Calories or Carbohydrates – Which Ones Really Matter?

Calories or Carbohydrates - Which Ones Really Matter


For most of the people who are trying or following a low-carbohydrate approach to fat loss or to health improvements, it is clear from the very beginning that one of the most important things that they need to know is the amount of carbohydrates they ingest.

It is nice to know that you don’t really have to focus on calories, which is the main preoccupation of the rest of the diets. Carbohydrates are the ones that really matter here.

How many calories?

Many people who begin or consider following this approach to fat loss are very confused and many keto-dieters are doing it the wrong way and then they say it doesn’t work. The idea behind a ketogenic approach is that you can eat as much as you want (calorically speaking) if you stick within the limits of your macros.

This means that you have to go at least 60% fat from the total calories, 20-35% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates. Let’s be more specific.

If one day of your ketogenic lifestyle you eat 2,500kcals, 60% of them have to come from fat, 20-35% of them have to come from protein while 5-10% have to come from carbohydrates. That’s it.

I’ve noticed that for many people the best would be to go 70-80% fat, 15-25% protein, while 5-10% should be carbohydrates. It doesn’t matter if you consume 1,500kcals, 2,500kcals or 5,000kcals as long as you stick within these macronutrient values.

Net or Total Carbs?

In ketogenic diets the limitation is put on the amount of carbohydrates you ingest daily. Those 5-10% of carbohydrates should be somewhere between 20-50g of total carbohydrates so that you are in ketosis. This range of 20-50g is only a narrow window because some people can easily eat 70-100g of carbs per day and still remain in the fat burning metabolism. On the lower end, 95% (rough estimate) of the people will start burning fat when they limit total carbohydrates to < 20g/day.

Phinney and Volek advocate on starting the ketogenic nutrition by targeting <50g of total carbohydrates/day. On the other hand, Lyle McDonald speaks in terms of net carbohydrates and he says that at the beginning you should hit somewhere between 25-50g of net carbohydrates per day.

Why net carbohydrates?

Because Net Carbs = Total Carbs – Fiber

where fiber is non-digestible and its impact on insulin secretion is minimum. So, fiber does not create spikes in insulin levels.

In the beginning of my ketogenic experiment, I aimed for 30-40g of net carbohydrates and I said to myself that if I wasn’t gonna reach ketosis in 2-3 days following this restriction, I’ll restrict carbohydrates even more. But that didn’t happen because I got really easy into ketosis.

Why Calories don’t Matter

Whenever you restrict carbohydrates the way you do in ketogenic diets, this has an impact (positive one) on various hormones. Probably the biggest impact it has is on insulin. Low insulin levels make an enzyme called LPL (lipoprotein lipase), which is attached to adipocytes (fat cells), to release fat and mobilize it for energy production.

Second of all, ketogenic diets have an impact on ghrelin and leptin levels, which are two hormones responsible for appetite regulation. Studies show that ghrelin and leptin levels decrease in ketotic subjects. This means that hunger goes down. And this is another reason for which calories would not matter, (in the context of optimal hormonal activity).

Even if at the beginning of a ketogenic diet you’ll consume 3000+ kcals (like I did), through time you will reduce the intake naturally because you will not feel hungry and will not experience cravings like when you follow a high-fat diet. That’s why I started doing intermittent fasting daily.

I can easily live on 1,500-1,600kcals and not feel that I’m hungry. But I keep losing fat if I do this because 1,500kcals is below my total energy expenditure so my body uses my fat tissue to create energy. And right now I don’t want to lose anymore fat.

I did several 30+ hour fasts and I did not feel hungry throughout the whole time. I remember that I tried fasting when I was following a moderate to high-carbohydrate diet. I tried not eating for the whole day, but by 3 P.M. I felt like I was going to kill someone for food. It was all that I could think of. Anyway, don’t take for granted what I’m saying. Try it for yourself and see how it goes.


There are also other reasons that I could relate to, but they go beyond the scope of this short article. Let me know if there is something that you are not clear about! Whatever your concerns, just post them in either of the comment sections below and I’ll do my best to discuss them with you.


1. Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek – The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living

2. Lyle McDonald – The Ketogenic Diet

3. Ferland, A., Château‐Degat, M. L., Hernandez, T. L., & Eckel, R. H. (2012). Tissue‐Specific Responses of Lipoprotein Lipase to Dietary Macronutrient Composition as a Predictor of Weight Gain Over 4 Years. Obesity, 20(5), 1006-1011.

4. Sumithran, P., Prendergast, L. A., Delbridge, E., Purcell, K., Shulkes, A., Kriketos, A., & Proietto, J. (2013). Ketosis and appetite-mediating nutrients and hormones after weight loss. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(7), 759-764.

5. Gary Taubes – Good Calories, Bad Calories – Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health.

6. Gross, L. S., Li, L., Ford, E. S., & Liu, S. (2004). Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 79(5), 774-779.

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6 Responses to Calories or Carbohydrates – Which Ones Really Matter?

  1. Jan Koch says:

    Chris, I’m so glad you inspired me to try the ketogenic lifestyle!

    Even though I’m not as strict as you are, I can see great results coming from changing my nutrition. I lost fat (not muscles) and I feel more energized at the same time.

    Even during the checks in the hospital my blood tests where awesome. During an exercise echocardiography I constantly felt strong and even though I stopped when I reached the goal heart rate of 200+ bpm, I felt that I probably could do more. So luckily my heart is fine and it was the spine who caused the issues 🙂

    Can’t wait for your book to come out!


    • Chris Chris says:

      That’s interesting Jan. Well you can increase your heart rate max rpm which is known as the VO2 max in the sports field. You just have constantly push yourself a bit further than the last time. I’m curious about the types of exercises you will be recommended by your physician.

      Yes, I’m putting a lot of effort in the book. and it’s an enjoyable process! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Andy says:

    I don’t agree that one can consume as many kcals as they want, as long as they stay within the macros you lay out, and still lose fat/weight. Don’t misunderstand me, I agree with and practice a VLCHF/keto diet myself, but there is no way I can eat 5,000 kcal/day – without a significant increase in energy expenditure – and even maintain my current weight. So, ultimately, calories do matter, but not as much as carbohydrate. I think it’s important to make this point, especially for those new to this way of eating.

    • Chris Chris says:

      To put it in a different perspective Andy. Let’s say that I’m starting a ketogenic diet and I dont count calories…As I have a big appetite because I come from a high-carb diet, I will tend to over-eat…Let’s say I’ll do 4,000 kcals for the first couple of days, and possibly weeks…

      Maybe I went a bit forward without giving any reference when I said that you can over-eat and still lose weight. The first thing to know is that you will not be able to overeat for long term because as hunger goes away your caloric intake will naturally reduce.

      One thing that many experts have experienced is not gaining weight while overeating. Research is undergoing in this field but I have a suspicion that energy is dispersed as heat and possibly as waste products.

      Thanks for bringing this on. I still think that those starting out should not think in terms of calories because even so this way of eating may be overwhelming for some (as it’s totally different from what’s out there). Calories will be relevant if people stick to this diet correctly and follow a good macronutrient partitioning. I talk a lot about this in the upcoming book!

      Thanks Andy! 🙂

  3. geninne menzies says:


    Wondering if you can shed some light on my situation. Ive been on a low carb diet for four days now. I felt terrible on day two but have been fine since then……does this mean I haven’t entered ketosis as I don’t seem to have the “flu” everyone is talking about. I am on 15-20 net carbs per day.

    kind Regards

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