As I mentioned in my How-To: Track Your Macros post, you’re going to get a wealth of information about your macronutrient intake. But generally people are only going to put in that level of effort if they have a goal to achieve, in terms of physical performance and/or body composition. And the very best goals are S.M.A.R.T goals: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely/time-oriented. So, if you confer with your trusted health professional and decide that a realistic goal for you is to lose 10 lbs in 6 months, then you’ve covered off all of those attributes. But you won’t know whether you’ve achieved that goal unless you MEASURE – in this case, you have to step on that damn scale! You won’t know whether the actions you are taking (the input), such as eating a certain macronutrient ratio/target each day, are working as intended unless you look at the output. And progress is multi-faceted – so the more measurements you take, the more you can see progress and successes in areas you might have otherwise missed by focusing on one measurement exclusively (i.e. only ever looking at the unchanging number on the scale without realizing that you’ve lost several inches by decreasing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass and/or gotten noticeably stronger at back squats).
So, that’s my case for tracking progress. If you’re a believer, follow along!
What You Need – Tracking Progress
In alphabetical order (some or all of these will apply depending on your specific, PERSONAL S.M.A.R.T.goals):
- Digital bathroom scale
- Fat calipers
- Full-length mirror
- Measuring tape
- Test or target outfit
- Weigh-in outfit (or lack thereof – just be consistent!)
- Weigh-in day (I don’t advocate daily weigh-ins unless you can steel yourself for the mental roller coaster of seeing peaks and valleys over the course of a week OR if you are within 2-4 weeks of a fitness competition/show)
- Weigh-in time (consistency is key!)
- Workout log, including PR (personal records)
How-To: Track Your Progress
- If you can stomach it (pun intended!), taking a set of “Before” photos can be useful. Comparing future photos back to this set will help you to see changes that you might miss when you’re accustomed to seeing yourself in the mirror each and every day. If you’d really prefer NOT to capture your current state, that is understandable, relatable, and your prerogative too. Consider taking these photos in a certain key outfit that perhaps doesn’t fit the way you’d like it to – maybe your chest or biceps don’t fill it out the way you’d like. Maybe your belly bulges out more than you’d like. Maybe the pants pull too tightly (or not tightly enough) across your hips, butt or thighs.
- As soon as you begin the exercise to establish your “base case” intake level, take your “base case” measurements. Even if weight is not your primary concern, this is a good measurement to have (unless you have serious scale phobia/hang-ups – I can relate to those!) just to show you how it may change (or not) over time as you adjust your macronutrient intake to different levels. Same story for body fat levels – ideally, a trained and trusted professional will take these for you and you’ll want to ensure that any future measurements are taken by the same person using the same equipment so that if there is a margin of error, at least it should be the same margin of error each time. Whether your goal is to lose or increase % body fat (or neither) you won’t know what’s happening unless you measure it!
- Muscle/body part girth measurements in conjunction with records of how much weight (for how many reps) you are lifting for certain key exercises are also especially important if you have specific strength goals in mind (i.e. “I want to increase my bench press 1 rep max by 15% in 4 weeks.”). It’s also very interesting to see whether you can achieve strength gains WITHOUT corresponding increases in muscle volume – i.e. you can curl more with your biceps but your biceps’ circumference has actually stayed the same or decreased, meaning your muscle fibers have gotten denser/stronger without adding additional muscle fiber volume and/or you have removed some of the layer of body fat around the biceps – those fat caliper measurements from above will help tell the whole story!
- Every 2-4 weeks, take the same photos/measurements/records again and compare them to your previous set AND your starting point. Compare the results (the output) to the macronutrient intake records (the input) for the same time period. Celebrate progress toward your goals, including progress in areas outside of your main goal (i.e. if your goal was to lose 10 lbs and you’ve only lost 1 BUT you’ve lost 8″ from various measurements and/or you’re getting new PRs in the gym, those are awesome “non-scale” victories!). This can help motivate you to stay on track with your macro ratio/target OR give you impetus to make some (minor!) adjustments if you are not progressing as intended. But remember the lesson of the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race! It’s far better to lose 1 lb/week (or even 1 lb/month) for six months and KEEP the weight off than to lose 3 lbs/week for two months and then gain it all back (plus some more) immediately thereafter.
- And finally, don’t forget to How-To: Take A Break!
*As always, I am NOT a nutritionist or a dietitian. I encourage you to consult with your trusted health professional on any dietary advice or strategies that are unique to YOU as an individual, especially if you are dealing with food allergies or intolerances.
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