Home Fitness Diet Tips How to Count Calories to Build Muscle or Burn Fat

How to Count Calories to Build Muscle or Burn Fat

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counting calories

You can count calories to build muscle or burn fat quicker. How many calories do you consume in a day? 2000? 3000? The number you estimate is probably 30% lower than the number you actually take in.

Your best guess is still just a guess: so, the only way to know for sure is to accurately track and record your daily calorie intake. Many people also read calories: reduce or replace.

What are calories? 

A calorie is a measure of heat produced as your body “burns” calories as fuel. Calories in food provide energy and consist of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. There are seven types of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, dietary fiber, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water, but your calories and energy come primarily from the macronutrients listed above.

Not all calories are equal. Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, protein contains 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram. You can easily see that a bowl of salad (complex carbs) would contain fewer calories than a cup of ice cream (milk fats). But the differences go beyond the number of calories per gram. Each of the three macronutrients is biochemically processed in different ways and each triggers different hormone responses.

Good calories versus bad calories. You can go a long way in losing body fat and gaining lean muscle if you eat more “good” calories and fewer “bad” calories. Good calories are healthy, nutrient-dense foods that provide lean-proteins, healthy fatty acids, and complex carbs and fiber from fresh whole foods. Bad calories are calorie-dense foods that supply only calories without nutritional value. Examples include sodas and sweets that contain only sugar, artificial colors, and flavors.

Why are calories important? There are three basic laws of calories:

  • To maintain your current body weight, you must balance your calories, i.e. eating the same number of calories you burn. 
  • Also, To gain body weight and muscle, you must eat more calories than you burn.
  • To lose bodyweight, you must eat fewer calories than you burn. This is known as a calorie deficit – calories IN are less than your calories OUT.

How do you count YOUR calories:

Start with a calorie guide that provides the number of calories in a given food. Your phone apps and the internet can provide all of this information quickly and easily.

Start counting and tracking. Tracking your calorie intake is hardest in the beginning as you will need to search for the values for every food item. However once you have done this, be sure to record the values in your journal as you will find that you eat many of the same foods or food combinations throughout the week. For example, every time you eat an 8-ounce chicken breast with steamed broccoli and 1/2 a baked potato, you know you consumed 325 calories.

Record EVERYTHING. For your calorie count to be accurate, you must record everything you eat: from that cookie you grabbed, to your fancy coffee on the drive to work and that candy bar you purchased from the vending machine.

Organize your results. After about two weeks you should have covered a good variety of snacks and meals and beverages. Organize your notes and prepare separate pages for each meal type (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and snacks. This will make it much easier to calculate calorie counts for future meals.

Analyze your results. Do the calorie totals surprise you? Do you need to cut back on total calories or your portion sizes? If your goal is adding muscle, do you need to eat more calories? Do you see any patterns or problems with eating the wrong types of calories or unusually high-calorie meals?

Whilst calorie counting may be tedious in the beginning, the results can provide invaluable data that you can use to reach your diet and fitness goals. Your food log or journal will allow you to identify and correct problems and habits that are holding you back. Check out: BMR calculator.