When embarking on a body transformation journey what you need to do exactly and a step by step set of instructions are what everyone looks for. In finding the fastest most effective way to fat loss amongst all the things old and new that have graced the fitness industry ‘calorie counting’ has forever been around. In recent years science has given a lot more light to calorie counting and deemed it as the absolute reason for why people lose weight whether they count diligently or have accidentally placed themselves in a calorie deficit. Either way, whether you lose weight or gain weight is dependant upon how many calories you’re consuming in comparison to what you’re burning.
Our Equalution client Ashleigh, down 12kgs and 32cms in body measurements. When Ashleigh came to us she wouldn't eat gluten or dairy under the impression she had an intolerance and therefore had a very restrictive diet. She now eats from all food groups self selecting foods and meeting her strategised macronutrient goals.
What does counting calories and macros mean?
1. Using a calorie counting tool
2. Setting a calorie goal based on your goals and whether you need to be in a surplus, maintenance or deficit for fat loss, maintenance or weight gain objective.
3. Of those calories setting a protein, (Guide: 30%), carbs (Guide: 40%), Fats (Guide: 30%) goal.
4. Controlling the portions of your food by weight through means such as using a scale
5. Tracking your meals and food choices aiming to hit those set goals
And then as part of the process… Adjusting goals based on progress.
So should you count your calories and macros?
Count calories or count macros?
Short answer - both matter! Energy intake, so how many calories you consume vs energy out, so how many calories you expend will always determine whether you lose or gain weight. Regardless of - macronutrient (protein, fats and carbs) intake and where those calories are coming from, the thermogenic effect of food, hormones etc - DESPITE all that, the bottom line will ALWAYS be indisputable in that in order to lose weight you have to eat less than you’re burning. By ‘burning’ this doesn’t mean in the single gym session you may do a day, this is what your body is expending in that exercise, PLUS your daily movements (Non Exercise Thermogenesis Activity), digestion (Thermogenic Effect of Food) etc. Macronutrients - so hitting your required protein, fat and carbohydrate intakes play an important role in body composition. Rule of thumb:
- Protein will amount to about 0.85-1.15g per pound of body weight
- Fat between 20-30% of total daily intake;
- Carbs will make up the remainder.
The effect of each macro in summary is as follows:
Protein: preserve muscle - losing muscle and water will give an unfavourable body composition, commonly referred to as ‘skinny fat’.
Carbs: provide your muscles with the glycogen stores needed to maintain training intensity, and energy levels.
Fats: play an important role in hormone synthesis.
Can you eat all your calories in Pop Tarts and STILL lose weight?
So the above is why macronutrient intake is as important as caloric consumption given the role that macros play in your body composition and health. At the end of the day though, calories will always determine fat loss or fat gain, however to do this OPTIMALLY macros need close attention too. A calorie deficit comprised of all carbs and no protein for example will create deficiencies and chip away at muscle mass creating a ‘skinny fat’ look. The reality is the carbs in lollies turn into glucose and glycogen just like the carbs in broccoli. The protein in a Big Mac burger is made up of the same amino acids as trimmed chicken breast. But that being said, lollies are not the same as broccoli and eating a Big Mac burger meat patty every day is not encouraged. Just because you can eat a box of Pop Tarts everyday and lose weight doesn’t mean you should. Food is beyond a mere source of protein, carbohydrate, and fat and is also a source of vital micronutrients which support the body’s many physiological functions. A lot of stereotypical ‘junk food’ lacks in these micronutrients and the deficiency in these requirements is why many Flexible Dieters can’t get away with meeting their intake requirements through junk and treat foods alone. Is it possible to eat only junk in a calorie deficit and still lose body fat? Yes, and it’s scientifically proven(1). Aesthetics shouldn’t compromise health. In other terms, your health is just as important if not more important than looking good.
Is it for you?
Short answer, it depends. For bodybuilders and flexible dieting pros tracking macros is a no brainer and an almost essential for optimum results. This is due to when you have an understanding of how much accuracy and precision in your food intake can better your results, taking short cuts seems pointless. Here are the factors to consider if it’s right for you:
1. Time: What sort of time frame are you working with? While it’s optimal to maintain the mindset of an overall lifestyle goal rather that be X weight by X date, you may be motivated by an event or a date coming up in which you want to look your best for. In that case getting the best results through consistency in your nutrition is optimum and you should adopt a diligent tracking approach. If you’re quite carefree as to how much weight you lose, maybe you don’t even necessarily have weight to lose and are focusing on body composition change; if you already have a good understanding of how many calories you need a day and are mindful of the protein, fat and carb ratio and have no ‘dead line’ so to speak, then you could afford to plot along in ‘guessing’ range without striving for perfect tracking given optimal results aren’t really a forefront goal.
2. Goal: What is your goal? Together with time, assess how big or small your goal is and how important getting there as optimally and efficiently as possible is. If you’re trying your guts out to lose body fat, tracking is for you. If you’re getting on stage, tracking is for you. If you’re reverse dieting, tracking is for you. Why? Because these goals are better achieved through accuracy of intake and consistency in your nutrition particularly given for further effectiveness of and reason to make a change when it’s time to do so. If you’re ‘roughly’ hitting a caloric intake then when you begin to plateau or aren’t responding you won’t accurately know what intake you’ve been on and scheduling a drop will therefore not be as effective.
3. Purpose: For what reason is your goal as it is? Assess what your primary purpose is and whether tracking prohibits or is a vehicle for achieving that goal. If you’re striving for stage conditioning then being on point with your intake is of prime importance. However if you’re overcoming an eating disorder and are bettering your relationship with food working with numbers may not be the most effective solution - there is one though, read on and check out our alternatives… Look into what your reasoning is and where aesthetic goals and getting there most efficiently fall into that equation. If that is of upmost importance than it’s in your best interest to track.
4. Mental Health: Are you mentally in a place to be on top of your intake and the numbers side of things? As mentioned above, if you’ve suffered from a rocky relationship with food and OCD obsessions that are food and body related, assess whether tracking and counting your intake will better or worsen these circumstances. There are alternatives it’s just about finding what works best for you.
5. Current knowledge and/or past experience: How much knowledge and awareness do you have about calories, macros, what you need, and portion sizes? If you’ve tracked for years, have no aesthetic goals and have diligently reverse dieted and now want to live, then you’re in a really good place to be trusted with your own intuition. However if you have zero concept of what your body needs to function and for your goals, couldn’t tell 30g from 10g of peanut butter or 200g from 100g of chicken and think that an acai berry bowl is the best choice on a breakfast menu then you likely don’t have the intuitive foundations to not yo-yo and fluctuate without some means of control and precision in your nutrition.
So in a nutshell when is it for you:
1. You want to lose weight optimally and in the most efficient way possible
2. You’re lean but you want to get leaner
3. You’re competing either body building and need to be stage conditioned or need to make weight as an athlete
4. You’ve never dieted before and you don’t know how much of any macronutrient to eat let alone how much anything is just by looking at it
5. Your weight yo-yo’s or plateaus and you need to regain control
When an alternative is better suited:
1. You have no deadline and don’t mind ‘when’ things happen. Note: This is a scenario where if what you’re doing doesn’t seem to work you might call on tracking down the road
2. You have a tendency to be obsessive compulsive with numbers
3. You want to focus on mental health and building a better relationship with food and don’t mind what happens aesthetically. Note: This doesn’t mean a free for all and that you shouldn’t pay attention to calories and macros given if you don’t you could consume too much or not enough and detriment your body and mental health further.
4. You’re not fully ready yet. So you’ve made the lifestyle change from Big Mac’s to salads and have compromised with baby steps.
5. You’re a flexible dieting God. You’ve been doing this for years, you look unreal and know calories and macros like the back of your palm.
What are the options and alternatives:
1. Strict approach
- Using kitchen scales to weigh your food. Keep consistent with how you track this e.g meats and veggies weighed raw. What you don’t need to weigh: Packaged foods like muesli bars, low calorie veggies and salad like lettuce, tomato etc. (May differ if you’re prepping for a show).
- Inputting all foods into a calorie tracking tool like My Fitness Pal.
- Weighing in each week and making adjustments based on weekly progress.
Will this achieve optimal results if your strategy (intake goals) are set correct? Yes, absolutely.
2. Loose approach
- Going off intuition with portioning out food e.g. guessing palm size of chicken is roughly 100g
- Checking in with My Fitness Pal every few days to see if what you’ve been eating is roughly around your goal
- ‘Go with the flow’ calculating - Having a day higher in carbs around 1600 and knowing with a 2000 calorie goal you should make up roughly 400 in protein/fat.
- Jumping on the scales every so often and consciously eating more or less based off that result.
- Lots of dining out and just saving a thereabouts amount of calories.
Will this always be a fail? No it might work great for some people depending on how good their intuition is.
3. Middle ground
- Tracking and weighing meats and guessing there abouts with veggies and sides
- Buying mostly packaged snacks to avoid weighing and helping out with the ‘thereabouts’ calculations
- Opting always for low calorie condiments, sauces, light and skim variations but not tracking the ‘little’ things like the skim milk in your coffee, your fountain no sugar added sauce etc.
- Creating a meal plan at the start of the week and just following it for the whole week making minor tweaks and swaps here and there but not tracking
- Dining out once a week and just finding the closest match on a calorie counting database to account for the calories
- Weighing every so often when you’re unsure and making changes based off those results
Can this sometimes be as effective as a strict approach? Maybe not as physically optimal however it’s a good way to find a middle road between mental health and enjoyment of the process and physical results.
Can you run off the objective of ‘I’m just going to try to be healthy’?
Not really. There is a warped perception in our day and age of what defines healthy. However, don’t ignore calories in pursuit of good health. If you’re not even interested in getting your physique to an optimum condition or even drop a few kilos but just don’t want to gain weight - DON’T look past your daily caloric intake thinking the health benefits of your food choices outweigh the numerical side of calories in VS calories out. It’s one thing to strive for giving your body what it needs it’s another to be ignorant of the caloric cost of doing so in a negligent way.
As professionals we appropriate our clients needs to the most appropriate vehicle to their goals mindful of who they are and what they’re looking to achieve. Ask us about our services today and we can explain how we can best fit your nutrition into your lifestyle as opposed to letting your diet run it! The black and white aim for us is whether the nutritional goal is aesthetic or mental health related is the individual needs to be eating accordingly for their body. So we have a number of ways of facilitating this in order to achieve the set physical and/or mental goal.
Yours in Health & Fitness,
The Equalution Team