My experience with calorie counting
How do you know what you've eaten? Well, by tasting it and seeing it. Thanks Sherlock. But, what about the nutritional content of the foods? In particular, the 'macros'. Knowing this will put you one step ahead of the game for creating a calorie deficit (fat loss/muscle retention) or calorie surplus (muscle gain/minimising fat gain).
This is the holy grail, surely? If you know whether you're in a deficit or surplus, then you know what sorts of adaptations your body will pursue. You're not far off. So why isn't everyone doing it? It's not as fun as it sounds (it doesn't sound fun either), it's inconvenient, and it's changing your routine. Not many people like these cons when it comes to weighing up calorie counting.
Myself and my partner began calorie counting around March 2017. It was something new, my fat gain had gotten a bit too much, despite putting on a lot of muscle alongside it, I needed to get it under control. So I tried calorie counting. After all, I needed to make sure I was in a deficit if I was to lose weight.
To know what you're eating, you need to know initially it's macronutrient content. You may have heard of the term 'Macros'. When talking about foods, this refers to fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Each has it's own value for calories. 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories, whilst 1 gram of carbohydrates provides 4 calories, which is the same as protein.
I've talked before about protein. You need to be taking on enough, especially on a deficit, to make sure you retain as much musculature as possible. Protein is the macronutrient responsible for repairing the body. This is vital for repairing muscles after a workout. As an average gym goer, a sufficient amount for protein would be 2g per kg of bodyweight. Some individuals might want to take on more, some less. What is interesting about protein is that it has a thermogenic effect; 20-30% of the calories ingested will be used in the digestion process. With that in mind, I have tended to eat a little bit more than 2g per kg of bodyweight to make sure I am getting what I want out of my nutrition.
Carbohydrates and fat
Carbohydrates are the predominant source of energy used by the modern human. Fats are also a source of energy, but don't tend to be a predominant source unless you are doing a low intensity level of activity, or you are on a ketogenic diet (very low carb diet). With this in mind, I normally suggest to finish off the rest of your calorie intake with a split between these 2 of your preference. So, for me, I went with a moderate amount of carbs and fat, as I didn't really have a preference.
There are a million and one ways to find your calorific intake. Some take into account your lean bodymass and activity levels, some are way more straight forward than that. You know what works for me? The most simple route. I decided I'd take a rough calculation from some websites I trust. The one article in particular that I used was this one, as it has a very simple calculation. I took their calculation and put it into KG:
I went with the calculation: BW (KG) x 26 - 40
Maintenance is suggested to be around 30 - 35. But, this is the beauty of calorie counting. It's not a set number that has to stay the same, use that initial calculation for your base. Track progress and change it if the desired results aren't coming on after a decent amount of time (2-4 weeks should be sufficient enough, give your body time to adapt and be patient with those results) then you can increase or decrease the calorie intake, I would suggest by around 100-200 calories. Then track once again and see if those changes come on. There shouldn't be massive changes within short periods of time, if there are, then you're doing it wrong. The idea is not to shock the body. Slow and steady wins the race.
Calorie counting: positives
I know what calories I've consumed. Yeah, pretty much. You don't know without calorie counting.
I know if I'm in a deficit/surplus. Same as point 1.
I can get to my body composition goals. Ties in with points 1 and 2. I know I'm on my way there if I'm eating correctly.
Calorie counting: negatives
Weighing foods. This is a hassle. But, you know what? This is actually fine once you've done it enough. It just becomes habit. This is only initially a bit of a negative.
Using an app to track your calories. Some of these apps aren't really all that good. I like MyFitnessPal (MFP), but it has flaws. I won't list them all out. I use MFP, but I'm not a competitor in bodybuilding or anything (I know, really, I'm not), so the minor errors that MFP comes up with don't bother me. But calories can be slightly out, some things that scan up are not necessarily entered in correctly by other MFP users. So you have to bear that in mind when using an app as to it's accuracy. This also can be a bit of a hassle entering in everything you eat, but similarly to point 1, it does become a habit.
Eating out. You have to come up with rules that suit you. For me? I eat whatever I want. Sometimes I'll try to make sure it's somewhat near to my calories and be quite mindful, but most of the time I don't bother even stressing about it. One meal is not going to throw all your results off kilter, trust me.
I find a couple things really help me along to adhere to the calories I have set myself.
Partner/friend following the same method. It really does make a massive difference to your adherence to things! Personally, doing this alongside my partner has made this so much easier, we each have helped one another out and it's really helped us along the way. So, see if your partner wants to get in on it, or a friend.
Allowing for a cheat meal, or a slip up of some description. Like with the 3rd point on negatives, don't worry too much. If you are a week out from your body building competition, fine, stay super freakin' strict. But most people reading this aren't. So allow for a cheat meal, keep your sanity, live your life, allow for a slip up and definitely do NOT beat yourself up over a messed up calorie count.
Try not to build an unhealthy relationship with food. If you start to see any signs of obsessive behaviour, stop. I don't advise someone who finds they can get obsessed with numbers and calories follow something like this. If you start panicking and beating yourself up over eating an extra grape, this message goes out to you. Find another method which suits your personality.
Both my partner and I lost fat. We seemed to have mostly successfully keep our strength from doing so. When I first started counting calories I was injured, so I had lost strength. But hopefully I minimised it. In the first 3 weeks I visibly lost fat off my belly. 8 weeks down the line I had lost a LOT of weight off my belly. My partner and I have also done some intermittent fasting. We have also spent some time following a ketogenic diet. So I can't credit EVERYTHING to calorie counting, but it started the ball rolling, and you can bet that making sure I was in a slight calorie deficit played a part alongside these other methods too.
Thanks for reading, happy eating!