How to track your calories and macronutrients
So, you’ve read this article of mine, and calculated your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and find out how many calories you should be eating in order to move towards your goals.
Then, you read this follow-up article on how to split up your calories into protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
And while it’s important to know all that, it’s not much good without knowing how much you’re eating and tracking it! So this article aims to expand this subject by covering that very topic.
So there are a few ways in which you can track your macronutrient and calorie intake.
note: It can be useful to do this exercise even if you haven’t calculated what you need to be eating, and rather just eating as you would normally and tracking it, in order to increase your awareness of what you’re currently eating. This will be useful as you can then compare it with what you should be eating for your goals.
The main aim of this exercise is to count up all the protein, fat and carbohydrate, and ultimately calories you are consuming on a daily basis, and use this information to adjust your intake to suit your goals.
The Old Pen and Paper
You can do this by taking a pen and paper, and writing down exactly what you are eating in a day, and that means EVERYTHING, with weights/quantities etc. On the same page, you can make 4 columns with the headings, “Protein”, “Fat”, “Carbohydrates” and “Calories”. Then, you will go through the list, and for each food, write down the protein, fats, carbohydrates and calories in that food, in the respective columns. Most of these figures can be found on google or on the back of the packet if its a packaged food. For example, if you eat 200g of chicken, a quick google search will tell you that it contains 48g of protein, 2g of fat, and 0g of carbohydrate, equating to 210kcal.
When you’ve done this for all the foods, you can total up the columns, giving you your total macronutrient and calorie consumption for the day.
The method described above is really more useful for assessing your current macronutrient and calorie intake, which can give you a good insight into what you’ve been doing up to this point. That’s good, but what we really want to do is to use the tracking method to allow us to eat how much we should be eating, based on our calculations from the previous post. In this case, what we can do is total up the columns as we go along throughout the day, consistently checking how much of each macronutrient we have left to eat in that day, before we hit our target for each.
If pen and paper is a bit old school for you, or you don’t want to be carrying around a pen and paper all day, and generally if you want to make it easier for yourself, you can use an phone app like myFitnessPal. For most people, I’d actually recommend this over the pen and paper method, simply because most people have their phones within hand reach at all times. That means that you can enter your food details as and when you like. In fact, the best thing to do is to put all your food details into the app before you’ve eaten the meal, or straight after. This is just a good habits to get into, to save you trying to remember it all at the end of the day, for example.
With myFitnessPal, there’s no googling or maths involved on your part. You simply search within the myFitnessPal database, (it has almost everything) select the foods and quantities you want to log, and the app will add them up for you. You can even scan barcodes of foods that have them. Because the app allows users to enter foods into the database, there are some errors in some of the foods that appear in your search, so it can be worth googling them to double-check. After a while, myFitnessPal gets easier to use, as your commonly used foods begin to pop up first as you search, so the time it takes to enter your foods decreases the more you use the app.
Also, a note on setting up the app. It will ask you to enter your details at the start and will then automatically set up your macronutrient and calories needs based on their estimations, but I would recommend that you don’t use them, and rather use the ones you’ve calculated with these articles. A way to get around this, is to set your targets to zero grams on the app for each of your macronutrients. You’ll have to sign in on your computer to do this. If this is too inconvenient, you can upgrade to the premium version of the app and manually enter your macronutrient goals that you’ve calculated.
A few tips
This will be a learning experience and you’ll soon begin to get an innate sense of how much protein a certain food contains, or how many grams of fat is in something. This is really the goal of doing this. Eventually, you’ll probably want to get to a point where you don’t need to track your food every day. (More on this in the next article)
At the end of each day, especially if you are trying to eat a lot of food, you’ll generally have a certain amount of each macronutrients left over. It’s a good idea to have some foods that have a high percentage of a certain macronutrient in them, that you can turn to to fill in the remaining amount. For example, bananas contain mostly carbohydrates, so if you have hit your fat target and protein target, but haven’t hit your carbohydrate target, bananas can be a good source to finish off your daily intake. In the case of fat, nuts can be a good source. With protein, a lean meat or protein powder can be helpful.
You’ll eventually find that some of the foods you are eating, such a some green veg, contain very few calories, in fact, so few that it is not worth tracking them. Recognising things like this will speed up your tracking time.
You will need to use scales for the first few weeks of doing this, and then you should use them intermittently after that to make sure you are able to recognise the amounts of each of your food sources. A common mistake for people new to tracking their food is that they enter the weight of the foods incorrectly. Using the scales is a good way to learn how to get this part right.
Finally, you don’t have to be exact to the gram every day. Naturally, there will be some small errors anyway. The most important factor is that you are getting close on a consistent basis.
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