I don't blame you for feeling as you do — it can be pretty overwhelming trying to get your head around the different ways you can track your nutrition.
Doing so also comes a lot more easily to some people than others, and tracking certainly isn't for everyone.
I have to admit, I prefer eating intuitively.
But, when I want to trim down a bit (or build muscle), to me, it's really satisfying to have targets to work toward, a structured plan, and set numbers that I know should provide me with a clear roadmap to my goal provided I stick to them.
Although calories count, you don't necessarily need to count your calories.
You can create a calorie deficit by following healthy habits but if you're stuck in a rut, and you're already eating fairly healthy, then tracking calories can help you to see how much you're actually eating.
This is often quite revealing as studies have shown we often underestimate just how many calories we eat per day.
So, a good place to start if you want to get your nutrition in check is to try tracking your calories — MyFitnessPal is a useful (and free!) app for doing so. This activity in itself may help you to make some little tweaks to what you're doing and shift the calorie balance in the right direction.
If you're going to track, you just need to be careful. For some people, it leads to an unhealthy obsession with striving for the "perfect" diet, can be all-consuming, and can lead to inflexibility and thus zero social life.
You don't want to feel like you're a slave to MyFitnessPal, unable to live your life or go "off-plan" because enjoying a spontaneous slice of birthday cake in the office will mess up your macros and calories for the day. If tracking simply adds more stress and anxiety to your life, you really don't have to do it.
Here's our guide to understanding the basics of nutrition, our macronutrients:
Carbohydrate breaks down into glucose to provide the main energy source for our brain, central nervous system, and physical activity. Fiber is also a form of non-digestible carbohydrate and helps keep you satisfied after a meal and also helps keep a healthy gut.
Many carb sources are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them super important for overall health In addition, carbs are converted to glycogen 🍎 🍌 and stored in our muscles, so they’re a crucial source of energy and allow us to keep training properly!
Studies have shown that low intakes of carbs (<3g/kg body weight) are often linked with reduced performance and training intensity, a depressed immune system, and altered Thyroid function causing potentially long-term effects on hormonal, bone, and cardiovascular health.
Carbs are also crucial in women, as they allow for the proper functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, which controls the production and release of so many crucial hormones. One of these is Oestrogen, which regulates our levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), required for building muscle. This then helps make fat loss more sustainable by increasing how much energy you can put out during a workout and because muscle tissue requires constant energy for maintenance (it’s highly metabolically active to be precise).
Protein is an essential part of our diet. When it’s digested, it’s broken down into amino acids that go into the repair, recovery, and growth of your muscles but are also important for many other functions in our bodies.
Given that we’ll be building on the intensity of the workouts through these 12 weeks, making sure that you have protein available for recovery and repair is super important! There’ll be protein breakdown taking place and our goal is to keep a steady flow of amino acids available so our body doesn’t start to break down muscle.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for 0.3g-0.4g/kg body weight around 4 times per day, so around 1.2-1.6g/kg bodyweight total. The only time you might need more than that is if you’re new to training, where you might need up to 1.8g/kg body weight for the first 3 months. And if you train late in the afternoon, it might be worth scheduling one of these protein hits before bed to help with recovery.
Fat makes up our cell membranes and protects our organs. Fat also helps the body to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K which are useful for lots of important functions (Unsaturated fats (like those from olive oil, fish oil, and avocados) are more beneficial from a health perspective compared to saturated fats found in meat and butter (and therefore cake!) as they don’t have the same link with heart disease.
As a general guideline, around 1-1.2g/kg of body weight, with most of this coming from unsaturated fat, is a healthy target for exercising adults.
Fat is more energy-dense than carbohydrates and protein, meaning that each gram you eat provides more calories. If you struggle to get enough calories in to perform and recover from these workouts fully, adding in some extra fat can often help get a little extra fuel in without too much change in food volume. For example, adding some olive oil to a salad or nut butter to porridge and oatcakes!
Omega-3 fatty acids helps the brain function that fights inflammation.
Omega-6 fatty acids promote growth, halts cell damage, and help cell repair.
CLA protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, helps drop weight.
Monounsaturated fatty acids reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), hunger levels and help burn fat.
Carbohydrates, Protein & Fats. Our bodies need all of these to perform optimally and stay healthy!