Nutrition Basics: Calorie Counting

Many diet articles give a quick overview. They include generalities about how much you should eat and the proper percentages of protein compared to fats in your diet. While that is excellent information, you also need to understand how to do these things. So, our goal for today is to go over the basics of figuring out the numbers for a diet.

Here is what you need to get started:

  • A notebook (or they make plenty of programs and apps but I go old school)
  • A pencil
  • A calculator
  • A calorie guide (more on that)

Your Diet Plan Basics

Hopefully you have idea on what your general caloric intake goal will be. If not there are some simple benchmarks you can start with. Ideally you can use the 15 Rule which is that on average a person burns their body weight x 15 calories in a day. For a 200 pound man that would be (200 x 15) 3000 calories. From that point you want to subtract about 300 to 400 calories for your basic goal to start with. You have to remember that by adding more exercise into your routine your body will be using more calories so cutting back too much at first would be a mistake.

For intake percentages you should aim for a nice 30/15/55 split with 30% being protein, 15% fats, and 55% carbohydrates.

The Calculations

You can start by writing down basic meals and snacks you plan on eating each day. Then from there you calculate the amount of calories as well as total grams of fats/carbs/protein those meals give you. Personally I like using the website It is a free site that is regularly maintained. You just type in the food type and it provides serving size information and nutritional information in a standard label.

So let’s look at an example of your meals that you added up (these are just figures for the example):

  • Breakfast – 500 calories 30g protein 50g carbs 10g fats
  • Snack – 300 calories 1g protein 22g carbs 1g fats
  • Lunch – 600 calories 22g protein 70g carbs 18g fats
  • Snack 200 calories 10g protein 20g carbs 2g fats
  • Dinner 900 calories 28g protein 60g carbs 17g fats
  • Totals: 2500 calories, 91g protein,222g carbs, 48g fats

You then add all the protein, carbs, and fat together to find the percentages (361 total grams). Based on our breakdown the percentages are 25% protein (91/361), 61% carbohydrates (222/361), and 13% fats (48/361). We do a quick math check of 25+61+13= 99 (not rounded).

So overall this was hypothetically close to our goal for a 200 pound man. Ideally we would adjust the carbs down just a hair and increase the protein to fall within our ideal range.

The Bottom Line

Now this does take some work and also some planning. When I first started I simply wrote down common and favorite foods into a spreadsheet so I could mix and match totals easily. Then I would plan out meals for days at a time to ensure I was hitting my goals. As time moved on and I became more familiar with the numbers it became second nature to adjust my daily intake on a meal by meal case.

But if you have a serious goal about losing weight in the least amount of time this level of detail will pay huge dividends. If you think not, then try a quick test. Guess how many calories you took in yesterday along with the percentage breakdowns. Then do the math. Find out how far off you are from the actual numbers (and count portions correctly!). You more than likely will be very surprised.

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