So you want to start counting calories.
You are wanting to see results, and you think this might be the way. You have friends that have done it, and you think it will help you stay more consistent with your diet and see results. Everyone does it, right? So why not you?
First off, I believe that there are “prerequisites” to calorie counting. I see this often with new clients:
If you are aren’t eating enough calories to begin with,
If your meal timing is all over the place (or maybe you have the bad habit of skipping meals),
If you lack vegetables in your daily food intake,
And if you aren’t consuming enough protein,
Then I recommend tackling those one by one first before bringing calorie counting into the equation.
Not to mention, it would be in your best interest to PRACTICE measuring your food before waking up one Monday morning and deciding that today is the day you are going to seamlessly count your calories and hit your macros.
And for the love of everything, you need to know that you shouldn’t blindly follow the caloric guidelines that MyFitnessPal assigns you.
There’s a lot to consider if you are new to calorie counting, and if you are trying to dial in your nutrition, then I want to see you set up for success as much as possible and not bite off more than you can chew.
What if I told you that you can actually see results by working through the above “prerequisites” without having to go through the tedious process of learning how to count calories and macros? More is not always better. Let’s cover each topic, and as we do, I encourage you to do a self-audit on how well you are doing in each area. If there’s room for growth, embrace it and make a plan to improve.
#1. Eat enough calories
So how much should you be eating?
When clients first come to me, the predictable theme is that they eat well during the week (and sometimes are actually under-eating Monday-Thursday) and then the weekend comes and they “go off track.” Sometimes it’s social events, sometimes it’s just being unaware of what they are consuming, and oftentimes it’s as simple as they don’t realize that they are simply hungry after under-eating for four days, so of course they are consuming more on the weekend!
Consistency throughout the week is the goal.
To get a range of what your caloric intake should be, go to this TDEE calculator. This will give you a basic range to start off with based off your goal. Clients are usually a bit shocked because the range is generally higher than the ~1200 calories that they have been trying to fit in (seriously, who told women that that this the ideal caloric number??). However, once we talk through the week and take weekends into consideration and create a sort of average, the number tends to make more sense. When my clients begin consistently eating enough, they report having so much more energy, much more drive in their workouts, less anxiety, and see a noticeable improvement in body composition and visible muscle tone.
2. Meal Timing
This will be unique for you (your job hours, your lifestyle, etc.), but some of general goals here are to not be skipping meals, not waiting till the afternoon to have your first meal, and not eating right before bed. The idea is to support your blood sugar levels, not overwhelm your digestive system, and support your body as it is recovering from exercise. Clients who work towards consistent meal timing have reported a decrease in afternoon slumps, better workouts, and better sleep!
In case this doesn’t go without saying, you will feel better in your body if you eat more whole foods including fruits and vegetables than processed foods! Eating fruits/veggies also gives you vital phytonutrients, provides fiber for a healthier digestive tract, and keeps you fuller longer. I really love this infographic from Precision Nutrition (the organization through which I have my Nutrition Coaching certification) that breaks down each color of veggies and gives suggestions on how to consume more.
The most important thing I want you to know about protein is that while our bodies have ways to store both fat and carbohydrates, we don’t have a way to store protein, which is why it’s important to daily focus on protein intake.
The minimum amount of protein (according to the Recommended Dietary Allowance) you should consume in a day is 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, and the International Society of Sports Medicine recommends an upwards of 1.2-2.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight for active women.
After doing the math, that might seem like a lot of protein, but keep in mind this isn’t just to support your muscles — we are supporting multiple processes and systems in our body with protein intake.
The best way to implement eating more? One, make a goal of consuming protein with each meal if you aren’t already and two, eat more protein when you are actually eating protein, meaning give yourself a larger portion each time.
You do not have to count calories to see results, it is just one method that you can use.
There are actually quite a few things that you can hone in on to improve your nutrition and see progress towards your goals without ever having to measure your food.
I encourage you this week to do that self-audit that I mentioned — walk through each item listed above and think through how well you are actually doing in each area. What are you currently excelling in? Where is there room for improvement? Remember that your life/goals/abilities/etc. make you unique, so create a plan that works best for YOU, not based on what you are watching someone else do to meet their goals.
Rooting for you from afar! -Rachel
Do you need more personalized help with your nutrition? If you are motivated and ready to make improvements in your nutrition but feel overwhelmed by it all and feel unclear on where to even start, then schedule a Power Hour session! It’s a 60 min Zoom call with me to go over your specific goals and your specific lifestyle so that we can create a game plan together on where to go from here. Ask every question you have! After the Zoom call, you will receive a detailed PDF “Road Map” that includes a call notes summary and a personalized plan for the next 3-6 months for you. Inquire here!