How do you accurately count calories?
April 22, 2004 10:12 AM   Subscribe

How do you accurately limit calories when exercising a whole lot? [more inside]

I really like the idea behind John Walker's The Hacker's Diet, especially the concept of a broken "eat watch," which in a normal* person, tells them when to stop eating, and in an abnormal person can be emulated by keeping track of calories and weight.

I can figure out, for example, that if I exercise moderately, I can eat, say 2500 calories a day and maintain my weight or lose a little. I have trouble, though, when several days a week I exercise long and hard and the other days I mostly rest. It would seem at first glance that I should simply calculate the calories burned (could easily be over a thousand) and add an equivalent amount of food that day, but it turns out I'm often hungrier on the non-exercising days.

So my question is: How and when do I compensate for the extra calories burned in a manner which won't leave me clawing the paint off the walls to get at some extra calories?

*by "normal" I mean someone who doesn't need to exert much willpower to stay slim. This may in fact be abnormal, but what are you gonna do?
posted by callmejay to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If, on your "resting" days, you are more hungry, your body might be telling you something. Are your exercise bouts weight training? If so, you're bound to be quite hungry on off-days and, in fact, probably ought to indulge it, to a point. Regardless, eating "too little" on days when you exercise hard could, potentially, screw up your metabolism, so if you're not at all hungry, add in some nuts or other nutritionally dense food to make up the gap without feeling like a heavy meal.

On the flip side, if you're *very* hungry on your "off" days and have already taken in your necessary calories, you are probably not eating the right things. Make sure you are eating enough fat. I'm not talking about bacon or Crisco, but you do need some dietary fat or else you will be hungry pretty much all the time (fish, nuts, a wee bit of olive oil are all good choices). A good high-bulk, moderate-calorie, very-filling snack is a few stalks of celery and a bit of peanut butter (a Tbsp or so). Or a green salad with a little olive oil. The calories in both come mostly from fat, which is filling, but still clock in at only 100 Kcal or so. Good choices to fight hunger for hours at a time.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:42 AM on April 22, 2004 is an excellent resource for tracking intake vs. output. ( also counts nutritional facts, which is great ).

Think of excercise as a bonus calorie burning excercise. Don't eat more on days you do, or less on days you don't, keep it constant, healthy, balanced diet 7 days per week. Depending on your age, height, and level of exercise you can calculate your BasalMetabolicRate ( BMR ), which is a great guide for how many calories you should eat during maintenence periods ( wanting to stay current weight/build ).

Your body will compensate for the extra calories burned by shedding fat (3500 cals - 1lb fat ).
posted by remlapm at 10:48 AM on April 22, 2004

Response by poster: I've used fitday, and I'm a little skeptical about their calorie amounts. Do I really burn 1800 calories playing 2 hours of basketball? Does that mean I can EAT an extra 1800 calories? Maybe if I were in the NBA.
posted by callmejay at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2004

I would suggest minimizing your exercise while you diet. In addition to the difficulty you mentioned, if you're doing any substantial exercise, you will gain muscle, which will throw off your weight loss numbers and make it difficult to measure your progress. In addition, regular exercise will presumably cause your metabolism to shift over time, making it hard to estimate your daily caloric needs using past data. (I could be wrong about that). Maybe this is just my personality, but I'd prefer to fix one problem at a time and be sure that I did it right.
posted by gd779 at 11:37 AM on April 22, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, gd779, but my goal isn't to lose weight per se, it's to lose fat. You're right that it would be simpler to analyze, but I think it'd be throwing out the baby (better health, less fat, more muscle, higher metabolism) with the bathwater (more complicated.)

Maybe that's why I have trouble though.

remlampm, I did just go through a month's data on fitday from last year and it turns out that it has me burning just slightly (<100) more calories per day although I was losing a pound a week. So maybe their system (or their system + me) actually underestimates calories burned. Maybe I'll go back to it.
posted by callmejay at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2004

I've only been taking it a few days, but so far I've found the supplement 5HTP to be fairly dramatically effective in keeping the gnawing hunger at bay. Yesterday I wasn't at all hungry for breakfast, and wasn't hungry for lunch until nearly 2 PM. Try it on the days you're not working out, maybe, or just in general.
posted by kindall at 12:08 PM on April 22, 2004

Well, fitday is more of a guide, and it makes you watch what you eat.

If you are at your ideal weight and you just want to lose fat, something similar to the Atkins/South Beach is what you need.

I'm currently 1t about 12% BF, but I am trying to get that under 10% for the summer so my muscles will show a bit( no sense working them if nobody can see them, right ? ). Weightlifters have been doing this for decades, it's called cutting ( or stripping ), and is a high protein/low carb diet. Carbs & sugars convert to fat much faster than proteins.

I wouldn't advise this unless you are at your ideal weight/muscle mass, and just want your definition to pop a bit more.
posted by remlapm at 12:35 PM on April 22, 2004

Response by poster: No, I've got plenty of bf (probably 30% +) I just happen to be very active as well.
posted by callmejay at 12:45 PM on April 22, 2004

Hey CMJ: as far as I can tell, the real tool in the hacker's diet is the floating average used w/ scales. I'd say this: give your self 2 weeks to figure it out, use the scale and a calorie counter (Fitday, OK, Nutridiary is what I use) and exercise estimator. Apply the extra calories from your exercise to the days when you're most hungry (maybe minus a couple hundred). Weight daily, use the floating average, correct after 10 days or so and keep your eye on it.

If your concern is that you can't accurately gauge how much fat you're loosing cause your weight isn't changing, consider getting some Skinfold calipers and a tattoo (it's best to have a friend help out with these, actually). Or a body fat scale, but I think those are trickier -- too many variables have to be exactly right on for correct measurement.
posted by daver at 3:28 PM on April 22, 2004

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