Whether trying to build muscle or lose fat, there's no escape.
Your body will either gain or lose weight based on the number of calories you consume.
You may have seen an article where a guy lost weight while just eating McDonald's. This was because he was eating in a CALORIE DEFICIT.
And you may have been eating as 'clean' as possible lately, I'm talking broccoli mash, carrot spaghetti, kale juice, chia pudding, quinoa salad, avocado dips - the works!
But nothing is happening.
This is because your body does not overly care where the calories come from. It only cares how much you consume.
(as a note here I'm definitely not advocating a McDonald's only diet. There is more to health than your weight. I'm highlighting the fact that when it comes to fat loss calories are extremely important)
But how do I know how many calories I should eat?
Click here or just ask and I'll do it for you :)
But how do I count the calories I eat each day?
So a calorie is a bit of energy. Every piece of food you eat has a certain amount of energy in it.
Let's start with interpreting food labels.
Here is one to get us going. Meridian's Peanut Butter with Coconut.
Ignore everything but the calories. You can see here that this peanut butter has 610 kcal (or Calories) per 100g.
Annoyingly enough it doesn't tell us the serving size. A quick internet search shows that a serving size of peanut butter is about 32g. So the rough amount of calories in an average toast spread of this peanut butter is 195 Cal.
Other labels can look confusing, like this milk one.
But just focus on the circled number and pay attention to your serving size (in this case per 100ml).
Some things won't come with food labels. Lucky for us we have access to something that makes finding calories for these things simple.
Seriously, Google knows the calories for anything you can think of.
Every question has been asked before (read: can you eat dirt? - what!?)
You just had one medium sized banana? Easy search says 105 calories.
If you know your serving size, with a few clicks on your phone, you know the calories. These days you can even just ask Siri and let her do the work for you.
Notice how I haven't been picky on the exact amounts of calories when counting?
This is because that is no way to live!
What I do, and you should too, is estimate where needed.
If you are trying to lose weight - estimate on the high end (10% is good). Meaning that if you think your meal has about 300 calories from what you have quickly calculated, jot it down as having 330 calories.
This is an easy way to ensure you stay under that daily calorie level you don't want to exceed. It also means you don't have to weigh your food.
You don't even need to be a mathematician to keep track of all these numbers.
There have two options:
1) Writing it down - The old school version. Simple and effective. You can write it down in your notebook or even in your phone notes. Each time you eat you add a number to the page and see how many total calories you are up to.
2) Using an app - Futuristic! Apps (I like myfitnesspal) make counting easy. Once you make an account you can set your calories for the day. Then when you eat something you can type in what you ate and it will be automatically added to your food diary. No need to calculate anything, just be aware of the serving size you select. It even has a barcode scanner so you can zap food and go.
Advanced step: Worth the extra effort!
And this post wouldn't be complete without talking about macronutrients.
Protein, carbs and fat. Everything you eat is made up of a mixture of the 3.
I'm going to go against the grain in this post.
Protein is the only thing that matters right now.
Protein is the thing that will preserve your muscle, increase your metabolism, make you less likely to snack and promote fat loss. Protein should be the basis of your diet.
But how do I count protein then?
The exact same way you count calories. Read the label and write it down. If you're using an app it will be automatically calculated when you add foods in.
Your target protein intake should be 2g of every kilo of body weight. So, a 65kg women would be looking to get 130g of protein a day.
If you are able to eat within your daily calorie target and also hit your protein target, good things will happen.
It's always the bane of counting your calories. How do you know how many calories are in your Sunday roast with extra gravy? The best thing you can do is guess.
Break it down into parts. 3 slices of beef. 3 potatoes. 2 parsnips. 1 yorkshire pudding, some carrots, some broccoli and some gravy.
When guessing meals from restaurants always overestimate. The chefs job is to make the food taste amazing, meaning they have no worries about dousing your potatoes in butter and adding as much extra sauce and flavour as possible. Good for your taste buds but bad for your waistline.
It's not a worry, by using the knowledge you gains from counting the calories of the food you cook, you can have a rough guess and then add 25% on to that guess.
I call em sneaky because you don't really think about them. Which means you will probably forget to add them to your daily totals and throw everything off whack.
1. Sauces and dressings. The flavour of your meals! But you must be sure to add them in. 1 serving of mayonnaise is around 180 calories!
2. Oil and cooking spray. The oil you put down into the pan which is then soaked up by the succulent chicken breast and forgotten about. It counts. 1 tablespoon of olive oil is 120 calories.
3. Liquid calories. Coffees, soft drinks, sweet teas and fruit juices can easily add up to 500+ calories if consumed with each meal.
4. Finger food. AKA snacking. A few nuts here, a bite of your friend's pizza slice and some cookie samples from the grocery store. An unexpected 200 extra calories. They may seem harmless but they still count and can easily halt your progress.
So there you have it. A bit of a run down on calories and how to count them. Nothing requires too much effort or time. But it's the knowing how much you are putting into your body which will set off a change in body fat. The mere act of measuring will make you conscious of your food choices and set you up to make healthier decisions.