For the past 6 or so months I’ve been super diligent in tracking calories/macros using the MyFitnessPal App. Before that I loosely played around with macro tracking using paper and pencil (#oldskool). That was insanely time consuming and why I only did it intermittently. I finally caved and downloaded MyFitnessPal. Who knows why it took me so long to hop on that train, BUT it immediately made it sooooo much easier to track nutrition. Now it’s probably the app I use most frequently on a daily basis.
I get asked often WHY I track calories/macros.
“Isn’t that just for people who want to lose weight?”
“You run/exercise all the time. Can’t you just eat.all.the.food?”
“You’re so skinny can’t you just eat whatever you want?” (the word skinny makes me CRINGE! But I’ll save that for another blog post)
And so on…
My quick answer that people usually easily accept/understand is, ‘I’m trying to gain muscle”. Which is 100% true! I’m all for #GAINZ. This is probably the primary reason I track macros. So if you like the down and dirty version I guess you can stop reading now. 🙂 But there is a bit more to it than that and if you’re the curious type read on…
After the birth of my fourth, I was eager to get back to feeling healthy, strong, and fit. I know that in addition to exercise, diet and nutrition play a big part of that. ESPECIALLY as a breastfeeding mama. Advice that was full of good intention but really missed the mark told me to:
1. Consume 1900 calories daily (This number was based on body weight and then increased to reflect breastfeeding. It however did NOT take into account my high activity level.)
2. Don’t eat past 8pm to maximize digestion.
I tried following that textbook nutritional advice. For two days. And was craaazy HANGRY! I would wake up in the middle of the night starving! I quickly and intuitively realized I needed to be eating more and I definitely needed to eat something before going to bed. I stopped worrying about calories/macros and just ate 100% according to what my body was telling me, making sure to eat plenty of healthy fats (important as a breastfeeding mama). I also tried to eat a protein heavy snack right before going to bed every night.
The occasional tracking I did out of curiosity told me I was consuming about 3,000 calories a day. Which might seem rather high for my weight. However because I wasn’t gaining or losing, it turned out to be the right maintenance level. No wonder 1900 calories left me starving! Activity level is SOOOO important when determining the number of calories your body needs to function optimally. I use my Fitbit to track calorie output and have it synced with the MyFitnessPal app. While there is some skepticism out there about the Fitbit’s ability to accurately track calorie burn, my experience is that it is very accurate for me. How do I know this?
- I don’t gain or loose when my calorie in/calorie out is even.
- I am (usually) hungry when my calorie intake is low.
- I am (usually) satisfied when my calorie intake is high.
The above is true both at a small scale (daily) and big picture (across weeks/months of data). The “usually” part comes into play because 1. female hormonal cycles impact hunger and 2. composition of food (ie-macros) impact hunger.
When I stopped breastfeeding I decreased my fat intake and also took about a 10 week break from distance running. Suddenly my body’s needs were hijacked as hormones adjusted, macro consumption shifted, and activity level tapered. My hunger mechanism went through some kind of wacky thing and basically I didn’t feel hungry. Eating intuitively doesn’t work well when your body isn’t giving you the clear signals. I decided to track calorie input more diligently in order to ensure I didn’t lose weight.
Also because I was no longer breastfeeding and was done with childbearing, I felt I could really start training heavy and eating the way I wanted to…ie – to build MUSCLE! #musclesaresexy
Being a vegetarian means I have to be intentional about my protein intake. It’s not hard to get enough protein as a vegetarian as there are plentiful options. However I do believe it requires a little extra attention to ensure the body is getting the optimal amount it needs.
Right now I have my calorie goal set at 3,000 with 50%carbs, 25% fat, 25% protein. I also care about micronutrients so I try to eat mostly clean/whole foods. I kind of have a 80/20 mindset in this regard.
- 80ish% of the time my diet is “clean” (ie – to me that means nutrient dense foods)
- 20ish% of the time I indulge in “junk” (ie- to me that means calorie dense, low nutrient foods)
Sometimes the above approach is referred to as “Flexible Dieting” or “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM). You can google either term for more info. I’m not hardcore and don’t necessarily claim to follow either of these approaches but both terms are generally reflective of my approach to foods. 🙂
I also won’t eat anything just because it’s considered “healthy”. I won’t gag down something I don’t like/enjoy. I probably did at one point in my life, but quickly realized that’s just silly! Nourishing your body well can be full of tasty pleasure!
I don’t track macros or calories when we travel. Which is frequently for us. For me part of experiencing a new place is enjoying local cuisine. And also while traveling sometimes you just need to eat what’s available. Being flexible certainly makes traveling easier and more enjoyable.
I also don’t track when I run a distance of a marathon or greater. Obviously those are very high calorie/simple carb heavy days. I generally feel the impact of the high sugar intake the few days post long run. Mostly digestion feels a bit funky…which is likely because fiber intake is so low on race day. I’m not crazy about the sugar overload but it’s the standard and effective way to fuel the body for distance running. I’ve kind of experimented with various “sports foods”. I’ve tried gagging down those awful sports gels and gus but honestly they are NASTY! And uber expensive. I have kind of concluded that when it comes to distance running “sugar is sugar” and “calories are calories”. So I eat what I like and what goes down easy.
Post long run I try to focus on replenishing the body with lots of nourishing high protein (for recovery) and high fiber (for digestion) foods. I also try to drink a lot of water obviously to replenish hydration but also to flush the body.
The above might all sounds complicated and you might be thinking “F that! Just FN eat!”. Haha! And in some ways maybe that’s true. 🙂
BUT this comes down to the WHY I track calories/macros:
- I have goals that are physical/athletic in nature (ie -running and lifting) that are impacted by nutrition.
- I like feeling good! When body is well fueled it feels GOOD!
- Combining intuition with the available science/data around nutrition makes for a winning combination.
- Hormonal balance is important to me. Tracking helps me ‘see’ that I am eating to optimize hormonal regulation.
And now my tummy is rumbling so time for second breakfast! Cheers!