T Nation

Should Beginners Count Calories?

Just curious as to your thoughts.

Should a beginner could calories from the beginning? Or worry about macronutrient ratios?

OR should a beginner focus on making better food choices first, work on getting a lean protein at every meal and getting meal timing/frequency down?

We’ve all fallen prey to analysis paralysis at some point, but maybe that can be avoided with diet. Maybe by focusing on making correct choices first, a newbie can avoid the analysis paralysis that comes with trying to design “THE PERFECT!” diet/meal plan.


I’ll post my response in another post later tonight.

I think you should but not to the point of obsessing. Use the 90/10 and you should be fine. How many calories is obviously different for everybody. But yeah you should have a ballpark figure on what you are feeding your body.

A good idea for beginners might be to log everything, EVERYTHING, they take in for a week or so, to get an idea of what they are taking in and where there is room for improvement. Heck, I think it’s a good idea for anyone from time to time. That way they can realize that they had 4 candy bars throughout the week that added up to 800 extra calories, or they drank a bottle of soda every other day at 250 cal. per. Your option of focusing on taking in protein at every meal is a good way to start also. When I first started out I considered spaghetti and red sauce a decent meal, or macaroni & cheese or pizza. Things with all carbs and no protein need to be cut out.

Absolutely! It’s a drag to do and doing it for a few weeks is basically all that is needed to learn the caloric values of foods.

Do it at the beginning while the enthusiasm is high and you don’t realize that is sucks.

Okay, I agreed that it’s good to do for a few weeks to get a sense of what foods are worth calorie wise. And you can also feel out a new nutrition plan and adjust as necessary.

That said, I wish I would not have focused on counting calories when I first started dialing in my diet. I do wish, however, that I would have focused more on making correct food choices and planning out meal frequency. Since having done that, I’ve settled more comfortably into a nutrition plan I can sustain indefinitely and I’m heading in the right direction as far as strength/size goals.

One thing I do have to say, especially for those former fatty’s out there, is that it’s nice to not count calories. Basically because you can’t get freaked out by how much you’re consuming! I recently counted up my calories on fitday for an average day of eating for me and was astounded to find it around 3500-4000 daily! I would not have planned that for myself as I would have been freaked out by the high calories. The best part is that the diet is facilitating a good gain in strength (Primary goal) and size (secondary) along with some good body composition shifts.

I guess more what I’m trying to say for those people who’re totally new to this game, it might be a good idea to start with making healthier choices first, then dial in from there.

Sort of like the advice we give everyone to start with Berardi’s seven habits article and work from there. Sort of like the keep it simple advice we try to apply to beginner weight training programs as well.

I would say that everyone just starting out is going to want to familiarize themselves with food labels. Know how to read ingredients, protein content, sugar content, fiber content, and anything else important.

But beyond that, most people should probably just develop reasonable eating habits over time, and they simply need to cope with eating a bit more with each new level gained in bodyweight.

For someone like me (a naturally very skinny person with zero appetite), counting calories was the only way to get the ball rolling as a beginner.

I absolutely 100% think it is a mistake for any beginner to do anything as complicated and boring as counting their “macronutrient breakdowns”, and trying to achieve some arbitrary perfect balance. If you need to count anything, first priority is calories… then I would say drinking enough water and taking in a good amount of protein would be of second concern (if they are a problem at all in the first place).

Then maybe if all of that is good to go, scale back your sugar and trans fat intake as much as you can, get a greater amount of fiber with your meals (kill two birds with one stone, eat vegetables to get fiber and essential vitamins and minerals).

THEN, even if ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE IN PLACE, I still do not believe any beginner should try to count up their macronutrient ratios. Give me a break with that shit.

[quote]mr popular wrote:

THEN, even if ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE IN PLACE, I still do not believe any beginner should try to count up their macronutrient ratios. Give me a break with that shit.[/quote]

I agree. I’ve never really done that. Hell, I get confused when I try to work a diet up that hits target numbers (in grams) of the macros. I remember trying to figure out a carb cycling diet from CTs article. Couldn’t do it.

Now I just stick to meat and veggies/fruits. No starchy carbs except at cheat meals.


Why not? Does it take too long? Does it make you concerned about what you’re eating?

Mostly, I use it as a record so I can judge results from it. It’s reasonable to assume that if I’m dropping a pound a week at 2500 kcal/day, I’ll drop two pounds a week at 2000 kcal… and die if I take it any lower than that.