“What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.” That quote is often associated with W. Edwards Demming, the pioneer of modern quality control in manufacturing. What does that have to do with reaching your fitness goals? Simple… just like producing motors, widgets, and sprockets, you are producing a better body. You must be able to control the amount of food you eat in order to gain muscle mass or to lose body fat. You must also be able to understand how much work you are putting in the gym and how it relates to your progress. You can only eat so much or restrict your food so much; same idea goes for training.
How many times have you heard people say “I train really, really hard, all the time.” Or “I eat all the time” and the classic “I hardly eat anything.” Maybe that’s you; if it is, then this attitude about your approach is what’s keeping you from making progress. You must be conscious of the qualities related to your nutrition and training if you want to maximize your results. I’m just going to focus on nutrition for this post.
Have you ever seen a template cookie cutter diet in a magazine or even one of those multi-page ads? Let’s see… egg whites and oatmeal for breakfast, chicken breast, sweet potatoes, and broccoli for lunch, steak and rice for dinner with protein shakes in between right? No quantities or generic quantities are given for each of those foods and this plan will be your ticket to size or fat loss!
Many people will just say “just eat clean” or something similar. Does anyone really know what this means? It’s a cop-out for not keeping yourself accountable. If your goal is to lose body fat then the simple science dictates that you must eat less calories than you burn each day. You can consume a diet rich in healthy, nutritious foods (organic, non-GMO, gluten free, etc…) and still EAT TOO MUCH! Conversely, you can eat exclusively donuts and lose weight (granted you only consume 3 or 4 per day). You’ll feel miserable and have little energy but you will lose weight! So it goes without saying that your nutrition should consist of mainly nutritious foods.
So what’s the take-home message here? You need to measure your food intake somehow. Oftentimes the confusion comes from which method is best, there are a few options…
1) Tracking macronutrients… this is my favorite! It’s also the most flagrantly abused, mainly by IIFYM zealots (if it fits your macros). Once you have an idea of how many calories you should be consuming and the appropriate macronutrient breakdown, tracking every gram of protein, carbs, and fats is the most accurate way to monitor your food intake. Also, you can count calories from macronutrients if you choose (remember 4 calories for each gram of protein and carbohydrate, 9 for each gram of fat, and 7 for each gram of alcohol for those who like to live dangerously).
2) Measurer portions on a food scale… this works great too and has been used by generations of championship physique competitors. The key here is to be consistent with your method of measuring! Whether you’re using ounces and cups or metric weights just be consistent! Weigh your meats uncooked and carbs cooked etc… or use a cooking coefficient between cooked and uncooked weights (I use .75 for grilling and .85 for baking meat).
3) Fistful portion sizes or specialized Tupperware to manage portions… this is my least favorite but it’s also the most simplistic. It can work almost as well as the first two methods and it’s very easy. The only drawback is that it’s not nearly as precise. You can imagine the concept of a “handful of almonds” meaning different ideas for different people!
1) Buy a food scale! People who are serious about their fitness goals need to have a way to measure food portions. I learned this the hard way late in the game!
2) Log your food! Some guys still use a notebook and some have the latest app and it all works as long as you are diligent with it!