Calorie counting; where to start.

The next step to our first: “Basic Nutrition Programming“


Counting calories; I personally don’t think that counting is something to adopt as an everyday thing or a habit, but it’s a very useful tool and gives us a good idea of our general nutrient intake. It’s a resource that can be used as needed. And it is easier than it seems.

So, first and foremost, let’s make these basics of calorie counting very clear:

  • Perfection is not possible because inaccuracies in counting are unavoidable.
  • Simplifications make life easier, but we introduce an additional layer of inaccuracy.
  • Inaccuracies (to a degree) are fine as long as we are consistently inaccurate – we can then make relative adjustments to our intake after a baseline has been established over several weeks of consistency.

When counting calories, we need to know how many calories our body needs according to our activity level and a few other factors, including age, leanness level, diet history, etc. Everybody is different in that regard, so finding our own needs is imperative to achieve results in a healthy manner.

That’s why celebrity XYZ’s latest 1,200 calorie diet won’t work for anyone long term nor for anyone with different needs and might actually be detrimental to health, performance, and body composition.

First, we’ll calculate calories; then we can figure out macronutrients depending on your goal.

I prefer the old pencil and paper method because it allows me to manipulate a few variables which makes it more accurate, I can personalize each macronutrient according to personal preference, specific needs, age, body composition, activity level, energy level, and even to be flexible on days where we move more or happen to be hungrier.

First, you figure out your calories selecting an aggressive cut or a more moderate one. To do this you can multiply your weight in pounds by 10, this gets as close to your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) as it gets, so if you decide to go that low, you should only do it for a short period of time since these are the calories your body needs to support itself without moving, or you can take maintenance breaks in between aggressive deficit days but you have to be careful because this tends to result in restrict/binge cycles which is not recommended. Remember that it is restriction that causes neverending restrict/binge cycles and it is undereating for long periods of time that can mess with our hormones and metabolic rate. Some people do better with a short aggressive cut and others with a longer more moderate one.

Once you figure out your calories, figure out how much protein your body needs to build and repair according to your goals, your age, your activity level, and how lean you already are. The leaner you are and the more aggressive the cut, the more protein you need to preserve lean mass. Multiply by 0.8 if you are overweight or the deficit isn’t too large and closer to 1.2 or more if you are leaner or the deficit is more aggressive. That will give you the protein in grams.

Then figure out your essential fatty acids, for most people, it falls between 30/50 grams but it can go all the way to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight if that’s the preference and you are prioritizing healthy fats. Here you have to remember that fats are very caloric dense compared to carbs so choosing fats over carbs will give you less food volume overall. You can multiply by 0.35 on the low end or go higher depending on preference, activity level (more activity = more carbs), and hunger.

The rest will be filled in with carbs, or more of the other macros to preference.

Alcohol is a whole different animal, we don’t count it in any of these macros but we do have to track it if we decide to consume it. The easiest way to do it is to go by the calories and deduct them from whichever macro you had extra, after meeting your protein and essential fatty acids needs. It can be deducted from the calories you still have left from either or both carbs and fats according to preference.

And last but not least, remember to recalculate if your weight or goals change or if you do not notice progress in the intended direction after a month or so 🙂

Carbs – 4 calories per gram

Protein – 4 calories per gram

Fat – 9 calories per gram

Alcohol – 7 calories per gram

After reading the reasons and instructions, you can keep it simple and follow our very own infographic 😁💖

*Remember that learning to track accurately takes time but it is imperative for success.

Or we can start by tracking our own daily intake, which, if your weight is stable,  will give you your maintenance calories in a much more accurate value. You can use the old paper and pencil method or an app like myfitnesspal or similar.  If you do use an app, make sure that you do not log exercise or if you do, those carries from exercise aren’t added to your daily intake because the purpose is to measure only our basic needs without added exercise.

How to find your maintenance calories. 

If your weight is stable, you are eating at caloric balance, so for the first week, don’t introduce any changes to your diet, just record the calories from your usual intake. At the end of the week take the mean (average) from those numbers (sum all the results from each day and divide by the number of days, 7 if a week) to get your average intake or maintenance calories. 

So, for the second week, take that average number and deduct around 200/500 cal for weight loss or add them for weight gain. I prefer a more moderate approach of deducting no more than 200 calories. Repeat the counting process and record if you notice any weight changes. Somewhat slim individuals should aim for the smallest deficit possible and consume enough protein to prevent muscle loss in the process, and take diet breaks at maintenance as needed.

If your weight decreases, you are at a caloric deficit, if your weight increases, you are at a surplus and if you remained the same, you are still at balance; this is often due to miscalculations, decreased in NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis), or masked by water retention, among the many things that can be inaccurate during the process.

Now, according to your results, you can either lower calorie intake (~10% total calories) or increase (~10% total calories) or keep them the same, depending if you are trying to lose weight or gain weight and you are not on track with reaching those goals with your current intake. About 1% body weight loss/gain seems like a healthy guideline to follow, of course, you can lose faster or slower, but there is a risk of losing lean body mass (muscle) while on a deficit or gaining more fat than desired when bulking. You can also modify caloric balance with more or less exercise/movement, but it won’t change the equation much unless you are an athlete or you have a very physically demanding job.

Protein requirements, sources, etc:

If at any time, your weight stalls, take your weekly mean again and start from there.

I am going to leave macronutrients and problems that can arise while counting calories (why you may be a special snowflake and it appears not to be working for you) and how to understand BMR, RMR, NEAT, etc. for other posts; for now, focusing on consuming enough protein and a balanced diet that includes healthy fats, carbs and anything you like in the range of your caloric needs should be enough to get you to a good start, considering optional to focus on 80% whole foods and 20% whatever you wish.

Adding plenty of vegetables helps with satiety, micronutrients, and energy; you can also add a multivitamin/mineral complex when aiming for a deficit, and always remember that if counting calories causes stress, take some time off, reduce training volume, eat to hunger for a while (stop when full) for about 1-2 weeks and relax. Sometimes when things aren’t working, taking a break and having some fun instead, might just be what we need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *