Counting calories – it’sa not something you probably WANT to do but you know it’s probably somethnig you SHOULD do. And you’re right!
If ever you aim to progress your nutrition or exercise goals, consistent nutrition is a must. Without consistency there’s no way to judge whether your nutrition or exercise plan is helpnig or hindering. And sadly, the only way to give yourself the best shot in your goals is to track your calories or macrosso you can adjust and alter to pivot towards your goals. No matter what people say as well, if all you do is exercise and don’t have nutrition dialled in, you won’t ever out perform that person who exercsises just as much but with nutrition on point.
You may be thinking, “Hell no! This is effort” or “too difficult”. But infact the simplest way to your goals is through tracking and evaluating what’s happening with your body as a result of nutrition. Actually unless you know what you’re doing and have a tonne of experience in tracking or eyeballing food I’m going to go out on a limb and say if you’re not tracking you’re setting yourself up for failure.
You have no baseline of your ‘standard’ day of meals. Your body has ever-changing energy needs so when it’s time to give more food for that increased need, you’ll end up giving the perfect amount or simply WAY too much or little.
So that’s enough of the encouragement to start tracking, here’s 9 simple hacks to help go from ‘Tracking WHAT?!’ to ‘Tracking Pro’.
Let’s get into it!
1. Begin with your current meals throughtout the day.
It’s quite simple – no matter where your fitness endeavours take you, the nutrition portion of it should start where you are now. Create a simple meal plan based on what you already eat, no matter if it’s 100% nutritious or ‘healthy’. Don’t make any big changes or think about calorie targets, forget the ‘daily goals’ all these fitness apps highlight to you. Start with YOU.
Simply enter the food you believe wil lget you through the day on a normal basis. Make sure at this stage not to alter the numbers of any food just yet, eg. the amounts or portion sizes. Instead, make this the place to make qualitative changes – implementing whole foods, eliminating the junk food if not ALL, and aim to keep sugar fairly low. This is a perfect starting point and acts as your first baseline in your foray to nutrition.
2. Download your meal tracking app of choice.
I don’t need to go on again ehre. You need to track, we all do. There’s ways for people to do it without tracking electronically but tracking is 100% the best way to go. It’s on paper, it’s blackv and white. You can see straight away where your downfalls may be and there’s no getting round it! You can see what looks great for you too. The key here is to be honest, you’ll only be cheating yourself if you’re not logging all your food on purpose. At the end of the day, you asked me or your PT or professional for help, you’re the one who wants’s the change the most!
MyFitnessPal is a great tracker and my favourite and wouldn’t reccomend any others. If you flat out hate it, get in touch and I’ll send over more reccomendations.
3. Identify the patterns in your diet.
Now you’ve got in on paper it’s easy to see some patterns emerging. A frequent error people make is underestimating the number of calories they eat with their cheat meals for instance. Perhaps thatyoghurt was 500 calories instead of the 200 your presumed. IT’s actually SO easy to accidently double or triple your calorie intake without knowing. I have a client where previously they were’nt weighing their peanut butter every time. Little did he know was that he was almost spooing out double the amount he meant to, doubling his calories in a simple, swift action.
If you can see times in your day where you can see a dense period of calories, assess whether that was a good decision or something that could’ve been altered to help you more. Keep an eye out for frequent patterns too. Has your treat of a small cake a day escalated over the course of a couple of weeks or monrths to a considerably bigger piece. Do you tend to reach for junk food at certain times of the week or day.
One of the more common patterns is identifying how often alcohol creeps it’s way in to your week. If you notice it’s happening 3-4 times a week you could perhaps notice that and perhaps allow yourself one or two night sinstead.
If you’re not feeling 100% satiated and you’ve been quite consistent in tracking you could also try squeezing some extra protein into your diet or seeing if you’re eating enough carbs for your lifestyle (you need more than you think). Patterns!
Ps. if you want coaching through all of this to drive your goals, we have 5 spots open for our Nutrition Intake left this month! Click above!!
4. Adjust from your baseline.
After you’ve tracked for a few days to a week, you may be feeling a bit more comfortable about your daily inputs and it’s fallen into a consistent range. You have your abseline of main meals figured out and your core snacks you maybe reach to.
Now it’s the fun stuff of adjusting for your goal. IF you’re feeling quite hungry still, chances are your current tracked intake of food is putting you under your maintenance calories. Great for weight loss if that’s what you wanted, not so great if you want more muscle! Once you’re feel relatively satiated throughout the day, your energy levels are stable and you’re feeling OK, you’re proably at or near your maintenance.
Reckon you need a few more calories if you’re under eating? Simply add 10% and monitor how you feel the next few days. Think you’re eating a bit too much for your goals. Again, reduce by 10% and moniitor your workout performance and hunger – great indicators of using your calories efficiently.
When you’ve identified your maintenance calories you can choose to add some more if you’re looking for performance in your sport or weight/muscle gain (no more than 10% increases at a time). Or you can reduce your calories by up to 10% in order to drive fat loss.
Keep the changes small. Don’t underestimate the change of 100 calories in a day. It can literally be the difference between you feeling hunger or aiding your workout. If you make drastic changes you risk storing fat if you’re eating too much quickly and also diversely affect your hunger, energy levels or restricting your metabolism if too drastic.
5. Establish your core meals.
You’ve done brilliantly so far in getting consistent and adjusting your calories for your goals now it’s just solidfying those core meals that will help you stay consistent.
I have some staples in my diet. They work for ME. Spaghetti bolognaise is brilliant as it’s so easy for me to whip up. Turkey mince is low in fat and the high protein drives my workout goals.
You need to accept that what’s convenient for anyone else may not be for you. But getting some core meal ideas down will help make things so much easier.
In your tracker you can add recipes which you can re-use on multiple days. This allows batch making meals so easy and convenient to track. Simply create the recipe using the ingredients in your tracker and boomm you have a dependable meal you can eat 6 nights a week if you really wanted.
When you have your core meals planned you can then pre-enter these and work your day around the core meals you know you’ll be eating. This method allows you to squeeze some snacks into your diet which will help keep you mentally happy, instead of being reactive and trying to squeeze a small snack in before bed with the remaining calories. Don’t aim for healthy perfection. Healthy also nvolves a healthy relationship with food, where you can embrace and enjoy everything on offer if it suits. Don’t restrict yourself too much and enjoy the snacks you can fit in your day!
6. Don’t ditch the packaged foods.
Contrary to popular belief packaged foods aren’t ALWAYS bad. In fact depending on your lifestyle they can be damn convenient.
IF your food has a barcode on it and it’s not got too much crap in it, chances are it’s not so bad to have every now and then, or often if your diet is constantly on ponit daily.
These foods can be packaged meats or ready meals, cereals like porridge or general drinks. In a pinch these barcoded foods can be a time and energy saver, aiding your goals when you’re busy and active. Nuts, beef jerky, protein powders, meatballs, spaghetti, tinned fish, all these foods with barcodes have their nutritional info on the back and commonly on your tracking app.
Once you get comfortable using barcoded foods and getting consistent with your attempts in tracking you can then dabble into making some delicious meals from scratch weighing every little gram of food -eventually fitting your macros perfectly.
7. Pre load your day with what you’re going to eat, ideally the night before.
This is my pro-tip and something I love doing to keep me on game. Most nights before I get into bed I add all my foods to myfitness pal for the next day.
I put in the breakfast I like the sounds of (normally porridge oats, full fat milk and protein), my lunch and the snacks I know I will reach for. I’ll input my protein powder for after the gym and boom, I have a full dya of food where I can think proactively about the calories or macros I need to create for whatever is left.
I’ve been tracking my food for pretty much 365 days straight, the opccasional day missed because of illness or exhaustion. But after that long I know when my hunger is going to strike and I know my go-to snacks. I also have my core meals in my head that I’m going to cook so ALL i need to do is simply eat the food I’ve inputted. There’s no hassle, as it’s already inputted, I just need to follow my orders!
If you enter the day knowing what oyu need to eat, it’ll keep you on track and you won’t be scrambling round at 10pm at night figuring out 100 calories or the specific macros of snacks to have.
IT’s also easier than ever. Now on MyFitnessPal you can auto re-input yesterdays same meal for breakfast or dinner or lunch, simply at the swipe of a button. Boom, the exact same breakfast, in 1 second flat, easy! This approach will really help you stick it out for the long game, keeping consistent and driving your goals like a boss!
8. Start focussing on the minor details.
Now you’ve got really comfortable tracking everyday variations you can step it up a notch if you so choose.
Try tracking your water intake, assessing whether you’re as hydrated as you think, or even your fibre levels – a great indicator of the amount of whole foods you’re eating.
You could also go a bit more advanced a delve into tracking macros intstead of calories – a tried and tested method of prescribing yourself a specific number of protein/carbs/fat in a day. This is mroe advanced and research should be look into tracking macros but it’s all on my blog. Tracking macros allow you to really fine tune your diet and drive body composition goals a lot more efficient than calories do, simply by giving your body the specifics it craves as opposed to broad calories.
The point is you can focus down a bit harder on your new craft or thnik about the next steps you can take your tracking to.
9. Just get to doing it 🙂
Awesome! You’re now a tracking pro by this point, and it can all come into place within the month if you put the shift in. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if your body composition is gonig in the direction you wanted, pivoting with small adjustments to make sure you’re on track to your goals. Increase or decrease your calories or macros to ensure you’re driving the right goals.
At this point you can dabble into making more extravgent meals for your recipes in the app, or perhaps think of a long term plan for your new found skill in tracking calories or macros.
Quite simply, you’ve learned a vital new skill for health and fitness and if need be is something you can leave and pick up when you want, but when you make it a constant in your life it’s no surprise that some great body compositions changes could follow…
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Charge Up, Team! 🙂