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TL;DR

– set your targets in MyFitnessPal by gram not %

– use varied targets that facilitate more flexibility

– check recurring entries and ensure new foods have all the macros included

– use 48 hour macros and create buffers to handle social occasions

Tracking your calorie and macro nutrient intake, while not brand new, is still very much nuanced in the fitness industry. A concept initially rooted in the darkened forums of Bodybuilding.com, it has recently been permeating its way through the ranks of social media and pop culture.

As with most ideas, it has an intended application and purpose. When used for this purpose, it can be a highly effective means of achieving body-composition goals.

Equally, it can also be exaggerated, taken out of context and used incorrectly. It’s a question of having an understanding of first, what we’re trying to achieve and second, how to effectively achieve that.

Why tracking the macros and calories in food is better than a diet plan:

It’s simple, the best indicator of weight loss success is how long someone stays in a calorie deficit. Not whether they eat low carb, eliminate gluten or rely on Herbalife shakes for lunch, more that they control the total caloric volume over time such that they experience consistent, controlled weight loss.

In other words, how long they can stay on the plan without resorting to a cheat day or similar. Therefore, the most flexible system will always win, the one with the least restrictions.

What better way to remove restrictions than to allow all food into a plan. To remove the rules and replace them with principles. Namely, you can eat ANY food, so long as you eat a certain range of protein, carbs and fats each day or, at very least, you keep your calories in check.

However, what use are 3 numbers on a spreadsheet if you’re just as neurotic about hitting your macros as you were about prepping your meals?

Really, the approach we’re trying to use should be called “flexible mind”, it’s about reacting to reality and having a few tricks and tools in place to allow you to plan around alcohol, meals out, going on holiday or even missing your macros entirely.

Now what?

  • Get your macros for free at the PropaneProtocol (if you haven’t already)
  • The 10 week email course is designed to take you step by step through the learning process.
  • Want some additional guidance? Try out the tracker – a great tool for planning your macros and seeing the bigger picture, with a Propane Coach perched on your shoulder.
  • Want the full Monty? Email us to inquire about coaching. We’ll take care of all of this for you, adapting your training and diet to every wrinkle in your life’s schedule.

 

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First, a preface. There are a few contenders for macro tracking apps but the most common (and the one we recommend) is MyFitnessPal.

The below is some advice for the “in the trenches” use of this app and how to conquer common problems encountered when trying to track your macro-nutrient intake.

1) Set your goals

A common complaint is that myfitnesspal won’t allow you to set macro targets as figures, it makes you use a % based approach. Tracking macros can be difficult enough, let’s not make it even more difficult by not having your targets within the system you use to track.

Annoying problem but easy to solve, see here for a step by step guide

 

2) Check your entries

MyFitnessPal’s database is populated both by barcode data and user entries. As a result, there’s reasonable scope for bogus entries. You may track a bag of crisps for example that may be missing the carbs entry. You don’t notice and then continue with your day assuming that you have a certain number of carbs, fat and protein left. In actuality, your tracked carb intake is understated by 30g.

You end up going over your macros without even noticing.

What’s worse? You probably put in significant effort in your last meal to measure quantities and hit your macros within the range.

You go over your macros by a precisely measured amount – heart-breaking.

Lesson here? Check the entries you use, especially if they are ones you have never used before. Check carefully and check once.

3) Use different targets

Depending on your goal, there are ways to reduce the level of accuracy required. We usually advise that, unless you’re dieting for a show or photo shoot/weigh in then you can use more flexible targets when needed. Flexible dieting is all about having a toolbox of tips and tricks available at your disposal to use when needed.

Rather than shooting for macros, you could revert to aiming for hitting your protein goal +/-25g and your calorie target +/-250kcal. This affords good level of leeway with carbs and fats.

Alternatively, you could make targets weekly, so have a weekly protein goal and a weekly calorie goal, aim to hit both within +/-10%

Lastly, you could have the goal of maintaining a certain average weight on a weekly basis – if your weight starts to tick up week by week, make an effort to eat a bit less and vice versa.

 

4) Create buffers

Eating out and enjoying food should be part of your plan, remember, the purpose of this approach is to provide as much flexibility as possible and not placing any restrictions on what you can or can’t eat.

If you’re planning a meal out, don’t turn up to the restraint without any remaining calories for your day, plan ahead a little.

There’s a few ways to deal with this depending on how anal you want to be.

Option 1 is to visit the restaurant’s menu in advance, pick out what you think you’ll choose and track this meal first, before eating that day. That way, you have revised targets to shoot for, with a buffer built in. I’d only really recommend this for those on a fat-loss diet with a deadline, who really can’t afford the error, or someone who eats out regularly.

Option 2 is to simply make a sensible estimate at what you’ll need calories wise, this may take time and you’ll never get it perfectly right, but something like 40% of your intake for your last meal is sensible.

5) 48 hour macros

Buffers are a great tool to use if you eat out and can guess/track accurately in advance.

For example, you’re eating at a restaurant you visit regularly, know the menu and can make a decent estimate of what you’ll have. However, that’s hardly a normal scenario.

One way to account for the uncertainty that comes with eating out is to revise your macros to a 48 hour target. So, put simply, deduct the excess from today off tomorrow’s targets and eat accordingly.

This still demands sensible application so here is a simple example as a guide:

Overshoot on a given day by 20% of your calorie target, deduct the extra calories from your targets the next day and just use an approach of protein and calorie targets.

Target = 200/200/100 = 2,500kcal

Actual intake = 3,000kcal (20% overshoot)

Following day aim for 200g protein and 2,000kcal.

Taken to an extreme, let’s say you have a holiday planned, you could spread the excess of your weekly intake over the following fortnight, keeping your monthly calorie intake the same. The key here is to not use this as a punishment/reward tactic. If the overshoot is greater than 50%, divide the excess by 2 and spread over the next two days. If the overshoot is 100% or more, spread the excess over one week or two, try to keep in mind that adjustments to subsequent days will reduce your adherence – dropping calories too low to compensate for one overshoot is only worth it If you can stick to the lower adjusted calories.

This kind of management is part of the benefit of our online coaching

 

Wrap up:

Hopefully these tips help you to see some ways to make your flexible diet even more flexible but there’s more where they came from. We’ll be back with our next 5 tips in our next post.

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