Having goals is extremely important. Setting goals for yourself whether they have to do with business, personal life, fitness, or any other aspect of your life is vital for long term success. Goals push you forward. Without them, we become stagnant. By setting goals for ourselves we are constantly working to achieve something. This constant achievement regardless of how big or small, provides us with lifelong feelings of accomplishment. Goals provide us with accountability, which today seems to be a lost art. By staying accountable for our actions, it keeps us on the right path to success. Also, goals assist us in living life to the absolute fullest. By taking the time to sit down and set goals for ourselves, it propels us forward and helps us experience life more. For many of us there is so much we want to experience, but we must understand that it won’t be handed to us. We need to work for it. Having goals reminds us of what we want, and pushes us every day to achieve those things.
We all likely have goals for many areas in our lives. For business, it may be developing an award winning product. For financial, it may be earning six figures. For personal, it may be spending more time with family. But the goals I’m here to talk about are fitness related, and more specifically diet.
Most individuals I’ve met have fitness or health goals. These goals can range from gaining or losing weight, running a 5K, becoming stronger, decreasing blood pressure, etc. Regardless of the goal a proper nutrition plan is vital, and this is where many get lost.
There is so much information available today. The internet has allowed us to gain copious amounts of knowledge, but at the same time this can lead to confusion. We read one thing today then the next day something completely opposite. We come across headlines saying “Cut Out the Carbs for Weight Loss!” then tomorrow we read “Carbs: Critical for Weight Loss!” How on earth are we supposed to know what and what not to do?! That’s the tough part.
There are online calculators you can use that will tell you a baseline caloric intake your body runs on every day. For example, if your baseline caloric intake was 1500 calories, your body would require 1500 calories every day to maintain your current body weight. For you to sit around and do absolutely nothing, your body would need 1500 calories to not gain or lose a pound. What these calculators don’t tell you is what to eat, and how much. Again, this is where confusion arises.
If you’re reading this, I think it’s safe to assume you care about your nutrition. Whether or not you are trying to gain, lose, or maintain weight, you are conscious (or trying to be) of what you put into your body. Being conscious of what you put into your body is one thing, but knowing how much is another. And that is where My Fitness Pal comes into play.
My Fitness Pal is an amazing nutritional app that has been around for the past few years. This app is considered by many to be the most helpful tool out there for individuals who are looking to improve and monitor their food intake. And the best part is, it’s absolutely FREE!
So let’s dive into it. I’m sure many of you are wondering how this app works. Well first, you need to download it. As I mentioned before it’s a free download that you can get on your smart phone, iPod, iPad, etc. Just download the app from your app store and we can get started!
Now on to the fun part.
You’ll be required to input some information including you’re current height, weight, goals, activity level, and much more. The more information you can put in the better off you’ll be.
So now I’m going to take you through, step-by-step, how I’ve set the app up for my goals and how I use it to track my nutrition.
First off, my goals. Since I’ve been preparing for a competition my goal has been fat loss. Many have this similar goal so I think explaining how I do this will be very helpful. Right now my current body weight is 153.2lbs. This has been entered into the app as my “current weight.” Below that there is an option to input a “goal weight,” which for me is 148.0lbs. You also type in your weekly goal, which in my case is to lose 1 pound per week, as well as an activity level. This activity level is important because it helps determine your caloric needs, so be honest.
Now we get into the nutritional goals. The two options you can choose from are calorie and macro nutrient goals or additional nutrient goals. The one we’re most concerned with is the first one. If you click on “calorie and macro nutrient goals” you’re directed to a breakdown of what your total calories consist of, which is protein, carbohydrates, and fat. You can input your total calories (which we determined from an online calculator), in my case right now it is 2200 calories. This total calories gets broken down into percentages for each of our protein, carbs, and fats.
The percentages can vary from person to person but a general guideline for fat loss, and what I’m currently using, is 30% carbohydrates, 40% protein, and 30% fats. Based on your goals these percentages change but right now let’s stick with the 30% carbs and fats, and 40% protein. These percentages then give you exactly how many grams of each nutrient you require. This is great because it follows what is on nutrition labels. So for my example of 2200 calories, 30% or 165g comes from carbohydrates, 40% or 220g comes from protein, and 30% or 73g comes from fat. These numbers are crucial to abide by, and the ultimate key to success.
As mentioned before there is another option, “additional nutrient goals,” but it’s more in depth than we require so don’t be concerned with that!
Now, how do we know what to eat? Well it’s not as hard as people think.
With the app open, you’ll see on the bottom there is a “Diary” tab. This is where you’ll record all your food, all of it! There are sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I’ve customized mine to “Meal 1 – 6” and you can do the same, but for most, the default settings will do.
The food database in this app is unreal. Any food you will probably ever consume is in there and in the years I have used it I don’t think I have ever not found a food. If there is a time when you can’t find what you’re eating, there is a bar code scanner that will register the food. Awesome, I know. To add a food, simply click the add food button and type in what you’re eating. There will be many options that come up, so find the most accurate one, click on the amount you’re consuming, and BOOM you’re done!
As you can see, when I type in “chicken breast” the extensive database brings up numerous options.
Find the one that is closest to what you’re eating. Click on it.
Enter the amount you’re having (or are allowed to have) and hit the check mark in the upper left corner.
In my case, I would choose the 4th option, “chicken breast, skinless”.
Enter the amount I’m having and then I’m done!
Now that we know how to use the app, how do we know what to eat?
This is where some education is required. Not a lot, but some. We know that our total calories are broken down into 3 main nutrients, which are protein, carbs, and fats. So what we must understand is what foods consist of what nutrients.
All food labels tell you how much of each nutrient is in the food. This is very helpful in understanding what food consists of. For simplicity sake, I’ll give you a short list of what foods are predominately full of a certain nutrient.
Foods high in protein:
- Chicken, beef, fish, turkey, tuna, egg whites
Foods high in carbohydrates:
- Rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, potatoes, fruits, oats, whole grain cereal
Foods high in fats:
- butters and spreads, avocado, whole eggs, seeds and nuts, cheese
These foods should be the staple of your nutritional program due to their high nutrient content. I’m not by any means saying you can’t have other things, but these foods should be primarily what your calories come from.
Notice vegetables aren’t on the list. This is due to the fact that many vegetables have very low caloric content. Consuming a variety of vegetables including broccoli, asparagus, peppers, and kale for example, will not greatly affect your overall calories. Because of this, and the fact that they provide the body with a vast array of vitamins and minerals, load up! These foods not only taste great, but will help keep you full.
I know many of you are still wondering “well what exactly do I eat?” That is entirely up to you. Giving you a generalized diet plan is not beneficial. Eating the same thing every day is not beneficial. You’ll have to find what foods you enjoy eating and what works for you.
So lets go back to my example. My total calories are 2200, protein is 226g, carbs are 165g, and fats are 73g. Now all I have to do, every day, is get those numbers as close as possible through the food I consume. Where those numbers come from does not matter as much as people think. 30 grams of carbs from rice is no different than 30 grams of carbs from ice cream. The body doesn’t know the difference. What the difference is, for this example, is the fat and sugar content. If you have 30 grams of carbs left in the day, and no fat left to consume, then you would opt to have the rice instead of the ice cream. By having the rice you’ve now met your carbohydrate requirements for the day, without spilling over your fat requirements.
Now if you had some carbs left AND some fat left then you could enjoy some ice cream. What you have to make sure you do is only have the amount you’re able to. That is where this app comes in handy. If you type in “Reid’s chocolate ice cream” it’ll register exactly what you’re eating. If 1/2 cup of ice cream equals 30g of carbs and 10g of fat for example, and you have 30g of carbs and 10g of fat left, then you’re allowed to have 1/2 cup of ice cream. No more.
If you have 30g of carbs left but only 5g of fat, then you may only have as much ice cream that allows you to stay within those numbers. You’ll then have to find another carb source that doesn’t contain a lot of fat to help you finish off your carbs for the day. Whole grain bread for example.
It’s all about balance and quantity. You can have treats, they just need to fall into your nutrient goals for the day. Sometimes I want bacon, but bacon is “fatty” and not a “clean food”. To have bacon, I just need to make sure it falls into my protein and fat goals for the day.
Now there is some merit to what many describe as “clean foods.” Many of these foods are listed above and are high in nutrient content which is why they should be main-stays in your nutritional plan. These foods are usually high in one specific nutrient and low in the other two. Chicken for example is very high in protein but there is virtually no fat, and zero carbs. If I have 20g of protein left at the end of the day, but no carbs or fat left, then chicken would be a great choice.
It’s all about balance and staying true to what your body requires. If you follow the numbers, reaching your fitness goals is made much simpler. My Fitness Pal is a fantastic app that will help you follow those numbers to a T. The app keeps you conscious of what you’re putting into your body and teaches you what is in the foods you eat every day. Anybody can make a cookie-cutter diet plan, give it to you, and make all kinds of claims that you’ll lose weight or build muscle. The problem though is that everybody is different and we need to learn what works for us. Although it takes practice and some trial and error, using My Fitness Pal can help you learn what to eat to reach your goals, which soon you’ll learn is just about anything!