Firstly, I would like to say if you’re serious about driving fat loss or muscle hypertrophy then absolutely yes you will have more chance of success in the initial phases at least if you are tracking your consumption. If you have long term success tracking calories and macronutrients, then you will know how effective it is in dialling in on your goals. However, from personal experience of managing my own and clients, nutrition, tracking calories and micronutrients day by day there can be some flaws to this method to help one stay on track with your nutrition.
The first, and main, reason I am not a supporter of tracking in the long term is that it requires a lot of time which many people often cannot fit into a busy schedule. For example, many people at work 9-5, have children to look after around that, as well as trying to make time for exercise and a healthy social life. If you are already stuck for time, the last thing you need is to be compelled to open up an app and make a diary entry every single time you eat.
Secondly, along with time, there are certain times where it’s simply inconvenient. If you are enjoying a few drinks at the weekend with your friends, not many people want to open MyFitnessPal every time someone gets another round in. Not only that, you’re probably going to forget to do so after the 6th!
Thirdly, it’s unnecessarily complex. Many apps will have you tracking calories, carbohydrates, protein and fats and lead you to believe that you need to hit each to the exact figure recommended. In reality, for anyone with body composition goals (building muscle and/or lose fat), carbohydrates and fats consumed do not significantly influence one’s results. As long as you hit your daily calorie target within 100kcal and have at least 2.2g protein per kg of bodyweight, then grams of carbohydrates and fats consumed simply does not matter (for body composition, for overall health it can but that’s a topic for a different blog).
These reasons are often the cause of many people giving up on tracking their nutrition. This in turn gives them a sense of failure and exhaustion towards making healthy nutritional choices, sending many back to previous bad habits
Aside from the impractical element of tracking, there’s the inaccuracy that often comes with it. Unless you are weighing every single food and drink that enters your body to the gram then you are not going to be 100% accurate. This is a big issue with more calorie dense foods. For instance, ‘A splash of olive oil’ is a subjective term. To some, this could mean 15ml and for some it could be 50ml. The difference in calories for this 123kcal vs 410kcal. This difference of almost 300kcal is enough to tip someone from a small calorie deficit back to their maintenance, without realising. Learning the skills of how to track and be accurate with is something that requires an element of coaching in itself and we have recently begun to provide out clients with guides on how to track using my fitness pal which is probably the most user-friendly app.
Lastly, another reason I do not like the tracking method is that it does not take into account micronutrients. These essential vitamins and minerals make a huge difference to overall health, helping you stay clear of chronic diseases. However, on tracking apps, 500kcal from a small pizza is the same as 500kcal from a chicken breast and vegetables.
So how do you ensure you’re making the correct nutritional choices for your goals?
Personally, I find that the most effective method for this is to plan ahead. Organising your nutrition on a Sunday for example, or whenever you get time, formulate yourself a meal plan for the week ahead. Plan out what you are going to eat and when, use tracking devices and labels to help you calculate protein and calories, forget about carbohydrates and fats if a change in body composition is your goal as a beginner if you are new to tracking keep it as simple as you can. Also, plan each day to have at least 5 different portions of fruit and vegetables to ensure you are consuming all the micronutrients you need.
If you keep note of how many calories and protein meals you often consume contains, then a few weeks in, you will have a menu of all of your meals with the portion sizes for each meal and you can continue adding meals to your plan for the week, as protein and calories will already by noted, saving you a lot of time in the long run. If you want to smash your goals this method of creating your menu based on your protein and calorie requirements will in the initial phases be a little bit of work and planning however after a good 4 weeks of doing so you will have all the tools required for you to keep your nutrition consistent which in the world of weight loss or building a physique is the most important driver in which will determine lasting success.
As for going out socialising, 100% accuracy cannot be achieved. However, knowing how many calories are in 1 glass of your chosen drink, and knowing roughly how much you drink will be much better than failing to track at all. If you know that you will be going out over the weekend you can then reduce calories in the week to make up for it. (Check out our blog on calorie banking for more on this).
Similar to training, planning ahead often yields much more effective results than being reactive day to day.