wanna know the preferred fuel source for your brain? Carbohydrates. Your brain uses hundreds of calories worth of carbs every single day to power you through helping your kids with their trig homework, planning for that project launch, making that pitch come together or just not feeling like you’re in a total fog.  

The other big use of carbs in the body is your booty. And for that matter, your strong legs, back and chest. It’s true! Your muscles, especially your big muscles, require a lot of carbohydrate fuel.

If you have goals to get stronger or develop a leaner body composition, eating enough carbohydrates will help you get there. You know those muscles aren’t gonna show up overnight, but it’s no problem because working out has never been an issue for you. So let’s play out a scenario where you’re not eating carbs and those muscles are not getting access to those fuels… 

You just got done with a sweaty lifting session with your trainer and those after-workout endorphins are pumping through your body. You did a mix of squats, lunges, rows and even burpees. At this moment, your carbohydrate fuel stores are low since you burned through them in your workout. You’ve got two choices: Option 1 is to refuel with protein and fat because you’re doing keto, and option 2 is to refuel with a mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates. 

Only one of those choices will replete carbohydrate stores in the muscles. So, if you picked option 1 and you’re inhaling bacon, eggs and a handful of nuts post workout, your body looks to meet energy demands from guess what: those hard earned muscles. Then tomorrow, when you want to meet your friend for spin, you’re starting the workout depleted and not fully recovered. Cue tender-to-the touch, can barely walk upstairs, sore muscles. Failing to replenish carbohydrate stores in the muscles makes muscle building, repair and recovery so much more difficult. It’s going to be extremely difficult to develop a leaner, stronger physique. 

In contrast, option 2 gives you the energy you need to hit another workout hard and keep the positive results coming. 

2. Strictly low carb diets are not sustainable.

Eating a diet that’s very low carbohydrates requires a TON of willpower. Can you see yourself at a neighborhood barbeque, lunch date with your significant other, or girls night out sans carbs? That means you’re passing on homemade rhubarb pie, the delicious warm bread basket, and a heavy pour of your favorite red wine. (Yep, that’s a carb!) 

Or worse! You’re trying to substitute everything! That is a LOT of work. Do you see yourself making your “keto friendly bread” or zucchini fries every time you crave a burger and fries? Are you going to make keto cupcakes for your kid on his next birthday so you can eat with him? 

Low carb diets like keto are not sustainable long term because they are not flexible to your lifestyle. Wouldn’t it be nice to not pass up food in social situations because of rigid rules?

3. The keto diet lacks fiber.

Fiber-containing foods are usually carbohydrate-containing foods. When your diet is very low in carbohydrates, it tends to be low in fiber as well. 

We know fiber serves two main functions in the body:

  1. It provides bulk and volume to meals which keeps you full for hours
  2. It provides food for good bacteria so it can flourish and keep your immune system strong 

Undereating fiber means good gut microbes are being starved of the food they need to survive. This increases your risk of digestive issues like gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. It also means the bad bacteria have a fighting chance to overpopulate the gut and take over, leading to a cascade of other potential issues. 

4. Eating keto might prevent you from getting key nutrients.

Foods that tend to be rich in key vitamins and minerals, also contain carbohydrates. Think about what you’d be missing without whole fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, peas and even dairy products! B vitamins that help our metabolism hum, calcium to keep bones strong, vitamin C and zinc to prevent colds: they’d all be running on low with a keto diet. 

Not to mention, there are a whole host of benefits found in the deep and dark colored skins of your favorite fruits and vegetables. We don’t even fully understand the ways that phytochemicals work but we do know they can enhance the digestion and absorption of the vitamins and minerals contained within the foods they exist. Pretty neat, right? But you’d miss out on all that without them or with franken-substitutes for carbohydrate-rich foods. 

There’s a much better approach to weight loss and fat loss if that’s what you’re looking for in a low carbohydrate eating pattern. 

Tracking protein, fat and carbohydrate rich foods and eating to your personal needs (because you definitely need a bit of all of them!) is a much more sustainable and realistic way to get results. 

And, as a Registered Dietitian and macros expert, I know that your macros need to be tailored to you. That might mean that you do enjoy or do better with a lower carbohydrate eating pattern—but not as low as the keto diet requires. It might also mean that you’re completely ditching the low carbohydrate eating pattern because you actually need far more than you think! If you’re a strength training woman with goals for a leaner, stronger and fitter body composition I’m gonna put money on the fact that you do!

Tracking macros provides the choice and autonomy that you crave, but the structure and guidance that you need.