As part of the Box Framework, I encourage people to know their numbers, or how many calories and macronutrient they require for their training and goals.
Calorie and macro counting is not the magic bullet for fat loss.
You don’t need to count calories to get in shape, or perform well.
Counting calories is not always accurate.
Calorie counting can be obsessive.
So why do I recommend it!
Firstly, accurately assessing your calories is not the goal, understanding food values is. It doesn’t matter if you’re 100 or 200 calories off for the day, what matters is how you adjust your eating based on progress. Calorie and macro counting is only a tool and skill that helps you get results.
And giving yourself this starting point does just that, it provides you with a starting set of figures, which can help understand how much you’re currently eating compared to what you should be eating.
By tracking your intake along with other metrics like gym performance, body comp, energy levels and mood gives you more direction when making any adjustments moving forward.
Tracking your food also teaches you the different values of food, so the number of calories, fibre, protein and fat enabling your MORE flexibility moving forward. A better understanding of foods and how they can fit into your diet makes food choices far easier reducing the worry of sabotaging results. I want to know how much peanut butter I can fit into my diet without getting fat!
This isn’t something you have to do forever, in fact I encourage clients to move away from this practice and become more intuitive with their eating, however, to get to this point it pays to get a better understanding of what you’re eating first.
OK so you should track, but how do you actually do it properly.
1. Use our calculator - Remember, only see this as a STARTING point as it will not account for certain individual differences, however, it provides you with a great ball-park figure to move forward with.
2. Add your numbers into MyFitnessPal.com - In custom goals, add your calories, protein, fat and carbohydrates for the day. If you have the premium version you can change your daily targets, which are great if your training volume changes throughout the week. Ignore kcal burn options as I have equated for exercise with the macro tracker.
3. Focus on grams rather than the percentage – As your eating will differ from day to day based on the amount of training you do, using percentages to calculate your macros will lead to inaccuracies. For arguments sake, if your calories on a none workout day were 2000 and 30% of this will come from protein, this would be 600 calories (150g), whereas if your calories were 2400 on a workout day, 30% of this would be 720 calories (180g), even though your protein target is likely to be the same day to day.
4. Track everything for a few days – I know it’s a ball ache, but log everything for a week. Literally all that you eat and drink so even the sip of coke, splash of olive oil or that one biscuit your colleague gave you at work. It will quickly become apparent what you’re eating day to day. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Foods that can quickly add up without you realising:
Drinks (milk, juice, soft-drinks)
5. Don’t get too fixated on being exact - I like to give myself around 10% leeway either side of my calorie target. This is because calorie counting is never going to be entirely accurate. Inaccurate weighing and recording will affect this figure, not to mention how it is stored, grown and cooked. This is why you should simply use it as a tool to record your intake, which helps paint a better picture of what changes you need to make to see improvement.
6. Don’t be too inaccurate! It sounds obvious but it’s easy to wildly overestimate and underestimate your calories. This is why I suggested above (point 4) that you log everything for a week or two. To help you be more accurate, scan the barcode where possible, or search for the specific brand or food. Or, use the search term USDA which provides an accurate measurement for a lot of foods.
7. Weigh your food – I know it’s a ball ache but a small investment in time now will mean no more weighing in the future. A couple of points:
Fruit – weigh the part that you’re eating
Weigh food before cooking
Weigh the ingredients not the meal
Zero the scales!
Weighing things from a tin, tub or jar - An easy weigh to measure what you’ve eaten is to put the jar on the scales, weigh it, take out that what you’re eating and measure the jar again.
8. Pre-Log Your Day: by adding your food into MFP the night before gives you flexibility to ensure what you eat fits within your macro targets. If it doesn’t fit then change it. This also enables you to log any future ‘bad’ meals, which allows you to eat around them rather than running out of calories when it’s too late.
9. Get reminders - Under settings in MFP you can set reminders to remember to track and log your food as you will sometimes forget.
10. Vegetables – Tracking all of your celery and spinach isn’t going to make a difference, whereas ignoring potatoes will. This is why you should create some rules when tracking your veg. I like to record starchy vegetables, which include things like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, peas and sweet corn, whereas I wouldn’t worry about counting green leafy veg (their kcal value is inconsequential).
11. Don't forget condiments – Mayonnaise, ketchup and similar condiments are loaded with sugar and fat. Do not discount these when tracking your macros.
12. Tracking on the move - If you're buying from a shop then scan the barcode. If you're eating at a restaurant try not to worry about being too accurate as it's almost impossible. Instead, just add the protein, carbohydrate and fat source and roughly estimate it's size. Once you have been tracking for a few weeks you will have a better understanding of portion sizes making tracking on the far easier.
13. Track alcohol - There’s calories in alcohol too so track it. What’s more, you need to expend this energy first before you can start using other fuel sources. i.e. fat.
14. Log your recipes and favourite meals - If you’re like me you probably have similar foods for breakfast and lunch. Save these meals into MFP so you can easily add them to other days.
Remember, tracking is just a tool to help you progress. Using metrics like body weight, body fat %, circumferential, gym performance, sleep and recovery will enable you to adjust your eating moving forward.
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