By: Alex Cromartie, CPT
I tried to avoid counting calories for a long, long time. Even after intensely studying the important role proper caloric intake plays in human health when obtaining my Personal Trainer certification, a part of me STILL didn’t want to admit that calorie counting was all that important. Since I began my fitness journey in 2008, I had always lived by the idea that if you eat nutritious whole foods, your body’s metabolism will stabilize, and your weight will normalize. And to some extent, this is very true. So many people today have become so dependent on processed foods in their diet that sometimes the simple act of cooking and eating unprocessed whole foods (combined with a regular exercise program) will do wonders for a person’s stamina, strength, and overall health. However, having excess body fat is a serious killer these days, and the quality of ones food alone isn’t the only thing a client wanting to lose body fat (or to gain lean mass) needs to worry about.
Calories count. A lot. Especially when trying to change body composition. Based on your age, sex, height, and weight, and activity level, figure out what your calorie maintenance level is(there are a ton of free calculators online). This is the number of calories your body needs each day to operate properly and perform tasks. Subtract 500 calories from this number, and you will have the number of calories you need to eat each day to safely lose one to two pounds each week. A word of caution here. A calorie deficit of more than 500 calories a day isn’t recommended unless you are very obese. Although excessive calorie deficits may appear to be effective at first, they will have devastating consequences in the long run and should be avoided unless supervised by a doctor.
At first, it may seem like a tedious task to record everything you eat, and yes, like most things worth doing, it does take some effort. Ask any successful bodybuilder, fitness model, or professional level athlete though whether or not they count calories, and the answer will undoubtedly be “Of course!” That’s because its their JOB to keep their bodies in shape, and there is no way to do so efficiently without a “road map”. It’s impossible for many athletes to maintain their optimum performance levels throughout the year, and so before its time to perform, they must orchestrate when their body will be in its peak condition by manipulating diet and training practices. You too can manipulate your body composition in any way you want, once you experience and become accustomed to what the proper caloric intake levels feel like. Unless you’ve trained yourself to recognize these (FYI – Whole foods give you a LOT more energy per calorie than sugary, processed foods. So they are a good place to start…)
So there you have it. I am officially on the calorie counting bandwagon. If you really want to change your body composition, it’s a mistake to ignore the hard numbers. I began doing the old calorie number crunch myself and with my clients several weeks ago. Without a doubt, doing so has filled in several missing pieces of the fitness puzzle for me already. In addition to providing a clear plan to get from point A to point B, the tracking has provided some incredible insight into nutritional habits as well when recorded in an app such as MyFitnessPal. In fact, I’m so thrilled with that app that it will be the subject of my next blog, coming soon to a news-feed near you. Look for it, and I’ll talk to you then. Stay strong!