Updated: Feb 14, 2021
Lot of people following a diet plan have no clue how to track calories and macros. This is crucial to stay on top of the goals you set. You can modify, substitute and work around situations where a food item is unavailable or when you are out for dinner. Going out to eat is no excuse to sway away from the diet plan. Becoming proficient in tracking whatever you eat will help you stay on top of the goals and even ‘cheat’ right when you feel like rewarding yourself. There will be no guesswork and you will never eat blind.
Nowadays you don't need to keep an actual diary or food journal to track everything you eat. MyFitnessPal does everything for you. Their database has foods ranging from Dosa and Idli to Pizzas and burgers. You can even scan the barcode in packaging the food comes in.
1. The basics -
1 gram of protein = 4 kcal
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 kcal
1 gram of fat = 9 kcal
1 Calorie or cal or kcal is the unit of energy. As you can see, 1 g of fat is more than double the calories of 1 g of protein or carbs. Another important thing to note is the kcal and cal is used interchangeably and they mean the same thing. By having 1 less gram of fat you can reduce more than double the calories by reducing either 1g of protein or carbs. Ideally it a simple formula that determines if you lose or gain weight.
Calorie reserve = Calories in(food intake) - Calories out(exercise + BMR)
BMR is the basal metabolic rate. This is the amount of calories you burn at rest to carry out basic bodily functions. So if you want to lose weight, you need to have a negative calorie reserve for period of time. That basically means you burn more than you eat.
3500 cals = 1 lbs of fat. So if you want to lose weight, under ideal circumstances, you need to be in a 500 cal deficit for a week. 500 cals x 7 = 3500 cals. I say ideal circumstances because there are lot more variables that go into fat loss. Hormone levels, weight training, hydration, stress, sleep etc. To achieve this, tracking your food intake is very important. Proficiency at this skill can be a game changer. You become self reliable and can work around any situation and control your environment.
2. Setting goals -
In the app, you can set the total calories and percentage of calories you need from protein, fats and carbohydrates. That gives you the macronutrient count you need to hit per day. This will help you try and eat in a way to get close to those targets. As an endurance athlete, during my in season, my percentage split of calories is approximately
Protein = 20 - 25%
Carbs = 50 - 60%
Fats = 15- 20 %
These change depending on the goals like fat loss, muscle building, triathlon training, powerlifting etc.
3. How to add the foods to the diary
You can scan the barcode of a food item like a protein bar. The food will be directly added to the diary. If you are eating a part of it, make sure you update the weight or part of the whole thing consumed. For example, if a protein bar weighs 70g and it is 244 calories, If I eat about half, update the weight to 35g so the calories consumed becomes 122.
Manually adding food needs a weight scale. You weigh how much you use and add it by either finding it in the database or by scanning it. For example, if you buy Quaker oats, scan the barcode, weigh the oats, then update the weight used.
Make sure you update the right weight into the app. You can change the unit of measurement from grams to cups. Always use 1g/ml or 100g/ml as the unit so you can never go wrong.
Always weigh things before it is cooked. Most of the food items change weight after cooking. The cooked weight and its corresponding nutritional info is not accurate or consistent. For example, after cooking 50g of raw rice, the weight increases to about 100g.
When searching for standard items like dosa, chapathi, eggs,fruits, nuts etc, look for a green tick mark next to those foods. Those are the verified ones. But even these are approximate.
When on a specific diet, try to eat foods that are easier to update into the app and are less ambiguous. KEEP IT SIMPLE!!! For example, a homemade dal recipe, although healthy, is hard to update accurately after cooking. The individual dal, the oil, the mustard seeds and many other things have to be counted separately. This just increases complexity. Same thing goes to paneer butter masala and things that have gravies or too many ingredients. Rather, grilled paneer is an easier one to update. Lesser the total ingredients, the better.
Always count the amount of fruits you eat in the app since it is a carbohydrate source with fructose but don't add green or leafy vegetables.They are very low in calories anyway. Being too meticulous with veggies can be counter productive. It can give you the opportunity to remove them from your diet to stay under the calorie limit. This is not the right way. But you should be adding root vegetables like potatoes and yams.
Always count the oil used. As explained before, fats are calorie dense so you have to be more careful of getting the accurate weight. Place the cup on a weight scale, pour the oil and measure the amount in grams.
Another common mistake is not counting sauces. Some sauces are very high in calories and have to be counted.
4. Creating recipes and Foods
If you have a personal recipe that you cook at home regularly that has many ingredients, you can manually add each one and group them into one recipe. So the next time you can just add the recipe rather than adding each one again and again.
You can also create a food from a restaurant and add its calories and macros to use next time. You can get the nutritional information from the website of the restaurant.
In the pictures above, I have created a an entry for subway. Doing these for food items from restaurants will help you stay on top of the diet.
Watch this short video on how I update my diary and some of the features mentioned above. (mute the video so you don't have to listen to cricket commentary in the background)