Losing Fat and Building Muscle at the Same Time.

Been counting calories for over 4 months in this photo as part of a body recomposition program.

Things I’ve been focusing on:

Getting over 100g of protein a day was hard at first. It took me a couple of weeks to get into the groove, but once I did, going from 100g to 175 was easy. Making sure that vegetables are the biggest portion on my plate is another biggie, there’s just no other way for me to keep calories in check otherwise. Other than that, it’s been good sleep, proper hydration, and multivitamins.

I try and stick to this stuff about 80% of the time. I eat junk once a week or so. This helps with adherence and makes it feel less like a diet.

There’s such a tiny margin of error on calories when building muscle and losing fat at the same time so I needed to count calories to make sure I was in a calorie deficit but not too much of a deficit.

Fitness trackers are just exorbitantly expensive random number generators on your wrist

I’ve been meticulously tracking calories in and out for almost 5 months at the time of writing this and I just realized that it’s practically impossible to accurately estimate how many calories you burn each day with a fitness tracker.

You can test this out yourself by going for a run and not telling your tracker that you are working out. The difference between the same run in workout mode and regular non-workout tracking is huge.

The discrepancy gets even bigger for other types of exercise, like going to the gym. The other day I discovered this workout mode glitch and the difference between an hour in the gym between modes was ~200 calories and ~650 calories.

That over a 300% difference.

So which one do I use now? Turn workout mode on or continue to not track gym sessions as a workout?

And this isn’t because I have some shitty tracker. Here’s a conversation about the exact same problem with an Apple Watch.


This calls into question the entire premise of using fitness trackers to estimate calories.

If a tracker can’t reliably estimate your basal metabolic rate (or Apple’s resting energy, whatever the fuck that means) and it also can’t workout how many calories you burn from activity, then it’s all bullshit.

This is a huge blow for me because I was really relying on those numbers to keep me going.

My makeshift solution is to keep my weekly exercise volume as consistent as possible and then just track calories in. If I lose weight, I’m in a calorie deficit, if I’m not losing weight lower intake calories by a few hundred and repeat.

Practical Calorie Counting

Honestly, I don’t think counting calories is that hard.

If you’re planning to lose a significant amount of fat or gain muscle then it’s going to be a long-term lifestyle change. You’ll be eating relatively high protein and moderate to low-calorie foods for 6 months to a year.

And there just aren’t that many options! Considering your location, budget, dietary restrictions, who you live with, and personal taste, you will end up with 8 to 12 dishes that you cook on a regular basis.

Working out the calorie content for these handful of dishes isn’t hard. Cook big batches when you can, track the ingredients that go in, measure the total weight at the end, and work out the numbers for one portion size.

A good scale is kind of essential for this process. Probably the biggest change in my life since starting this is using a scale to measure out ingredients and writing things down on a whiteboard in the kitchen. These types of scribbles are a permanent fixture in my kitchen now.

I should point out that weighing out every meal isn’t necessary once you get the hang of it. If you use the same serving spoons, you know the weight of one dollop, so you don’t need to weigh it every time.

ChatGPT has been great for the calculations. I tell it everything that went into a dish and give it the final weight. It works out the weight for a 30g protein portion and how many calories that is. Sometimes it gets things wrong, but rarely.

Eating out isn’t a big problem either. Mainly because snacks on the road end up being packaged foods and have calorie estimates on them. Every week or two, I’ll have a pizza or ice cream as a break.

For indulgences like this, I just aggressively overestimate the calories, like adding 20% over an average pizza or ice cream. Restaurants always use more oil than you’d expect. A 20% markup on your best guess at estimating the calories usually puts you in the right ballpark.

Some really useful things I’ve learned along the way are:

Using a WhatsApp Group to Get Fit

I went to Japan for the first time in my life. I put on a nice little roll of fat from the trip. The food, at every meal, was just incredible. I mean, even their 7-Elevens have great food.

This is me on the far right during my trip in Japan. I have a proper little belly on full display.

Once I got back home, I decided to get in shape. I had indulged, and it was time to balance things out. Just before leaving for Japan, a friend got in touch about a successful year-long physical transformation. He went from being soft around the edges to a visible six-pack. I asked him to walk me through the details of everything he did. Turns out he just took care of the fundamentals. Clean eating, working out every other day, and good sleep.

I’ve tried to get for a few times over the last few years. It always starts great. Lots of exercise, aggressive diet changes, loads of vegetables and protein, and then everything fizzles out a few weeks in. The exercise side of things I can handle, it’s the eating that gets me every time.

My friend proposed starting a WhatsApp group where we share photos of every meal we eat. There were no hard rules. He knows what eating clean looks like. He knows that I know what it means. So if I started posting junk, he’d give me some shit. If I’m eating lean proteins and lots of vegetables at each meal, I get a little positive reinforcement.

Here’s a grainy picture of me six weeks into our WhatsApp project. I signed up to a gym the day I got back home from Japan

The WhatsApp group has been surprisingly effective. I’ll get a little ping in my pocket every few hours with a picture of his meal. This keeps the project top of mind throughout the day. Just the act of posting a picture of my meal helps me make better food choices. Eventually, we started posting pictures of our grocery hauls each week. Gradually, a few other friends joined the group. The group became a helpful source of inspiration for new healthy things to plan and eat throughout the week.

Some of us would post progress pictures each week. Other times, someone would have a question about sleep or their exercise split, and the rest of us would help troubleshoot and figure out different ways to fix the problem.

This was me 13 weeks, and now I’m coming up to five months and am due for another progress photo soon.

I honestly didn’t expect a WhatsApp group to be so effective. It has turned out to be what’s holding everything together for me during this transformation. I’m enjoying this transformation, and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.