Counting Calories / Macros – Does it Work and Should I do it?
Let me explain all you need to know about counting calories. Here is the synopsis:
- What means counting calories?
- Why people counting calories?
- How to track calories and macros?
- Does tracking calories works?
- Should I count the calories in my meals?
- So how do I find out what my calories or macros should be?
- How to split the calories between the Macros?
- The Keys to Success of counting Calories and Macros
So…what means counting calories?
Counting calories is the number of calories you consume in a day. More specifically, when you count calories you will be looking at the amount of protein, carbs, and fat that you consume in a day.
1 A gram of Fat = 9 Calories
1 A gram of Protein or Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
For particular goals and/or body types, the ratios of protein, carbs, and fat differ and by counting the macros you know exactly what you are consuming so then you are able to stay in control of what you should be eating to reach the goal.
Why do people do it?
There are many reasons why people track their macros. It can be for fat loss, lean mass gain or for body composition maintenance, improve general health, have more energy or improve performance.
It is a way to stay in control and know what you are consuming. Many people have no idea what they [actually] consume on a daily basis and tracking your calories and macros provides you with that information.
How to track calories and macros?
The best approach I believe is to use an app such as MyFitnessPal where you enter a goal number of calories and macros to consume each day, enter the foods you eat and the app will calculate if for you – [Simple].
The other reason I favor apps is that they have functions such as allowing you the scan a bar code of food and it will find the calories and macro numbers and enter it for you. They also have a database so if you don’t have a bar code or it is not recognised then you can do a general search for it and select an option that closely matches your food.
In the beginning, it is essential to weigh foods or make sure you are selecting the correct portion size when scanning a bar code so you get accurate information of consumption. Over time you will learn what a 100g of chicken looks like but it looks very different to a 100g of dry pasta!
Does it work?
My opinion yes, but the success of achieving your goal is not black and white. The reason being is that there are many ‘theories’ of how and what food and drinks you should track and of course a person’s individual requirements.
What it does do is give you a great insight (if you are honestly entering all you consume) of what you are consuming on a daily basis. Once you have that information then you can start to look at what you need to change to reach your goal.
Should I do it?
Tracking calories and macros is time-consuming in the beginning and takes the commitment of weighing foods and doing food prep – it isn’t cost effective to just keep buying packaged food and processed food is not the way forward either.
But in short – YES, you should.
Besides helping you to understand what you are consuming or achieving a fat loss of muscle gain goal, over time it educates you on portion sizes, types of food and nutritional value of foods, something that we seem to have lost.
If you are consistent in tracking for a long time you will no longer have to weigh or track, you will have the knowledge to consume a balanced healthy diet and know how to manipulate what you consume in order to achieve certain targets.
So how do I find out what my calories or macros should be?
There are many calculators out there that will make this easy for you but let me just explain some important factors.
The First Factor you need to understand is what you want to achieve. Fat loss, increase lean muscle mass, body maintenance or performance.
The Second Factor you need to know is what is your BMR.
BMR = Basal metabolic rate: is the total number of calories that your body needs to perform basic, life-sustaining functions. These functions include breathing, circulation, cell production, nutrient processing, protein synthesis, and Ion transport. All that before you have even gotten out of bed, let alone fed the horses!
To find out your BMR you calculate your height, weight, age, and gender. It does not take into account lean body mass and the amount of fat vs muscle you have so using this method will be very accurate if you don’t have lots of fat or muscle. If you do, it is a good starting point if you just want a rough idea.
Men: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
So, let’s take me as an example:
I weight 68kg, 161cm tall and 37years
680 (10 x 68kg) + 1006.25 (6.25 x 161cm) – 185 (5 x 37) – 161 = 1340.25 BMR
You can use this calculator to figure your BMR if you would prefer – it is much easier.
Once you have your BMR number, let’s move on to the next number you need.
The Third Factor you need to know is what is your TDEE.
TDEE = Total Daily Energy Expenditure: is an estimation of the total number of calories you burn per day on top of your BMR through activities and exercise. It also includes energy spent on digesting foods known as TEF and general movements known as NEAT. I would say at this point, understand it but don’t get too caught up in it. Keep it simple for now.
There are a few ways to calculate your TDEE but I am going to keep it simple:
|Sedentary||Little or no Exercise and a desk job||1.2 x BMR|
|Lightly active||Light exercise – sports 1 – 3 days/ week||1.375 x BMR|
|Moderately active||Moderate Exercise, sports 3 – 5 days/ week||1.55 x BMR|
|Very active||Heavy Exercise/ sports 6 – 7 days/ week||1.725 x BMR|
|Extremely active||Very heavy exercise/ physical job/ training 5+ days per week|
1.9 x BMR
Table prepared by RiderCise. All rights reserved.
Using me as an example again:
I go to the gym 6 days a week for a minimum of an hour and I ride two horses 4-6 times a week for about half an hour in addition to working as a Personal Trainer and Soft Tissue Therapist, I can spend lots of time on my feet so I would be extremely active.
My TDEE Calculation is: 1340.25 BMR x 1.9 = 2546 calories per day
I always prefer to underestimate that be generous when calculating this. Going forwards and increasing calories is much easier than going backward and decreasing them!
The Final Number
Now that you have your BMR and your TDEE you need to refer back to The First Factor – Your goal.
Again, it is not black and white but let’s keep it simple still:
In order to:
- Lose body fat you must consume less than you expend. Start with taking 200 calories from your TDEE per day. If you want to be more aggressive then take 500 calories
- Maintain body composition you must consume the same as you expend.
- Improve performance you must consume more than you expend
How do you know how to split the calories between the Macros?
If you remember my post about Body Types, it provides you with a macro ideal based on your body type.
Ectomorphs: A ratio of roughly 50% of calories should be from good carbs (not sugars) and 25% from both protein and fats.
Endomorphs: A rough ratio of 30% of calories should be from carbs and 35% for both protein and fat.
Mesomorph: An equal ratio of 1/3 Protein, Carbs, and Fat but this needs to be adjusted depending on you feel and look over a period of time – 1-2months
The Keys to Success of counting Calories and Macros:
- Use a tracker such as MyFitnessPal this will help keep you accountable and show you what you are really eating
- Don’t expect miracles overnight. It will take a minimum of 1 month to notice differences in yourself and changes in your body
- Stick to it, once you have your numbers and goal, don’t change anything until at least a month. Consistency is everything!
- If you go overboard on food or alcohol then that’s life, get straight back on it the next day
- If you do drink alcohol keep it to a minimum, yes they have calories in them too! You should track them also so they are taken into account. (tracking alcohol as calories is a new subject in itself, which I will eventually get to write about!)
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. It won’t be easy to change habits or get used to tracking everything and you will have low days (when you realize what you are really consuming) but that’s ok. It is a process. Stick with it.