Last week I wrote about how maintaining a balance between the calories you consume and the calories you burn can be used for weight loss or weight gain. However, just knowing that will do nothing for you unless you know the kind of calories you are actually gaining with your meals. Sure, we have all decided that XYZ is the number of total calories we want in the day, and a little here or there won’t really make a difference. While that’s true, it can be a slippery slope. Three cups of tea, a sweet, maybe the beer on the weekend, a plate of fries…and you will have gone way beyond your calorie limit.
Delhi-based architect Akhilesh Chaudhary started tracking his calories in March 2018 when he joined a gym. He has since then lost a considerable amount of weight and gained strength. Needless to say, his food habits have been changed keeping these goals in mind.
“In first two months I planned my diet chart, which was in calorie deficit and followed it for two months but did not track my macro’s (macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates and fat) consumption,” he says. Chaudhury managed to drop down 10kgs in two months, but he says he started looking weak, drained out all the time and even stopped losing weight after a point of time. “My body started using my muscles as a source of energy while working out because I did not track my protein and carbs intake on daily basis. I was not fuelling myself with right kind of food and focused only on calorie deficit. I figured out that something is wrong and then started my research and understood the science of calories with macro tracking,” explains Chaudhary.
Macro tracking can sound daunting but smaller steps can make it easier. Learning to track your calories is a good start. (And no, you don’t need a nutritionist for that). For this, the first thing here is you need to calculate is your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This depends on your basal metabolic rate (BMR). To calculate your BMR you can go to a clinic, or try an online calculator. The formula that many experts use is known as the Harris-Benedict equation. This can be used by you as follows:
For Men: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) - (5.677 x age in years)
For Women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) - (4.330 x age in years)
Your BMR reflects the number of calories you burn when your body is at rest. However, you will not be resting or lying down throughout the day. So the actual amount of calories you burn in a day would be higher than what your BMR shows.
Now, log on to any online TDEE calculator. It will take into account your age, weight, height and activity levels (ranging from ‘sedentary’ if you have a desk job and don’t exercise, to ‘athlete’ if you work out twice in the same day). This will give you a sense of the amount of calories you need to consume in a day to carry out your normal functions, including the workout level that you have mentioned.
Now, you also need to know the amount of calories that are present in each macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats and proteins). Carbohydrates have four calories per gram, proteins also have four calories per gram and fats have nine calories per gram.
“While how much of carbs you like to eat, or how much protein you want to consume may depend on your taste, you should try to get about 60% of your total daily calories from carbohydrates, of which at least 40% should come from complex carbs which are high in fibre and water. Again 20-30% of your total daily calorie needs to come from fats and the remaining should come from protein,” explains Amita Salvi, head of department, Dietetics, at Mumbai’s Saifee Hospital.
For example, if someone needs approximately 2000 maintenance calories in a day, they can break it down into proteins (150g), fats (77-78g) and carbs (175g). This might be difficult if you do not have a weighing scale or a measuring cup. A good rule of thumb, quite literally, is to measure your food by hand.
Measure your protein portion through what fits on your palm. Take one serving of protein (20-30) for women and two servings for men. Similarly, one fist-sized portion of vegetables for women, and two for men is recommended. Carbohydrates can be measured with a cupped hand: one cupped hand portion for women, and two for men. And for fats, one thumb sized portion for women or two portions for men can take care of their requirements per meal.
These are not hard and fast rules, of course, and would depend on your goals and how you feel after trying it out. But a balanced diet—one that includes all the macronutrients in required amount—is the only diet that can give you long lasting results. So whether with the help of an app, through precise measurement and weighing of the food you eat, or just going by the portion size—take control of your own nutrition needs now.