4 Ways a Calorie Tracker Can Help You (and Not Just for Weight Loss)

diet trackerYou might be surprised how useful calorie tracking software can be for goals other than weight loss. Check out these reasons to use MyFitnessPal (my personal favorite) or another tool such as Lose It!.

1.  You Want to Build Muscle

As a small-boned person who has to work extra hard to put on muscle, I’m interested in whether I’m eating enough. I track my food intake once every five or six months for one week (that’s as long as my attention span will cooperate). If you’re lifting heavy weights, you need a bit more than your maintenance calorie intake.

Finessing Calories

How do you find your maintenance calorie intake, that magic number that allows you to stay at your current weight? You can use an online calculator, but you have to understand that this is only a rough estimate. For example, my maintenance intake according to your garden-variety calculator is around 1,700 kcals. However, I know from using MyFitnessPal that I can easily maintain my weight at 2,000 to 2,100 kcals per day. This is because I’m active and my metabolism is very high.

If you’ve been maintaining your current weight for awhile, tracking calories will tell you what your maintenance calorie intake is. From that point you can try conservatively adding 250 kcals per day. If, after a few weeks, your body fat is increasing or you feel you’re gaining weight, you can decrease your calories.

The Protein Puzzle

It’s been drilled into our heads that we need fast-absorbing protein after every strength workout, so we do as we’re told and slug a shake. Bodybuilders and very active people do need more protein than the average person. Are you a bodybuilder or athlete or simply someone trying to build more lean muscle mass? This is an important distinction.

Some experts believe everyone gets too much protein; others believe we can never get enough. I get the need for protein within a short time after a strength workout. Does it need to be protein powder? Or can it be a turkey sandwich? I don’t think it’s very clear. You should know that there are a lot of opinions and data about this, but most significantly what’s “best” changes constantly (see this for another view).

Protein powders are expensive and can include a lot of artificial sweeteners, additives, and preservatives. My point is that it’s worthwhile to question what we blindly dump into our bodies – do you really need that shake every day or would solid, natural food suffice?

I’ve been considering dropping powder from my diet permanently after I ran out (that will have to be another post). So I decided to use my handy diet tracker (MyFitnessPal) to shed light on whether I was reaching my daily protein goal. As it turns out, I’m getting more than enough without the powder.

In a position statement, the ADA, DOC and ACSM recommended 1.2 to 1.4g/kg body weight for endurance athletes, and 1.6 to 1.7g/kg body weight for strength-trained athletes. The report adds: “These recommended protein intakes can generally be met through diet alone, without the use of protein or amino acid supplement.” [1] Are most of us endurance or strength athletes? I think not. Check out your protein needs and then try tracking your own intake. You may be surprised.

You should also check your protein levels if you’re trying to lose weight.

2.  You’re Experiencing Digestive Issues

When I stopped using protein powder, I basically lost a pound of water. That the uncomfortable, ongoing bloating disappeared after only a few days (I had attributed it to creatine). This was a major win for me, yet I still experienced some bloating on and off. I wanted to find out if it was grains or dairy that might be contributing.

I used the notes section of MyFitnessPal to record any symptoms of bloating, and sure enough after a few days I realized dairy was the culprit. Now I take a lactose supplement with dairy and the problems have abated.

Tracking nutrients3.  You’re Curious about Missing Nutrients

Perhaps you’re like I was and you happily assume you’re getting enough vitamins, minerals, and calcium every day. After all, you eat your fruits and vegetables and take a multivitamin. But when I tracked my food I was horrified to learn that I wasn’t getting enough vitamin A, calcium, iron, and potassium. Sure, I take supplements, but I would rather get these nutrients from food, particularly calcium.

Tracking my diet showed me what was lacking in my diet. I did some research on the missing nutrients and made a list of foods to eat more of. And with osteopenia showing up in my Dexa scan the last few years, I see this as critical to my health.

You can also track your water intake using MyFitnessPal. Most people do not get enough water and this can affect your energy levels quite significantly.

4.  You Want to Lose or Gain Weight

Some of my clients love calorie tracking and could do it indefinitely; others hate it and can’t follow through more than a few days. If you can do it for seven consecutive days, the information about what you’re consuming will be invaluable.

Most people do not know how many calories they consume – and it’s common to underestimate. Having that awareness about the calorie content of what you’re eating can help you break through a weight loss plateau. And if you need to cut out 500 kcals per day to lose one pound a week, how can you do that if you don’t know how many calories foods have? You also need to be aware that if you hit a weight lose plateau, you may not be eating enough. You need to at least hit your basal metabolic rate and hold on to your lean muscle mass when reducing calories.

You’ll want to take a look at your carbs and fat percentages, too. A good way to gain weight is by increasing healthy fats; losing weight sometimes involves cutting carbs. MyFitnessPal mobile allows you to see your macronutrient percentages by going to the Home screen, tapping the Daily or Weekly tab, and tapping the pie chart icon in the top-right corner. Recommended daily percentages (via the National Academy of Sports Medicine) are:

Protein   10 – 35%
Carbohydrate   45 – 65%
Fat   20 – 35%


Do YOU use a diet tracker? Which tool do you use?

20 thoughts on “4 Ways a Calorie Tracker Can Help You (and Not Just for Weight Loss)

  1. I use LoseIt! Primarily because it has all my data stuff (the foods I eat all the time). Also, MyFitnessPal cheers you when you eat under your calories and feels sorry for you when you eat over.

    My main reason for tracking food now is to make sure I’m eating enough calories (I’m often not.) Years of “eating 1200 calories a day” and not losing weight has destroyed my metabolism and I’m desperately trying to get those numbers higher so my body lets go of some fat. It’s hard. (It would be easier if I could drink milk, but I’m allergic)…. Add my weight training and the need to know that I’m getting enough calories becomes doubly important! I can lose 20# on a lift day if I’ve under consumed.


    • I’m glad you solved that frustrating problem! This is an excellent point about not eating enough and plateauing. I may just have to update my post to reflect it. Oh, and you can track your exercise too, another good point.


  2. I use MFP and wear a Body Media armband. I got the armband to help me loose the last 10 pounds. I got down to within 10 pounds of my goal weight and was happy with how I felt and looked. After three years of maintenance, I wanted to see that number. My eye opener is that I’m eating about 500 more calories than I was in my original weight loss mode and have lost 7 pounds. Knowledge is power.


  3. Always GREAT posts!!! I don’t track any more but after years of this, I have a good feel of what is going in the bod. If I add new things, I always calculate out the stats first so I don’t get this age hormoned body even more messed up! 😉 I do think tracking is important for many & if people are not losing OR maintaining, tracking is the way to figure out why! 🙂 People don’t want to bother OR are afraid of what it will say BUT it will tell you the truth if you put in the truth. 🙂

    I use protein powders but as an add… I like to add them & especially flavors to different things. I did a lot of protein shakes when I was younger so not really that much now but I do use powder for other things in addition to my food…. we are all individual & do what is good for us. I am glad you figured out what works for you! 🙂


    • You’re right that it’s individual, Jody. I have clients who will not track calories. Some can’t get motivated and others are philosophically opposed. It actually doesn’t work well for everyone… people who need to lose a lot of weight benefit from other strategies at first sometimes, such as portion control or a very structured diet like Weight Watchers. For others it’s exactly what they needed to start losing weight.


  4. I have been on MFP for over a year. It has helped me get a handle on what I am eating. However, I can never seem to get enough protein. I have come very close a few times but I am usually way under. I don’t like the idea of pricey supplements 1- because I can not afford to buy them every month, 2 I will forget to take them and 3 I do not like taking things that are not natural.
    I recently realized I might have a sensitivity to dairy so I am cutting that all out and I feel better. But doing that has cut out more protein options like my daily greek yogurt snack and eating cheese.
    Should I try protein shakes? I am open to any suggestions you can offer.


      • Wow, is that a timely question or what?! Yes, I just wrote a post about protein powder. if you aim to get lean protein (meat, nuts, beans) at every meal, you should have no problem getting enough protein (you could try Lactaid before eating dairy, what I do). Some people enjoy a (pasteurized) raw egg shake after workouts (hmm). Have you seen my post about clean-eating snacks, which lists quite a few protein sources? I’m with you about the powder, obviously, for the same reasons. I’m going to write a post soon about how to do this, but in the meantime check this out (https://workoutnirvana.com/clean-eating-snacks-for-all-day-energy/).


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