MyFitnessPal is a calorie counting app, designed to help you track your food intake, but it is not a nutrition coach! When you first download the app, it will ask you several questions (age, height, weight, goal weight, and weekly weight loss goal). From this information, it will set goals for your calories and macronutrients. These goals MIGHT be an okay starting place, but it’s more likely that they will be wrong and very different from where they would be set if an experienced coach calculated them for you — or if you used this guide to set your own!
For instance, say that you are currently 145lbs and you want to be 120lbs. If you were to input that you wanted to lose 5lbs a week for 8 weeks into the app, it’s going to give you a VERY low-calorie target.
Remember, MyFitnessPal is a robot.
Its ONE job is to make your goal weight line up with your goal timeline based on numbers alone, regardless of whether or not they are safe or attainable. Losing 5lbs a week is not a realistic goal and the mathematical equation is setting you up for failure. The app is not taking into consideration the effect that it would have on your lean muscle mass retention OR your ability to adhere to those lower calories for the time that it would take to see results.
Essentially, the app gives you a basic, generalized recommendation of where you should start, however, it doesn’t take into consideration the same lifestyle or psychological factors that a trained and qualified coach would. In addition, the numbers (particularly protein intake) are calculated for an everyday person, not someone who is trying to create a specific physique.
If you were working with a coach, they would know that you won’t actually be able to eat 1,000 calories a day for 8 weeks straight. If by sheer willpower alone you were able to, your coach would know that you would lose muscle mass, decrease metabolic rate, and cause more fat gain long term if you did so. They’d also know you’d be high risk for binge eating during or after your diet.
Instead, a real human coach would help you to set more realistic expectations and set your calories at a place that you can stick to. This will ensure that you can reach your goal rather than burning out and prevent you from suffering the health consequences that come with extremely low-calorie dieting.
With all things considered, if you do not choose to work with a coach but still want to work towards your goals, then you could do either of the following:
OPTION 1: TRACK IN MYFITNESSPAL
Accurately track a “normal” week of eating for yourself in a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal.
Be sure to track drinks, sauces, bites…everything! For the best results, weigh the food you eat at home or anything that isn’t prepackaged. If you’re going to be eating out, choose chain restaurants that have their menu items listed in MyFitnessPal or make your best, most accurate guesstimate if nutrition information isn’t available. At the end of one full week, check your weekly calorie average by going to the nutrition section, selecting the calories tab, and changing to “weekly view.”
If you maintain weight during the week you track, then you know this is your “maintenance intake” and to lose fat, you will decrease your calories by 300 per day for 10-14 days. Once you’ve completed 10-14 days of compliance you should have lost at least 1 pound. If not, reduce by 100-200 calories further.
OPTION 2: USE A FORMULA
If you’d rather not track for a week, use the following formula to determine your starting intake for maintenance:
Take your body weight (in pounds) and multiply it by between 12-15.
12 = Not Very Active (Desk Job, 0-2 workouts per week)
13 = Moderately Active (3-4 workouts per week)
14 = Active (You have an active job or lifestyle and get 4-6 workouts per week)
15 = Extremely Active (You have a physically demanding job, active lifestyle and you regularly get 4-6 workouts per week)
Your equation would look like this:
Let’s say you’re a 140 lb moderately active female. You’d take your weight (140lbs) and multiply that by your activity level (13).
140lbs x 13 = 1,820 Calories.
Your starting calories would be around 1,820.
Once you’ve set your calories, you will need to set your “macros” which are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
WHEN SETTING YOUR MACROS, YOU WILL WANT TO CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION:
Protein is essential for the growth of lean muscle, bones, cartilage, skin, and blood. It is also important for post-workout recovery. Protein should be your new best friend if you want to gain or maintain muscle.
This is the main macro you will aim to hit perfectly each day. Aim for 0.8-1.0 g of protein for every pound you weigh. For example, if you weigh 140lbs., multiply 140 x 0.8 = 112 and 140 x 1 = 140. Your daily goal will be between 112-140 g per day.
Fats are essential, especially for women. Too little fat in your diet can be very harmful because dietary fat regulates hormones, optimizes reproductive health, immunity, and inflammation.
There are also aesthetic benefits to getting enough dietary fat. Doing so will help to grow your hair, skin, and nails giving you a more youthful appearance. Dietary fat can also help you to feel more satiated for longer periods of time. If you find you are always feeling hungry, you may benefit from increasing your fat intake.
You should get AT LEAST 0.25 g of fat for every pound you weigh. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you would follow this equation: 200 x 0.25 = 50 g minimum per day.
As long as you hit your minimum, your hormones will be taken care of, but you may feel better having a higher fat intake. Experiment and see what helps you to feel your best!
Carbohydrates are the macro that provides energy to your body. Contrary to popular belief, you CAN see the changes you want in your physique while taking in carbohydrate-rich foods. In fact, eating enough carbs will improve your energy during the day and can help you to feel stronger and more motivated in the gym, thus improving your overall results.
Once you hit your daily protein and your fat minimum, you can use the remaining calories for your choice of carbs or additional dietary fats.
You should additionally aim to take in 12-15g (or more) of fiber for every 1000 calories consumed and can also track your daily intake of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, aiming for as close to 100% as possible before utilizing supplements.