I think it’s time to have a quick breakdown of how to start tracking your intake.
Realistically, for the majority of people out there, a calorie target and a protein target are all that you really need.
Manipulating these two variables will be enough to start to enact change in your body composition (this also applies to those of you who want visible abs, more vascularity, larger muscles etc).
Tracking will feel tough at the start, it’ll feel a bit mentally taxing and some may feel obsessive (I strongly disagree with the latter). Over time though, tracking will give you the ability to eat more intuitively and freely. You’ll gain a greater understanding of serving/portion sizes, what works for your body, what doesn’t work, the right types of foods to eat and much more.
If people tell you it’s obsessive, ignore them.
For the general populace tracking your intake is no different to balancing your bank account, checking you have petrol before setting out on a trip or doing a timesheet for work. It’s about changing your mindset towards things like this, to view them as a partner/tool and not an enemy to avoid.
Finally – this advice won’t necessarily apply to people with physical/mental medical conditions/ailments that could be exacerbated by these methods. Unfortunately I can’t offer any medical advice here as that’s outside of my remit – but do ALWAYS seek advice from a medical professional if you’re unsure about taking on new approaches/habits.
Side Note: There are a number of ways to get an idea of the calories/protein you need. You can pretty much google any online macro calculator – there are tonnes of free ones out there that do the job. You can also contact me directly if you want a more specific set of statistics – but this will obviously take a bit longer than the free resources and, depending on the level of detail required, could come with a small charge.
So with that all said, let’s get started.
So you’ve now got an understanding of energy balance, calories and macronutrients. Ideally by now you also have an idea of what your targets should be OR you’re now tracking your food just to have a greater awareness of what you do with your body – both are great reasons. Question is – how do you go about finding out what’s in your food?
The good news is, most foods these days are required to have nutrition labels (see below for example). These will give the macro and micronutrient breakdown of the food, as well as it’s caloric content. It’s normally expressed as value per 100g/100ml and per serving.
(Be very careful here – don’t mix up the two measures!)
So for your pre-packaged foods, you’re pretty much set. Just look at the label and you’ll have everything you need.
Okay so this is a slightly more complicated area, but not difficult at all.
You’ll still have a nutrition label on all of the ingredients you buy – now all you have to do is measure how much of these are going into your meal and calculate the nutritional value of all of it together. I’ll include a quick example below for a quick and easy Pizza.
When you start out, I would recommend you use kitchen scales to accurately measure out how much of each food you’re eating – as estimating can be wildly inaccurate when you first get into this whole process. As you get more experienced, you’ll be able to eyeball/estimate with more accuracy, which will take some of the pressure off and obviously save you time during your meal prp.
A top tip here is to log your foods in an app like MyFitnessPal. It's hugely useful because it’ll handle all of the calculations for you.
All you have to do is enter the food you’re eating (or scan the barcode for it), and then specify how much of that food you’re having. The app will then tell you the nutritional and caloric content of everything you log on it.
To summarise: Weigh out what you’re having, stick it in the app and then check the output to see how it meets your targets.
And that's all it takes to track your fresh/unprepared food as well. Easier than you thought, right?
As of this point, you’ve now got the tools to start tracking your food! Go out there, put them into practice and let me know how it goes!
As always – contact me if you have any question on either my email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Instagram (@dljfitness)