TheĀ Inside Out StrengthĀ Blog

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How to Track Your Calories For Fat Loss and Building Muscle (Choose ONE of These Strategies)

Aug 28, 2023

Most people don’t enjoy tracking their calories. It can be tedious, and it’s not even exactly accurate. But that doesn’t mean tracking calories isn’t effective or an important strategy for someone looking to build muscle and/or lose fat. 

While an ideal world would involve you stop eating when you're comfortably full and your body knowing how many calories you need, unfortunately that’s not the case for most people. Due to high calorie and easy to consume foods always available at your fingertips, chances are your life doesn’t quite work that way (see point #4). 

While tracking your calories is far from a perfect science, when done consistently it can give you a really good idea of how much you need to eat to lose weight or put on muscle. Not all of the clients we work with are ready to start tracking calories right away when they are taking on so many new habits, but it is something we try to work our clients up to in order to have the most awareness behind what they’re putting in their body and how it affects their goals. 

That being said, here are four ways you can track your calories to keep you on track for weight loss or muscle gain goals:

1: Use A Tracking App

There are several apps out there that will help you track the calories and macronutrients of the foods you eat. We love the Carbon Coach App that actually adjusts your calories week to week by finding out what your maintenance calories are. If you are going to use this method, it’s important to log everything as consistently as you can, and weigh foods when possible to give you the best estimate of calories.

Pros: More accurate, can see specific macronutrient breakdowns and easily adjust based on progress, similar to a budget

Cons: Can be tedious to frequently weigh, measure, and log food; difficult in social situations

2: Use Meal Planning

While a tracking app involves entering in food as you eat it, a meal plan would involve figuring out how many calories you want to consume in a given week based on your goals, and you prep all your meals ahead of time (typically at the start of the week). While this requires some upfront effort and consistency, it can free up a lot of time during your week that you probably normally spend thinking about or preparing food. 

Pros: Once meals are prepped it takes a lot of the mental energy away from preparing meals and thinking about food

Cons: Time consuming, difficult in social situations, doesn’t factor in your body’s hunger cues

3: Use Hand Measurements

A popular form of measurement due to the simplicity is measuring based on your hands. For example, protein options tend to be measured by the palm of your hand, carbs by cupped handfuls, veggies by the size of your fist, and fats by the size of your thumb. Based on your goals, you would have a daily ‘budget’ similar to the other methods (ex: 8 palms of protein, 6 cupped handfuls of carbs, 6 sized thumbs of fats, and 8 fists of veggies).

Pros: Easy to implement (you always have your hands with you)

Cons: Less accurate, doesn’t take into account different macronutrient breakdowns of certain foods, easy to incorrectly estimate

4: Intuitive Eating

This is one I struggled with putting on here, as I once thought it was a myth to actually do correctly for most people (and it’s not ‘technically’ tracking). However, the more I leaned into the psychology (and to a deeper extent even the spirituality) component around eating - I’m starting to become a believer that this is A) achievable and B) desirable to work towards. I don’t believe it’s the starting point for most people (if it was really that easy everyone would be doing this AND be walking around with lean bodies). Intuitive eating is often a ‘graduate level’ to the above patterns, and involves lots of trial and error. This style of eating involves listening to your body’s true hunger signals to fuel your body without relying on having to count any calories.

Pros: This is the gold standard to work towards and the most healthy way to live in my opinion, where you intuitively know what your body needs, when your body needs it, while maintaining a desired level of health/fitness

Cons: This is the hardest for most people to do WHILE actually seeing results (especially those that have tried multiple ‘diets’ and tracking in the past). Unfortunately our society doesn’t fit this model well either.

As you can see there is no one best way to measure and track your calories. None of the methods are perfect, so it’s important to take into account how precise you need to be for your goals and which method suits your mindset and lifestyle the best. The actual method is less important than the results you are (or aren’t) getting. Tracking calories is a great way to make adjustments to your plan based on how your body is responding, and is something you should consider trying if you’re serious about building muscle or losing fat. 

We help men lose 10 lbs of fat and build 10 lbs of muscle in the next 10 months. If you’re ready to build a body that you’re confident in, click here to chat with one of our coaches.

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