There’s one thing that’s essential to getting leaner and building muscle mass. It’s not eating clean. It’s not the types of food you eat. It’s not even really the training you do. (If you’re lifting weights with intensity and progression, the program you’re on doesn’t actually matter all that much.) Nope, the one thing that matters above all else is TRACKING.
What is Tracking?
Tracking refers to monitoring your diet, and more specifically, keeping an eye on your intake of calories and macronutrients – protein, carbohydrate and fat. You might be wondering why this matters. Here’s the deal. Your body doesn’t work off certain foods.
It doesn’t know that the chicken breast you eat is chicken breast, that your white potato is white potato, and it can’t tell a direct difference between spinach and broccoli.
What it does know, however, is how many calories you eat, along with your macronutrient breakdown. If you’re eating in a calorie surplus, you’ll gain weight, and if you’re in a deficit, you’ll lose weight.
You also need ample protein for muscle growth and recovery, enough carbohydrate for energy, and enough fat for essential hormone production. And THIS is why you need to track. So how do we go about it?
1. Work Out Your Numbers
Before actually tracking anything, you need to work out your required intake.
As a base guide, when it comes to calories, try:
Fat loss – 10 to 13 calories per pound of bodyweight
Muscle gain – 17 to 20 calories per pound of bodyweight
Maintenance – 14 to 16 calories per pound of bodyweight
Within these, the more active you are, the higher up the scale you go. After calories, you need to figure out your protein.
Anywhere between 0.8 and 1.25 grams per pound is just fine, with perhaps a slightly higher intake when in a fat lossphase.
After this, the rest of your calories can come from carbs and fat, with the ratio set to suit your personal preferences. One thing that is advisable however, is to get between 20 and 35% of your calories from fats, but aside from that, set them as you see fit.
2. Download an App
An app is the easiest way to track. Websites work too, or you could even go old school with a pen and paper, but if you want ease, speed and convenience, go with an app.
If you have an iPhone, then download MyFitnessPal and use the barcode scanning function to log all the foods you eat.
3. Don’t Try to be Perfect
One big issue that puts a lot of folk off tracking is the idea that you need to nail every calorie and every macronutrient down to the precise gram.
You don’t. Being within 5 to 10% is absolutely fine. For example, if you’re aiming for 200 grams of protein, 300 grams of carbs and 80 grams of fat, then being a few grams out (over or under) here and there is no big deal. Aim to be consistent, rather than striving for perfection.
4. Give Yourself a Range
Still a little overwhelmed? No bother – ranges work well. This ties in with the above point, but using these figures, you could simply attempt to hit anywhere between 180 and 220 grams of protein, 280 and 320 grams of carbs and 75 to 85 grams of fat. Do that every day, and you’ll be just fine.
5. Just Shoot for Calories and Protein
An even simpler step is to opt to simply track calories and protein.
Again, ranges come in useful here, so if you worked out that you needed 2,050 calories, then your target could actually be 1,900 to 2,200 calories.
Then, have 0.8 grams of protein per pound as your minimum intake, and if you go a little above, so be it.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Change
Struggling to hit your numbers or not getting the results you want? Then make a change…
You need to give your initial numbers a good 3 to 4 weeks to see how you respond to them, but after that – tweak away!
If you’re aiming for fat loss, and not losing anything, lower your daily calories by between 50 and 150 (mainly by cutting carbs and fat) and do the opposite if you’re trying to bulk and not getting bigger or stronger.
The other change would be if you’re really struggling to hit your numbers, even with ranges. Provided you get at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound, the rest doesn’t matter too much, so if calories and protein are on point, feel free to manipulate anything else as needed.
7. Guesstimate and be Consistent
When out for a meal, grabbing food from a restaurant, or eating on the go, it’s fine to guesstimate macros. Once again, the key is consistency, not perfection. Don’t sweat it if you don’t know the exact numbers – you’re probably a better guesser than you think.
So chill out, eat some tasty food, track roughly, and get ready for your best results ever.