The single most important factor in diet success is total calories.
Regardless of whether you’re looking to blast away fat or pack on pounds of muscle, your overall food intake matters most.
And, counting calories can be a great way to ensure you look better naked.
In this guide, I’ll keep it as simple as possible so that you can implement these methods right away for better results.
I’ll break down calorie counting into two separate methods of tracking. Depending on how precise you want to be, and the level of success you’d like, I’ll recommend which one I prefer depending on your goals.
So let’s get to it.
Calories, What Are They?
Put simply, calories provide the body with energy that we need to live. Without calories, you won’t be able to do daily activities like lifting weights, driving to work, or climbing Mount Everest. Everyone’s climbed Mt. Everest, right?
Most foods can be broken down into one of three macro nutrients. Some foods contain more than one macro nutrient, like eggs for example. The three macro nutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Protein counts as 4 calories per gram. This means that for every 1 gram of protein, there are 4 calories.
Protein is found in a variety of foods. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:
-Any fish (tuna, salmon, tilapia, etc)
-Any seafood (shrimp, lobster, crab)
-Any beef 90% or leaner (steak, ground beef, etc)
-Ground turkey or chicken 90% or leaner
-whey protein powder
Of course, this isn’t every protein option out there, but it should give you a good idea of what sources you can eat.
Carbohydrates also count as 4 calories per gram. A sample list of good options here include:
Carbohydrates can be broken down into fibrous, starchy, and simple varieties.
Vegetables are fibrous carbs which means they’re very low calorie and contain fiber, so counting them towards your daily calories is not really necessary.
Starchy carbs are higher in carb content and are great for replacing glycogen from working out. Included here would be your oats, breads, potatoes etc.
Simple carbs, well they’re the devil (Just kidding, they’re not). Many people view sugar as a super destructive ingredient to your body. While consuming loads of sugar throughout the day is probably not the best practice if you’re looking to shed body fat or get into great shape, simple carbs can be used at specific times to provide benefit.
More specifically, during lifting and after lifting your body can utilize simple sugars (Gatorade) and actually prefers them because they are easy to digest. Outside of the workout window, it’s probably best to keep your sugar content lower.
Fats, on the other hand, are more than double the calorie amount as protein and carbs, and contain 9 calories per gram. Here’s a list of healthy fats:
-Coconut oil (1/3 of your fats can come from saturated fats)
These are the delicious foods that are so easy to eat. It’s important to keep your fat intake in check because they are so easy to over consume.
The amount of fat you eat will be dependent on how many calories are left after you account for protein and carb needs. Fats have the least effect on body composition, so there’s no need to eat tons and tons of fat. Unless of course, you’re doing a massing phase where gaining muscle is the goal.
Counting Up Those Macros
By now, hopefully, you have a handle on the calorie amounts in each macronutrient. Protein and carbs are 4 calories per gram, and fats are 9 calories per gram.
Perfect. Now let’s add em up.
Method 1- Using A Food Scale and Measuring Cups
The more accurate and precise of the two methods I’ll describe, weighing your food can be an excellent way to help you count calories.
A food scale can be a great asset to have in the kitchen. Whether you’re aiming to drop some pounds or pack on muscle, using this tool can be a huge benefit.
A simple digital food scale can go a long way in helping you hit your calories each day.
Measuring cups are another tool to use when wanting to count carbs such as rice, potatoes and pasta. I prefer to use cooked measurements of these, mainly rice and pasta because it’s easiest this way. The main thing when measuring is to be consistent with how you measure. Uncooked rice compared to cooked rice will have a different weight on the scale due to water absorption after cooking, so using measuring cups for cooked amounts is recommended.
1 cup of cooked rice is about 40 grams of carbs. This makes it super easy to measure for different meals throughout the day.
Let’s use these tools to count the calories in this meal right here:
Oh, whoops, that’s not right. Dangit I love donuts, though.
Sorry for the distraction. We’ll count this meal up instead:
You just put together a nice dinner for yourself. Pan seared chicken breast, some whole grain pasta, and succulent veggies.
Before you assembled your feast you weighed and measured everything to make sure you hit your calorie amount.
Let’s say these are the amounts you used of each ingredient:
4 oz chicken breast
3/4 cup of cooked pasta
1 cup of cooked veggies
2 tbsp olive oil
Using the food scale and measuring cups, you could portion this out fairly easily. Simply tare the food scale and weigh out 4 oz of chicken. Use the measuring cup to portion out 3/4 of a cup of pasta and 1 cup of veggies. Using a tablespoon, fill twice with olive oil and drizzle over your plate.
You’ve measured the amounts, but how do you know how many calories and grams of each macro you’ve got?
Well if we refer to our chart for protein above, we see that lean protein sources generally have 6 grams of protein per 1 oz of weight.
So 4 oz of chicken breast = 4 oz*6 grams of protein * 4 calories/gram of protein= 24 grams of protein *4 calories/gram= 144 calories of chicken breast.
3/4 cup of cooked pasta
We know that 1 cup of cooked carb is 40 grams of carbs.
Each 1/4 cup of cooked pasta is equal to 10 carbs so 3/4 cup is 30 grams of carbs.
30 grams of carbs* 4 calories/gram of carb= 120 calories of carbohydrates.
You won’t really need to count the veggies towards your calorie allotment because of the low calorie content and high fiber.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Most olive oils are 14 grams of fat per tablespoon and we have 2 tbsp so= 14*2*9 calories/gram of fat= 252 calories of fat
Adding up your calories for this meal you’d have:
24 grams protein=144 calories
30 grams carbs= 120 calories
28 grams of fat= 252 calories
516 calories total
Obviously, this is just an example of how to calculate the amount you’re eating. Your portion sizes and the amount of each macro will differ depending on overall calorie needs and individual goals.
**Please note, this is the calorie amount if you’re only measuring the main macro in each food. This doesn’t include the incidental calories from other macros. The pasta, for example, will likely have some protein and some fat. If you want to be even more precise, you’ll want to look up the calorie amounts and macros for each individual food. Otherwise, just counting the main macro is pretty accurate.
To help you find out calorie amounts, check out My Fitness Pal and sites like Calorieking.com.
Method 2- Eyeballin’ It
The less accurate of the two methods, using the eyeball method can still be used with great success. It does take a bit of trial and error to get the portion sizes fairly accurate, though. This method can be used by people who choose not to weigh out their food. For those that still want great results without as much precision, eyeballing it can be a useful tool.
Ok, so I guess now you wanna know how to measure using the eyeball method?
Fortunately, Precision Nutrition came out with a portion size guide that many of their clients use with great success.
From the Precision Nutrition website:
- 2 palms of protein dense foods with each meal;
- 2 fists of vegetables with each meal;
- 2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals;
- 2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.
- 1 palm of protein dense foods with each meal;
- 1 fist of vegetables with each meal;
- 1 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals;
- 1 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.
These are just starting points but should give you an idea of what your plate will look like using your hand as a calorie guide.
With this method, you won’t necessarily be “counting calories” but more like counting portion sizes. You’ll simply use your hand as a guide and adjust your portion sizes depending on your goals and what your weight is doing.
If you are aiming to lose body fat, start with these recommendations and track your body weight over the course of 1-2 weeks. If your weight is not going down, simply reduce your portion of carbs or fats slightly and see what your body does.
If muscle gain is your goal, start here and adjust up if your weight doesn’t increase slowly.
Recommended Use of Each Method
We’ve gone over both methods and you’ve learned the application of each one.
But when should you implement each method?
I actually like to use both of these methods, alternating them depending on the phase of dieting I’m doing.
When I’m aiming to lose body fat, I’ll be more precise and utilize method 1. The reason being is that I only want to diet for as long as necessary. If I’m precise, I can achieve what I want in a shorter amount of time. If I’m a bit more lenient with my calories, losing fat is going to take longer.
Dieting down is not a long-term thing. A typical diet may last anywhere from 4-12 weeks depending on the amount of body fat you’d like to lose. To maximize your fat loss, you may as well be as accurate as you possibly can so that your diet doesn’t take 20 weeks when you could have achieved the same amount of fat loss in 8 weeks by being more precise.
Personally, I like to use method 2 during periods of maintenance. This is simply a phase where you aim to keep your body weight pretty steady. It is still possible to slowly lose body fat during this time, but the idea is to keep your body weight stable so your body can adjust to it’s new weight after a cut or mass phase.
It takes much more effort to lose or gain than it does to maintain. Method 2 is great for maintenance because you can still apply the principles to slowly lose body fat, the changes just won’t be as rapid.
What to Do Next
Now that you’re armed with the methods of calorie counting so you can achieve your unique goals, you should grab my free nutrition manual below.
With the info in this manual, you’ll be able to set your own diet up to lose fat, gain strength, and define muscle.
It’s completely free and I think it’s one of the best and simplest resources to get you started.
Grab Your Fat Loss Guide Now!