MyFitnessPal Guide For Newbies

unnamedSince every once in a while I get new friends asking me for help and advices as to how to use MFP to lose weight or calculate calories and macros (macronutrients), etc., I decided to write the last message I sent, in a way I could use it for a blog post. One thing I really want to let you guys know, fitness is not easy, and by that I mean, don’t expect to learn all there is about fitness in a 5 words sentence. What I mean with this is, as much as I like to help everyone who needs it, there’s no way I can summarize it all in one sentence, therefore this post will be VERY LONG, but I will try my best to keep it somehow interesting and save you from having to visit another 100 websites/pages by giving you possible scenarios and possibilities, so you can choose what works best for you. All this information will come from my own research and paid programs, so I do hope you appreciate all the info I’m providing here.

Be aware though, some of the info I’m providing here has been extensively criticized by the “know it all douches” from the MFPhqdefault forums (I can’t wait for the day they get to see this post), the same people who also claim GMO, soda and McDonalds are as healthy and nutritive as organic food, and the same people who will criticize any approach or study other than the ones they chose to believe in. Truth is, at the end of the day we all believe whatever we want to believe, and it is all a matter of perspective. At least for me, it seems to work pretty good, to the point I’m pretty healthy, my blood test results shows everything perfect (even sometimes red blood count and potassium a little higher than what’s consider normal), and my fitness progress always seem to work as planned.

Before I continue, I want to clarify something. First and most importantly, at no point I consider myself an expert. Everything I’m writing here is either based on my own experience or what I have read/seen before. Results will vary from individual to individual, and even what works for you at some point might not work the same way after a while, which is why I always suggest flexibility, adjustment and experimentation, keeping in mind that undesired changes are NOT a cause to freak out, but just a sign to reverse the change made and head towards the opposite direction or simply try a different approach. And always be patient. Fitness takes time, and there is this absurd idea that if it doesn’t show out of this world progress in a short period of time, it doesn’t work. This same idea is what lead people to make the terrible mistake of eating too little hoping to get results faster.

With that out of the way, I want to start with something many new people to MFP don’t understand…. “Why to eat your workout calories back?” So here’s why:

I’m sure most of you got your numbers (calories) from entering your info in the MFP app, which calculates your calories based on your weight, age, gender, etc, and how many lbs a week you want to lose. Did you choose 1 or 2 lbs per week? Most people choose 2 lbs because they are dying to get rid of the extra weight as fast as possible, but here’s what you need to understand. MFP gives you an estimate based on what you selected (how active you are during the day and how many times a week you are willing to workout). Selecting a level of activity doesn’t really mean you’re being accurate and MFP only uses a range of numbers to come up with how much you should eat. What happens is, MFP calculates how many calories you should eat giving you a deficit so you lose that weight you selected (1 or 2 lbs per week) without exercising but knowing you will workout X amount of times a week, BUT (and this is the important part), the calories are calculated without knowing how much you will burn with each workout because even if you had the option to select a workout plan, each person burns different amounts of calories, therefore MFP leaves those burned calories out of the equation, and that’s why when you burn the X amount of calories, you need to eat them back, otherwise the deficit will be much bigger and it could be unhealthy to your body.

In other words, if MFP already had you with a 500 calories deficit and you burned 300 calories that you won’t eat back, your deficit increases to 800 (500+300), and while you might think the bigger the deficit the better to lose weight, you need to understand your body needs to eat and needs nutrients to work and perform properly, otherwise it will either store some of what you eat as body fat (body fat is nothing but stored energy) for whenever it needs the extra energy, or start using muscle fibers as a source of energy as well along with body fat, costing you some of that lean muscle you want or have.

Here’s my second advice. I would personally try to use multiple online formulas to calculate what’s your maintenance amount of calories in order to get an average from all the results you get. I don’t trust MFP calculations at all. Every time I have done a plan, whether to bulk up or lean down, the macros/calories I need to eat based on the program I’m doing are completely different from what MFP always suggest me to eat, and I always get the results I’m looking for when I follow the plans. So, if using these plans work, and they differ from MFP numbers, it could only means MFP is most probably wrong.

Update:
Although at the end of this post I have provided a link to a really good article posted on BodyBuilding.com about calculating calories and macros (which I suggest you to read), I’m feeling the need to clarify a couple of very important points you need to know in order to get as accurate as possible with your calories.

BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is the amount of calories you need to consume to maintain if you were comatose. Please, do not confuse this with the amount of calories you need on a daily basis. BMR only calculates what you need to live while in complete rest, or coma state. If you use your BMR as your maintenance for a regular day of your life, you’re already under-eating big time.

NEAT (Non-Exercise Associated Thermogenesis) is the calorie of daily activity that is NOT exercise (eg: washing, walking, talking, shopping, working).

EAT (Exercise Associated Thermogenesis) is the calorie requirements associated with planned exercise.

TEF (Thermic effect of feeding) is the calorie expenditure associated with eating.

TEE (Total Energy Expenditure) is the total calories you require. It = sum of the above (BMR + NEAT + EAT + TEF). This could also be known as TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).

This is why it is VERY important to know what you’re calculating in order to get your REAL and HEALTHY maintenance calorie amount. Again, you will find the formulas in this article Calories and Macro’s 

In regards to this topic, someone on MFP also suggested me to provide you (the readers) with a few formulas from different sources. I won’t be doing that. I rather you guys go online, look up different pages, and try them yourselves. What I will do at some point is, put together a small Excel or Google sheet with multiple hidden formulas (so you don’t have to worry about which is which), and provide you with an average result from all the formulas I end up using.

Now, to lose weight you need to eat with a deficit. Once you know how many calories is your maintenance, I personally believe a safe deficit would be no more than 500 calories a day for most people, but this depends on how many calories you need to eat for maintenance, which means, you have to eat your workout calories to avoid increasing that deficit goal. Something very important, when calculating your maintenance, you need to be as brutally accurate and realistic as possible with the information you provide to any calculating system you get to use. Considering the fact 3500 calories equal 1 pound, the more accurate your calculation is, the better results you’ll get assuming you end up using a 500 calories deficit a day, which means you could be losing one pound per week). So let’s assume you say “But Yass, I want to lose more than 1 pound a week”, and I’ll say, “Let’s focus first on adjusting your macros/calories first, and then focus on how much you want to lose”. The truth is, I’m keeping a secret from you, which is while you might have burned 300 calories during your workout and you ate those 300 calories back, your metabolism will continue to burn extra calories after your workout, which will increase the deficit whether you are aware of it or not.

So, let’s say you already have your maintenance and deficit figured out and you’re ready to lose that stupid body fat. Now you need to understand weight loss and goals, something many people overlook. Losing weight could mean losing body fat or losing body fat with muscle. Which one is the good and which one is the bad? I think it is pretty obvious. Scales don’t know the difference between losing fat only or fat with muscle, so weight can be irrelevant in most cases, especially when you don’t lose any weight, yet your clothes fit better than they did two weeks before. But how can this be? Well, since muscle is denser than fat (the eternal online debate that will last for as long as humanity exist), if you put 1 lb of fat next to 1 lb of muscle, the size difference is huge (see the image below). Basically, gaining a little bit of muscle can replace the equivalent weight of a bigger amount of fat you might lose, making the scale show you little to no weight you loss or maybe even weight gain. But who cares when you’re looking better and clothes fit better, right?

Fat vs Muscle
musfat

Now that you understand this, the weight number you had in mind originally might not be as important now since finally know it is more important to look great and be able to fit in whatever you might have in your closet that you haven’t been able to wear in centuries (ok ok not that long, but you get the point). So finally it is time to work on macros/calories adjustments.

I personally focus on macros and not calories (macros being carbohydrates, proteins and fats by the way). It is very important to know that 1 gram of carbs equals 4 calories, 1 gram of protein equals 4 calories and 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories. Many people use different macro ratios when putting together a meal plan. What can be yours? That’s totally up to you, but some examples are as follows:

C / P / F (carbs / proteins / fats)
35/35/30
40/35/25
40/30/30
30/40/30
35/40/25

Note: these ratios are percentages, not grams.

Now fats aren’t necessarily bad, in fact, they help a lot with metabolism, helping to burn body fat. Crazy, right? The important part is to minimize non-saturated fats and eat the good fats like those that contain Omega-3.

Honestly, you can pick whichever ration you prefer and try it out to see how it works for you, and if it doesn’t, you can always change it. By the way, I don’t want you to assume that whichever you pick will have an effect on you losing body fat faster than with another, remember that your original deficit is what counts towards your weight loss, not your macros ratio. Macro ratio helps with how much protein, carbs and fats you’ll eat and how your energy levels will be affected, since carbs are the energy source, protein your muscle builder and fats helps you boost your metabolism among other benefits.

To use as an example, let’s assume you have to eat 1600 calories a day to lose 1 pound a week, and let’s assume that you chose to eat 40% carbs, 35% protein and 25% fat a day. Now, let’s convert the calories to macros.

1600 multiplied by 0.40 (which is 40%) = 640 calories of carbs
1600 multiplied by 0.35 (which is 35%) = 560 calories of proteins
And for the fats you can either add 640 + 560 = 1200 and then subtract it from 1600 leaving you with 400 calories of fat
or multiply 1600 by 0.25 (which is 25%) = 400 calories of fats

That easy…. Oh wait, there’s more. We now need to figure out how many grams of each you need to eat a day. Well, this is even easier.

640 calories of carb divided by 4 = 160 grams
560 calories of protein divided by 4 = 140 grams
400 calories of fat divided by 9 = 44.4 grams

Now we are getting somewhere. REMEMBER, these are hypothetical numbers assuming your maintenance is 2100 calories a day and you are using a 500 calories deficit, leaving you with 1600 calories a day.

Note: Something I noticed recently, among the many issues MFP has, is that if you multiply your Diary’s total carbs and proteins by 4 and total fats by 9, adding them all to find out the total amount of calories for the day, it is different from the total amount of calories MFP shows in your Diary. The difference is small, but be aware that the calories displayed on MFP are not that accurate.

Note: At some point I had two different MFP accounts. One thing I discovered during that time was, that the nutritional facts from a specific food where different when accessed from each account. Therefore, my advice is to always go for the certified entries (they have a green circle with a check mark next to it), scan your own food’s barcodes, or enter them manually and save them if is a food you eat frequently.

The interesting part is finally here IF this post hasn’t been interesting yet. How many meals, and how much of each macro should you eat per meal?

The options are limitless and I’ll share my experience.

Some people like to split macros equally between each meal you eat, whichever amount of meals you get to eat. It could be 2, 3, 4 or 7 meals a day. Totally up to you.

Some trainers say macro timing is useless, the same as how many meals. Meaning, you can eat once a day, twice a day, 20 times a day and arrange your macros however the hell you want, and you’ll still achieve the same results, since what counts is that you eat your macros goal on a daily basis.

Some other trainers say macro timing is essential to get results and you should be eating at least 4 times a day. So let’s say you eat 6 meals a day, but you’ll need to distribute your macros in a way that your body takes full advantage of the nutrients and that way you’ll achieve the best results.

Which way do I follow? Since I got the best results with macro timing, that’s what I do. Is it really that important? Many people say it is total BS (especially the “know it all” in the MFP forums), but I choose to eat how I prefer based on my previous experience.

While lately I haven’t been super precise about macros distribution, I do follow one rule, the most amount of carbs I eat are distributed mainly before and after my workout. Carbs before working out give me the energy to workout, and after working out because they help with muscle recovery and protein absorption.

So ideally, I should be eating 5 meals a day, where proteins should be divided equally among all meals, carbs for my pre and post workout meal are around 50% total, and the other 50% should be divided between the other 3 meals. Fats should be divided equally between all meals, although I used to eat the least amount of fats with my pre and post workout meals. But that’s if you want to be ridiculously accurate like I was at one point. Now I focus more on the carbs for the pre and post workout and the rest I try to distribute between the other meals trying to keep a balance.

One more thing before I get to the last part of this post (by now you’re thinking, about damn time man, this is longer than a freaking book), I do carb cycling. What that means is, I have days with higher carbs, days with medium carbs, and days with low carbs. What’s the benefit and how do I do it? The benefit is that you should retain more muscle this way or even grow some muscle while losing body fat. Any fitness competitor would tell you carb cycling is one of the best tools they use to keep their gains from going away.

So how do I calculate it? Again, using the example numbers mentioned before, we know 1,600 calories a day is the goal. If we multiply 1600 by 7 (days of the week) we know you would be eating 11,200 calories a week. This number is magical, because no matter how you distribute your calories during the week, if you log your food and keep record of how much you can eat, you’ll always end the week with the same amount. So, when having a high carbs day, you only have those twice a week and leaving at least 2 days in between them. Then you have 5 days to decide which are the 2 days of low carbs and 3 days of medium carbs. How would your days look then?

If a normal day looks like this based on the above calculations
160 grams carbs
140 grams protein
44.4 grams fats

I would have the high day like this
220 grams carbs
140 grams protein
44.4 grams fats

And the low carb day like this
100 grams carbs
140 grams protein
44.4 grams fat

Basically what I did was, I took 60 grams of carbs from a day to make it a low carb day (from 160 grams of carbs to 100 grams) and added it to another day to make it a high carb day. You do this with 2 days, and by the end of the week you’ll still have your 11,200 calories.

Ideally, high carbs day are meant for days you either workout big group of muscles (like legs day or back) or muscles you want to maintain or get them to grow. Low carbs day on the other hand, are either rest days or cardio days, since your energy levels will be lower.

One thing I wanted to mention is, some of you found out about MyFitnessPal via the App Store or Play Store if you use Android. While the app allows you to do many things, I feel like accessing the account via a web browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, etc), gives you a better display of your food diary, as well as other options like being able to upload a total of 18 photos to your album. So yes, in case you had no idea you could access your account via the browser, you definitely can and I suggest you do check it out.

Last but not least, once you get to calculate your numbers, like I said, don’t focus so much on your scale, but instead on your overall progress. Taking pics of yourself for your own record wearing underwear or swimsuit and measurements once a week is the ideal way to see your progress. Both pictures and measurements are equally important. Also, pick the same day of the week to do this, but avoid taking measurements and pics the day after high carbs, because you will be retaining water for a day after the high carbs day and lead you to think you aren’t getting any progress. So a normal day is more appropriate for that in my opinion. After two weeks, if you see you’re getting a nice progress, you can start reducing 5 grams of carbs from your daily goals for two weeks and then wait another week before you reduce another 5 grams. If the progress is somehow slow, you can reduce 10 grams of carbs one week, stay at that another week, then reduce another 10 grams of carbs, and stay there for another week. The idea is to see how your body reacts to those changes each week until you find what works best for you. Keep in mind you can always revert this changes if you see it didn’t work as you expected.

I want to finish this post with a link to a previous post where I talked about calculating calories and macros. It was written by a user on BodyBuilding.com but since the user doesn’t give permission to copy her post, even if giving her credit for the post, I can only post a link to it.

The article was written by Emma Leigh and it can be found in the following link

Calories and Macro’s

And if you ever have a hard time trying to add food to your MFP diary in a way that your total macros/calories hit your goal, just send me a message, and I’ll explain to you an easy way to achieve this.

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