Should I be counting calories?

Should I be counting calories?

Should I be counting calories?

For years I tried options that would ‘work better’ for my clients. No one wanted to count calories. It was too much hard work. It took too much time. At least that’s what everyone told me.

If we were still writing everything down on a piece of paper, adding grams and multiplying by macronutrient calorie values, then I’d say you had the start of a decent argument. These days though, with the prevalence of smartphones and apps keeping track of your nutrition is much easier. When it comes to body composition goals (losing weight and gaining lean muscle mass) there is no substitute for knowing your numbers going in (consumption) and out (expenditure).

Few people want to be tracking all they’re eating for the rest of their lives and that’s fair enough, but tracking nutrition for a couple of months is a great learning opportunity. Here’s some other benefits:

You actually know your calories!

Through tracking and an educated guess as to a start point, it is pretty easy to identify a range of maintenance. That is where your calories are sufficient to maintain weight, but not gain or lose weight.

You can track macronutrients!

We’ve all been subject to the low fat, high protein and low carb crazes. Some of these fad diets have left us with the subconscious feeling that some of these macronutrients are bad and don’t have a place in our regular intake. This is generally not the truth. Apart from medical dietary requirements, people should have a variety of most foods and a healthy split of carbohydrates, fats and protein in their diet.

Passive learning! You become aware of the caloric value of foods!

It’s not always possible to whip out your phone and check the calorie and macronutrient value of foods before we have to make a decision on our meal choice. The bonus of tracking your calories most of the time and monitoring your fluctuations in macronutrient intake slowly teaches you what foods and/or meals contain what portions of carb, protein, fats and fiber.


Eating mindfully during the week and blowing out each weekend is a sure fire way to get nowhere. When tracking your macro’s you can allow yourself room to fit in the foods you like while still maintaining a consistent daily calorie intake. This means that all your good work earlier in the week isn’t being undone by a weekend of binge eating and/or drinking.

Control the amount of weight loss or gain

Rapid weight loss through drastic restriction of calories has been shown to have detrimental effects on lean muscle mass and metabolic rate. If you’ve got less lean muscle mass and a lower metabolism when you reach your goal weight, even a small increase in calories can facilitate weight gain.

High and low GI & GL carbs

While the importance of macronutrient timing has less of an importance to novice trainees, those who are looking to lose weight and have been training and eating for performance for a longer period of time may find some benefit in being able to accurately track and plan their inputs of higher and lower glycemic load carbohydrates in relation to the intensity of their training days.

Teach your body to burn more fuel

Back to calorie restricted diets….if your body can adapt to surviving with less calories and not losing weight, it can adapt to surviving with more calories and not putting on weight. I know this sounds a little ‘mystical’; saying that you can eat more and not put on weight, so let me clarify. A mindful approach to increasing your intake in a controlled manner, over time, can lead to minimal increase in body fat percentage.

You may ask what is the point of this if it still leads to increase in fat?

Well if we start at 1400 calories per day at maintenance (that was no gain or loss of weight) and you want to lose weight, we’re going to have to cut you down to around 1200 calories per day to do so…and that’s not much food for someone living a busy life and trying to exercise!

So let’s say instead we can slowly increase the amount of food you eat each day until you hit 1600 calories per day with minimal weight gain (hence the slowly!). When we eventually do cut your 200 calories to induce weight loss, you’ll be eating the exact same amount of calories you were when you started this process. But instead of maintaining weight, you’ll be losing weight. Tell me more food while losing weight doesn’t sound good?!

Earn more calories through workouts – within reason!

Once you establish a goal number of X number of calories, provided you’ve factored in a positive or negative balance to align with your goals, that is literally your goal each and every day. This means calories burnt during exercise are ‘calories earned’.

Let’s take our 1400 calorie per day example again.  If that 1400 calories is what we require to lose fat tissue and we burn 200 calories in a workout, because we’ve already factored our deficit into the 1400 calorie goal, we add our burnt calories onto our daily goal and we get to eat 1600 calories for the day! The equation would look like this:

1400 kcal daily maintenance = kcal in food for the day – 200 kcal burnt during exercise

So why not just eat our 1400 calories and not factor in the extra 200 calories? Well that means for the day your eating another 200 calories UNDER our already calculated requirement for fat loss. This can lead to rapid weight loss which comes with it’s own drawbacks as we’ve discussed earlier.

Never have ‘no-go’ foods again.

Now that you have both a total daily calorie intake and protein, fat and carbohydrate goals, you have the ability to work any particular food into your daily consumption. This isn’t to say you can go nuts, you still have your macro and total intake goals to achieve for each day. But let’s say you’ve got a hankering for a carb heavy food, you can work that into your macro’s by ensuring your other meals are a little more protein and/or fat heavy dependent on your nutritional goals for the day.

You become aware of fiber intake!

Fiber is extremely important to a healthy digestive tract. But there’s also other proposed mechanisms that aid in weight loss such as satiety, decreasing absorption of macronutrients and altering of gut hormone secretion.