When on the keto diet, you usually count carbs more than you do calories. As long as you stay within your macros, then you should remain in ketosis so you can burn fat and lose weight. Yet the keto diet isn’t a caloric free-for-all. Ingesting too many calories can push you out of ketosis and undo your weight loss, so what’s the right amount of calories to eat?
To stay in ketosis, the calories from the carbs you consume should be no greater than five to 10 percent of your overall caloric load. Another 10 to 20 percent should come from protein and about 70 to 80 percent of your calories should be from fat. You can consume up to 2,000 calories a day and stay in ketosis if you follow the above dietary rules.
In this article, we’ll discuss further the number of calories you should eat to stay in ketosis as well as how to accelerate your weight loss by restricting calories and carbs. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know how to eat to look and feel your best on keto!
How Many Calories Should You Eat on Keto to Maintain Weight and Stay in Ketosis?
As the National Institutes of Health or NIH says:
“Calories are the way to measure the energy you get from food. How many calories you need depends on age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity.” - NIA scientists
The average daily caloric load is between 1,600 and 2,400 calories, but sometimes it can be even higher.
On the ketogenic diet, where the focus is more on low carbs than low calories, is a 2,000-calorie diet a day allowable? Yes, it is. What matters almost more than the number of calories you eat is what those calories are made of, which we’ll talk more about later.
The reason the keto diet is low-carb is so you can deplete your body of glycogen, an energy source that’s converted from the simple sugar glucose. Glucose comes from food, especially carbs. When you run out of glycogen supplies and you have nothing in reserve, your liver releases ketone bodies into your bloodstream.
As the ketone bodies go through your blood-brain barrier, they become a readily available energy source. Now, instead of burning simple sugar, you begin burning fat instead. So you could theoretically eat 2,000 calories a day, and if five to 10 percent of them are from carbs, then you can still get into and maintain ketosis.
Your protein quantities should be 10 to 20 percent per day and the amount of allowable fat is 70 to 80 percent. That said, some experts have recommended limiting fat to no more than 60 to 80 percent.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out the exact daily caloric load for you based on your weight, height, age, and activity levels, then you can always use a keto calculator.
Let’s say you’re a male who’s 31 years old. You’re six foot, two inches and you weigh 234 pounds with a body fat percentage (BMI) of 25. You consider yourself lightly active, which means you walk for around 20 minutes daily, but you don’t engage in strenuous exercise much.
Let’s do another example. This time, we’ll say you’re a woman who’s five feet, four inches, and weighs 140 pounds. You’re 28 years old and you have a healthy BMI of 22. You exercise several times a week, which makes you moderately active.
At this weight, you should consume 1,823 calories per day to maintain your weight on keto. Your fat load should be 150 grams per day, your carbs should be 30 net grams, and your protein should be 87 grams.
How Many Calories Should You Eat on Keto to Lose Weight and Stay in Ketosis?
What if you’re interested in losing weight, not only maintaining?
In that case, then you’re going to have to pay more attention to the number of calories you consume than ever. You’ll still have to track your carbs on the keto diet as well.
Letting one area slip in exchange for another won’t help your weight loss goals and could actually lead to you gaining weight, as we mentioned in the intro.
We always say that to lose weight, whether you’re on keto or not, the number of calories you eat has to be fewer than the number of calories you burn. There’s another easy formula you can use that will help you make sense of this, as it measures your energy stored.
The formula is this: your energy in - your energy out = your energy stored.
You want more energy coming out than what goes in, which you can achieve by eating low-carb foods and watching your calories. Exercise is just as much a part of weight loss, so whether you’re mostly sedentary or you’re extremely active can affect your results as well.
To give you an idea of how many calories you should consume to lose weight on keto, let’s use the two examples from above and crunch numbers with the keto calculator. So for the first example, you’re a 31-year-old male who’s six foot, two inches with a BMI of 25. You currently weigh 234 pounds, but you want to lose some weight.
You’re still lightly active, although you’re willing to change that and exercise more if need be. At current, you’re eating 20 grams of net carbs per day on keto. You’re hoping for a weight loss deficit of 20 percent. Before, you were consuming 2,400 calories, but now you should eat no more than 2,102 calories per day. Your diet should include 162 grams of fat and 140 grams of protein per day.
Let’s go back to the second example of the moderately active 28-year-old woman who weighs 140 pounds and is five feet, four inches. You have a BMI of 22 and you want a weight deficit of 25 percent. Although you ate 30 grams of net carbs per day before, now you’ve cut down to 20 net grams of carbs.
For you, your daily caloric load should be 1,367 calories. Your diet should include 30 net grams of carbs, 104 grams of fat, and 87 grams of protein per day.
Does It Matter Where Your Calories Come From?
When you eat 200 calories, does it matter if the calories came from a chicken breast or a slice of chocolate cake? Calories are just energy units, right? Yes and no. What separates the calories in a chicken breast from those in a chocolate cake is the contents of the calories.
Calories comprise fats, carbs, and protein, which are macronutrients. These macronutrients (which is where the term “macros” comes from) also happen to be the basis of your keto diet. Protein has 4 calories a gram; so does a carbohydrate. Fat has 9 calories a gram.
It only takes comparing the nutritional facts of a chicken breast and a piece of chocolate cake to see that while they can both have the same number of calories, their macros are different.
Chocolate cake has way more carbs than chicken does, not to mention it’s far fattier (and not full of the good fats, either). Chicken contains more protein, and it doesn’t have much sugar, which the chocolate cake most certainly does.
So what does a healthful 2,000-calorie diet look like?
Per the NIH, your diet should be based on oils, dairy, soy and nuts, eggs/poultry/meat, seafood, protein foods, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Here’s what your diet might be:
- Oils – 27 grams per day
- Dairy – 3 cups equivalent per day
- Soy, seeds, and nuts – 5 ounces equivalent per week
- Eggs, poultry, and meats – 26 ounces equivalent per week
- Seafood – 8 ounces equivalent per week
- Protein food – 5 ½ ounces equivalent per day
- Grains – 6 ounces equivalent per day
- Fruits – 2 cups equivalent per day
- Vegetables – 2 ½ cups equivalent per day
The NIH offers guidelines on the above food quantities if you’re vegetarian or if you’re on the Mediterranean diet, so surely you can make adjustments that better work for your keto lifestyle as well.
The number of calories you eat on the keto diet is dependent on whether you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your weight. Other factors, including your current weight, your age, gender, and level of physical activity will also dictate your recommended daily caloric load.
Some keto followers, especially new ones, try to find loopholes in the diet. They might load up on bacon because it’s low in carbs and that’s the macro they care most about. Although it’s always nice to feel like you’re enjoying a cheat day on a diet, if you eat a lot of bacon, you might be meeting your macros, but you’re not doing your body (or your waistline) any favors.
The best way to succeed on the keto diet is to pay attention to both carbs and calories. Best of luck!