I entered all my food into my nutrition tracking app for the day and it states I consumed 2,109 calories. However, when I enter the macros into my coaching spreadsheet there is a discrepancy. Not a large discrepancy, but the fact that the spreadsheet says I consumed 2,033 calories is annoying. Moreover, it happens every day. Why is this?
We covered this a few times in the past. Here is a video that Alberto did back in 2013 on YouTube. But, there are new athletes coming to our sport all the time though and it’s worth revisiting.
The problem does not lie in the spreadsheet (if the formula entered in the cell is correct), but rather the discrepancy lies in the calories listed on the food label. On food labels, the macronutrients are typically correct; however, the calories sometimes are not (or might not be what you expect). In the US, the FDA allows food manufactures to round the calories up or down based on specific criteria. In some cases, as much as ten calories. However, the coaching spreadsheet we use (and which is common practice among many) uses mathematical formulas to calculate calories from the macro nutrient content of your diet. Using my example above where my app said I ate 2,109 calories but my spreadsheet calculated 2,033, I can outline the discrepancy. The macronutrients I ended up with that day were 53g of fat, 182g of carbohydrate, and 207g of protein. There are 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrate, so added together, we get a grand total of 389 grams (of carbs and protein), which we multiply by 4 to get 1,556 calories.
Likewise, there are 9 calories per gram of fat. Thus, 53g of fat x 9 calories per gram is 477 calories. 1,556 calories from carbs and protein added to 477 calories from fat equals a grand total of 2,033 calories. Just like my spreadsheet said.
Now let us visit food labels. Below we have the label of a popular granola bar.
It is clearly marked as 160 calories. However, if you add the total grams of carbs and protein you get 100 calories, thenif you add the calories from fat, you get 63 for a total of 163 calories, 3 calories less than the listed 160 calories.
Now let’s look at the label on a carton of half and half.
1g of carbohydrate and 1g of protein is 8 calories. Add that to the 27 calories from the 3g of fat and you get a total of 35 calories and not 40. As you can see, if a lot of the foods you eat are rounded, by the end of the day you can have a large discrepancy.
Additionally, food labels differ between countries. Some countries determine the amount of carbohydrate in a food in different ways, and calculate the energy content from carbohydrates (and fiber) differently. This can sometimes impact the total calorie count such that the same food when sold in different countries might have a listed energy content that differs by as much as ~10% due to this, plus differences between countries in the government rules for rounding.
Now, here is the good news. The only athletes that might need to worry about this are prepping bodybuilders, and even that is debatable. This tends to be the (likely unnecessary) concern of the highly meticulous/borderline OCD. In the end, however, being consistent is what’s important, not any specific method of calculation. We track our nutrition so that we can make informed adjustments based on how our weight responds. So what our actual, exact energy intake is, is less important than ensuring we are tracking it the same way day-to-day so that our adjustments do what we intend them to do. This is why we just keep it simple in our spreadsheets, using the 4-4-9 macronutrient multipliers and encourage our athletes not to sweat the differences this produces compared to food labels and nutrition apps.