Updated: Jul 15
There are many nutrition strategies that you can use in order to achieve your goals. Calorie counting is one of the most effective ways for altering your body composition. This article mainly explains this method.
However, it may be a very tiring and time-consuming process. So before, we get into the main article, I have listed a few alternative options below, that you can use in order to track your caloric intake.
Low Effort/ Skill:
Take a photo of what you are eating.
Write down general amounts. E.g. a small bowl of yogurt.
Moderate Effort/ Skill:
Use a food journal to track how hungry you were at the start and end of a meal.
Use Hand-Size portions, such as a palm of protein, thumb of fat, cupped handful of carbs, fist of vegetables to regulate meal sizes.
High Effort/ Skill:
Use measuring cups or spoons or weigh food with a food scale.
Use standardized amounts.
Track items precisely using a calorie-counting software such as MyFitnessPal, Calorie Counter or Fitbit.
Now that you have learnt about some simple nutrition strategies for altering body composition, we will get into the more advanced strategies of tracking calories and macronutrients.
Step 1: Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
The first step to altering body composition involves estimating Basal Metabolic Rate. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is usually the largest contributor to total energy expenditure, accounting for approximately 65-70% of daily energy expenditure. It is a measure of the calories required for maintaining normal body functions such as respiration, blood circulation, and gastrointestinal & renal processing.
BMR Equation: (Harris-Benedict):
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)
E.g. The BMR for a Male who is 185 lbs, 72 inches and 22 years old:
66 + (6.23 x 185 lbs) + (12.7 x 72 inches) - (6.8 x 22 years old) = 1983 Kcal = BMR
Step 2: Calculate Total Daily Energy Expenditure (Calories needed to maintain weight)
The second largest component of an individual’s energy requirement is the energy expended in physical activity. Typically, 20-30% of Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is from physical activity. However, this figure may be considerably higher in athletes.
Once you have calculated your BMR, you can calculate your caloric needs:
E.g. A Male who is 185 lbs, 72 inches, 22 years old, has a BMR of 1983.35 Kcal and is extremely active:
1983 Kcal (BMR) x 1.9 (Extremely Active) = 3768 Kcal
This means that this person needs to consume 3768 Kcal per day to maintain their weight. This a rough estimate and TDEE may fluctuate each day depending on activity level on a specific day.
Fitness trackers such as Fitbits are great as they can give a pretty precise number of how many calories you have burned through physical activity per day. Therefore, you can plan your food consumption around this number throughout the day.
Step 3: Calculate Calories based on Body Weight Goals
Weight (Muscle) Gain:
A general guideline is to consume 500 Kcal more than the calories you burn per day in order to gain weight. This is called a caloric surplus.
If a person increases their calorie intake dramatically and consistently (more than 500 Kcal), they could gain more fat than they would like.
Eating larger portion sizes, increasing meal frequency and focusing on choosing calorie-dense foods are all strategies that can help a person to gain weight.
In addition to increasing total calorie intake, you should ensure that you are eating enough protein to maximize gains in lean body mass. However, eating too much protein may make weight gain difficult, given the profound effect that protein has on satiety, as well as the increased thermic effect of feeding associated with higher-protein diets.
Athletes who want to gain weight should consider supplementing with creatine monohydrate, a supplement that safely and effectively increases lean body weight.
Weight (Fat) Loss:
A general guideline is to consume 500 Kcal less than the calories you burn per day in order to lose weight. This is called a caloric deficit.
If a person decreases their calorie intake dramatically and consistently (more than 500 Kcal), they could suffer from a lack of energy and tiredness.
Eating smaller portion sizes, decreasing meal frequency and focusing on choosing calorie-sparse foods are all strategies that can help a person to lose weight.
People who want to maintain muscle and lose body fat while in a caloric deficit should consume a high amount of protein (see Step 4).
There is no ideal diet that works for everyone. Instead, studies show that a variety of types of diets, including low-carb and low-fat diets, result in weight loss as long as the people following them are consuming fewer calories than needed to maintain weight (caloric deficit).
Total calorie intake and dietary adherence, the ability to stick with a diet over time, are the 2 most important factors that predict successful weight loss.
The initial goal for weight loss in overweight and obese individuals should be 10% off initial weight within the first 6 months.
Step 3 Summary:
1lb of fat = 3500 kcal
If you are in a caloric surplus of 500 Kcal per day you will gain 1lb per week as:
500 Kcal x 7 days = 3500 Kcal
If you are in a caloric deficit of 500 Kcal per day you will lose 1lb per week as:
500 Kcal x 7 days = 3500 Kcal
Step 4: Calculate Macronutrients
After you have calculated your caloric intake, you can then calculate your macronutrients: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates.
You can do this calculating what percentage of your goal calories you want to consume from each macronutrient.
The tables below give some recommended percentages of goal calories based on the type of physical activity and goal.
Once you have decided what percentages you want to consume for each macronutrient, you then want to calculate the exact number of calories for each macronutrient based on your goal calories.
E.g. For the athlete who’s Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) was 3768 Kcal, his goal is to build muscle so therefore he needs to be in a caloric surplus.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure = 3768 Kcal per day to maintain their weight.
Goal calories to gain 1lb per week = 3768 Kcal + 500 Kcal = 4268 Kcal
If the athlete who wants a high protein intake and an average fat intake:
Protein = 4268 Kcal x 0.35 = 1494 Kcal
Fat = 4268 Kcal x 0.25 = 1067 Kcal
Carbohydrates = 4268 Kcal x 0.40 = 1707 Kcal
You then divide the calories for each macronutrient by the numbers in the table below to calculate how many ‘g’ you need to eat to meet your goal.
Protein = 1494 Kcal / 4 = 374g
Fat = 1067 Kcal / 9 = 119g
Carbohydrates = 1707 Kcal / 4 = 427g
E.g. Final calorie and ‘g’ amounts for the Male who is 185 lbs, 72 inches, 22 years old, has a BMR of 1983 Kcal, is extremely active, wants a high protein intake and an average fat intake and wants to gain 1lb per week:
Goal calories to gain 1lb per week = 4268 Kcal
Protein = 1494 Kcal / 374g
Fat = 1067 Kcal / 119g
Carbohydrates = 1707 Kcal / 427g
Calorie counting is a rough estimate and should be used as a starting point. It is up to you to figure out what exact numbers work best for you and your goals. As you start to make progress towards your weight goals, it may be beneficial to recalculate your BMR, Calorie intake and your macros to fit your current and goal weight.
Still confused or don't have the time to makes these calculations? Check out our Progress Tracker where the exercise science equations automatically calculate your calories, macronutrients and much more.
Want to learn more about nutrition or read more articles like this? Check out our ebook to help you learn about Body Composition, Nutrition, Exercise & Recovery so you can achieve your goals in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope that you have learned something new and it has been beneficial in helping you to become more efficient and effective with your nutrition and goals.
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Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2016. Print.
Scott-Dixon, K., Berardi, J., St. Pierre, B., Kollias, H., & DePutter, C. The Essentials of Nutrition &
Coaching For Health, Fitness and Sport: Fourth Edition. Precision Nutrition, Inc, 2019.