Published: Summer 2005
Food logging and calorie calculations, these tasks summon imagery of both compulsive record keeping and meticulous calculations. Food label details suddenly become points of interest, and eating can become a nightmare of scribble on paper.
So what's the point of counting your calories? I've had awesome results without keeping track of this crap. What a waste of time...
I think those who couldn't give a shit about nutrition in the first place wouldn't be reading this write up. So we will pretend that the above was said by someone who has a clue about diet maintenance and practices healthy eating and drinking habits. Now, I can emphasize, I've had excellent results without bothering with nutritional math too! It's not essential, but it has its uses. So who would benefit from calorie counting and why or how?
Someone having trouble losing weight: Why? Because if the pounds aren't coming off you might be overeating or eating the wrong foods. Check and see, records don't lie.
Someone having trouble putting on muscle: Why? Because weight gain has a direct correlation to how much you eat and what you eat, particularly, making sure you eat enough.
Someone wishing to bring their diet to a new level of perfection: How? By going through the process of food logging and calorie mathematics, you'll be able to make better eating decisions: Because let's face it, when you have an idea of the macronutrient profile of a particular food, and realize the possible fallacy of a certain eating pattern, you'll make different decisions
Someone who wants to experiment with their body: It doesn't have to have a point and it doesn't have to be a dreadful hassle. Setting up diet experiments is an interesting way to improve exercise performance through direct experience. I've messed with all sorts of PCF ratios, tried drastic day to day changes, tried different food combinations, the list goes on. It can be really interesting to see and experience the real impact your diet has on your day to day physical state of performance and overall function.
Someone who wants all the keys to diet mastery: RECORDS DO NOT LIE! Logging it, and counting it will give great insight into stuff like: Why you had a good or bad workout, Why you are hungry during parts of the day, Why you are still fat, Why you have gas in the morning, or Why Antoine can crush the fuck out of you and you can't do a damn thing about it. The list goes on and on and on and on and on! Just take a look and see what you are eating, when you are eating it, and in what combinations and quantities! Change it up and see the changes, good or bad. The records will act as a flashlight in the dark.
Before you begin you will need some tools. A scale that measures grams. Good luck getting one, because this is impossible without one. I bought a digital one from bulknutrition.com for about $50 U.S dollars. You can find cheaper ones, Antoine uses the traditional non-digital kind. The obvious use of the scale is to measure the quantity of food. Also, a form, is a good way to keep things consistent. You can download this PDF form I have provided and print a bunch.
To check online, you can use one of these three websites:
I will be demonstrating how to use the USDA food index. After loading the food index page, type the food you want to search. NOTE: The utility has trouble with plurals. For example, if it can't find almond, try almonds instead. It will load up the results for your search, select the one you need and click submit. The next page will query the amount, type in the amount (30 grams for this example) and click submit. Finally, view your results and take what you need! Easy eh?
What should I be writing down?
Well, if there is something in particular you need to look for, you can add it. If you are using one of my basic forms, just write down the Protein, Carbs, and Fat first of all. I'm so bold to say that once you get a good hang of this you'll likely not even write down the calories.
What the hell are you talking about? I thought that was the point of this, now you're telling me to skip counting the calories? WTF?!
Hahaha! Listen up chief! When you decided to keep track of your diet on a caloric level you had to have a goal in mind. That goal was a number, and that number should have been divided between the three macronutrients. Without this, you would be wasting your time. Here is an example:
My diet from January 11th - 16th this year was based upon a 3800 calories daily @ 25:52:23 PCF ratio. This means that 25% of my calories came from protein, 52% from carbohydrates, and 23% from fat. Now for the magic! Since proteins and carbohydrates have the caloric worth of 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram, we can reach our daily caloric quota by keeping track of these three alone.
In my case, I took 25% of 3800: 950 calories, and divided it by 4. 237.5 grams of protein, round it to 235 or 240 for something nice and neat. Do the same for carbs, at 52% I'd need 494 grams of carbohydrates a day. Do the same for fat, except divide the caloric percentage by 9. 97 grams of fat.
Round these numbers and my daily goal was 240 grams of protein, 500 grams of carbohydrates, and 100 grams of fat per day.
Now watch the reversal. 240 grams of protein + 500 grams of carbohydrates = 740 gram weight of food. 740 x 4 = the calories deriving from these two macronutrients, we'll call it (PC). Now (PC) + 100 grams of fat x 9 = 3860
The 60 additional calories are from rounding the numbers up. So if your goal, for example, is to bulk up - You might want to round up. If cutting, round down. If you're anal compulsive don't round your numbers. That simple. No more big numbers!
Now we just keep an eye on our macronutrient quota. When you need to increase or decrease calories, or when you want to change your macronutrient ratios, do the math, get your three numbers, and you're set!
You know what you need and how to do it, but I'm not gonna leave you hanging. I got some tricks to make this whole process easier.
Calorie counting is only difficult for the first few weeks. After that, you'll likely have enough momentum to make the process much quicker and more efficient. Here's how: By the second day you've probably already flipped back to your first day of counting for reference to some foods you ate. You have a pattern, use it! For example, my breakfast doesn't change much. I like variations of the Jujitoine MR-R, and if I'm not eating that it usually has many ingredients that go into the shake anyway. So since my breakfast doesn't change much, then all I gotta do is check back and write down the number. This brings us to our next trick...
Yes, it's amazing, but if you combine ingredients you will end up with a recipe. If the recipe remains the same, then you will be calculating the recipe, not the ingredients. Let's go back to the Jujitoine MR-R. If I drink the same one everyday, then I would just write it down as one line, the entire recipe... Hmm... This leads us to my next trick....
We're going the distance! Hole punch your log pages and slap em in a binder. Keep all these pages in one place; Moreover, your log book can pocket charts and labels for use, so you don't have to run to the kitchen and check the packaging, or sadly, the trash can for that label (Yes, I have gone outside and dug in the garbage for food labels. It usually ended up being some type of meat, guess that makes me a little crazy). So once you have some print outs, labels, and a week or more worth of records, this becomes very easy. There are a couple more small tricks.
Look, you don't have to carry your calorie binder or folder everywhere you go. I like to keep a magnetic sticky pad on the fridge, this way I scratch it on and tear it off when it's time to do the totals.
Keep the food databases one or fewer clicks away: Nothing is worse than typing the USDA url in and navigating to their database, so keep the bookmarks available! If you're using firefox, get the nutritiondata.com plugin for the quick search engine. Even better, stick a link to the database in your computer's startup folder or on the desktop. Keep it a click away or less!
Okay, you have a dietary goal, know what you need, how to calculate it up, how to keep it simple, and how it's going to work. Great! I got just a couple more things to discuss, they are different ways to use this food logging skill. Apart from keeping track of everything you put in your mouth, everyday, you can just do partial calculations or test periods.
After getting a little experience, you could stop logging everything in your diet and just log certain meals. For example, log breakfast and the meals around your workout, then just build around this without keeping a record of it. This saves time and still helps you stay on the right track.
Let's say that you're working your diet a special way to rotate macronutrients (cycling) and you need to pay special attention to one or two of the three macronutrients. If you've been logging for a small period of time you've likely adapted to a specific pattern and amount. If you have a strategy you'd wish to try which involves rotating the numbers around, you might find it easier to simply keep track of one of the three macronutrients. For example, when Antoine diets down for a contest he's having to pay special attention to his carbohydrates. First there is a gradual deplete, then a drastic deplete, then a load. So with everything else constant, he would be paying extra attention to his carbohydrate intake during these periods, so he might choose to log those alone and wing the rest of it.
Keep track of your diet for X amount of time to get an idea on what you need to change for your diet goals, then do it! Once the patterns are becoming more obvious, you can stop logging and just follow the templated records of your test period. Let's say you are on a weight loss diet and logged what you ate everyday for two weeks. Let's also say you lost six pounds in those two weeks, awesome! You could continue food logging, or, since you have an idea of what's working you could stop keeping records and just make sure you're eating like you did those two weeks. But what happens when weight loss stops? Start logging again and make adjustments!
I do it several times a year. I'm yet to find a personal use for it on a year round basis, but it's something I've gotten good at and it's a nice skill to have. During this winter 2005, I bulked up to 195 pounds. Okay, I was eating a consistent 5200 calories a day for weight gain. Man, it worked haha - but shortly after my tricks went downhill (No shit, what was I thinking?)So I began a cutting diet in March and dropped back down to a lean 175 in about six-eight weeks. I kept track of my food intake, my weight loss and records had a direct correlation; It was really interesting.
I hope this write up has taught you how to effectively keep a record of your eating habits. Once you have a goal and a plan, put it to use: HAVE FUN!