Why Calories Don’t Equal Macros On MyFitnessPal

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Tell me if this has ever happened to you:

  • log your macros on myfitnesspal
  • hit protein, carbs, and fat perfectly (boom)
  • realize your calories are way off!

You are not alone.

MyFitnessPal seems to arbitrarily assign calories to foods.

Which means you can hit your macros perfectly but see inaccurate calories.

And I don’t know about you….

But when I hit my macros, I want my calories on point!

 

These errant calories are not the result of user-uploaded foods, which often contain incorrect data.

Rather, they are errors are present in “MFP Verified” food choices.

MFP Verified baby, and you don’t even have to be famous.

 

Isn’t This Just Rounding Error?

I thought so too.

But unlike food labels, MFP is precise with their listed calories.

Look at the photo above; we see numbers like 83 and 52.

These are not rounding errors!

 

What’s Going On Then?

I’m not sure, so it is time to do some research.

Note: MyFitnessPal sold to Under Armour for $475 million dollars, which leads me to believe they have some behind-the-scenes intellect. So, we are going to dig deep.

Math incoming.

Consider this your warning.

 

We Selected 40 Random Foods From MFP

 

We Calculated The Average Calorie Difference

MFP Calories versus Energy Calculated from P/C/F

There is a 6% difference between MFP-listed calories and actual calories.

While that may seem like a small error, remember that we are dealing with an elementary calculation being performed by a multi-million dollar company that consistently tries to upsell us to their paid premium version for features as basic as training and rest day splits.

Hey, MFP, here’s a thought: maybe you should make your free version serviceable before you try to take my money.

6% is a lot.

6% means a 250-300 calorie difference when I’m bulking.

Pictured: Me, bulking.

It’s unacceptable.

When I nail my macros, I want to see that calorie number on point.

But before we write MFP off as completely incompetent, let’s see if there is a method to the madness.

THEORY #1: MFP ADJUSTS FOR THERMIC EFFECT OF FOOD

We burn calories via digestion; this is called the thermic effect of food.

The most calories are burned when we eat protein (20-35% of the calories we consume), second most when we eat carbohydrates (5-15%), and the fewest when we eat fats (0-5%).

These MFP geniuses are getting ahead of themselves! They are accounting for TEF! This has to be it!

We will take the average TEF rate (27.5%, 10%, and 2.5%, respectively) and recalculate the calories in our 40 randomly selected foods.

Normal Human Language: We are going to reduce the number of calories that we expect to burn through digestion. 

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.42.25 AM

Clearly this made things worse.

8% is an even bigger variance.

Back to the drawing board.

 

THEORY #2: ADJUST FOR PARTIAL ABSORPTION OF FIBER

Fiber is only partially digested by the human body.

And, while it is difficult to pinpoint an exact energy yield in calories per gram (this depends on many factors including fiber type), I suspect MFP might be adjusting for fiber in their calorie calculations.

So, we shall reduce fiber from total carbohydrates and calculate at 2 calories per gram (rather than 4).

Normal Human Language: Fiber has fewer calories than other carbs. So let’s do what we gotta do with the mathz. 

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.47.33 AM

A tiny big closer, but still not right.

And certainly not good enough for me on a calculation that should be automatic.

Hmm…

 

THEORY #3: WHAT IF TH-……

WAIT A SECOND!

Why am I bashing my face into excel drumming up a third theory?

One that involves the cosine of protein, the tangent of alcohol, and Pythagoras’ beautiful theorem applied directly to the nine essential amino acids. The quadratic was next, because you can believe it’s branded in my memory, taking up valuable real estate. Why did we need to memorize it anyway? In case we all become mathematicians then all lose our calculators at the exact same time?

Anyway.

Instead of turning my brain to mush, I decided to just create a tracking app that solves these problems.

 

On The Regimen

A Better Macro Tracking App (free)

 

You can download it here (it’s free).

Sadly, it’s iPhone only.

But, I did publish this for my Android friends while you guys patiently wait for your version!

Oh yeah… MFP calories.

I have no clue what the hell they are doing.

All I know is that when I am trying to hit: 250p / 625c / 60f / 3940 calories, I sure as hell don’t want to have a perfect day and see 3700 staring back at me. Mocking me. Calling me a failure.

Seriously, give the app a try: Download Here.

 

Does It Really Matter That Calories Are Wrong?

Great question.

No, not really.

If you are close on your macros, it doesn’t matter what your calories are (because calories are a function of macronutrients and will end up where they should be).

So you can track your macros, be consistent, ignore calories, and make amazing progress.

However, it would be nice for all the numbers to line up! Because surely, if you made it through this blog post, you are type-A out of your mind, and you want those numbers to line up 🙂

 

NOTES

Wow. I can’t believe you’re reading this. You love excel as much as I do. Okay. Let’s begin.

A: We are taking the absolute value of the difference because we certainly aren’t letting MFP’s errors offset each other. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Two missed workouts doesn’t get you abs. Ya know? Under that logic… if you just kept skipping training and kept eating Krispy Kreme forever, you would look like Arnold.

B: F = Fat. Fi = Fiber. Yes, the equation is right.

C: I just used tickmarks in a fitness blog post. I take back every bad thing I ever said about accounting. Can we all just friends again?

D: Ha! Kidding, obviously! The boats have been burned!

 

Free Macros App Here: On The Regimen

Click image to download!

 



Comments for This Entry

  • Christy G

    So I make most everything from scratch....I want to make it easy to calculate everything on the spot, not search my ass off to find out how many P, F, C are in everything. That is what I need on your app to make it useful to me. Once that happens I'm totally digging your app!!! AND YOUR OCD ;-)

    November 11, 2015 at 1:21 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Romeo

    Great article motivator.

    November 11, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jay

    are you going to add alcohol tracking to the next version or pretend we don't drink ;)

    November 11, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • AnaMarie

    I'm switching to iPhone soon, thanks for taking the time to make it happen :) Looking forward to it!

    November 11, 2015 at 4:47 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mallory

    Hi - I've been using the macros on your app but was wondering why don't you account for exercise? The macros I get seem to be much lower because I choose sedentary (I work in an office) - however, I work out 4-5x a week (strength, circuits, HIIT) so should I choose moderately active in that case? Thank you

    November 15, 2015 at 9:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • Houston

    Thanks for the free app, it was good to see another macro breakdown to compare to what I traditionally use. The protein is much lower than I'm used to (only 204g for 185 lbs) so that was good. It can be tough to get 300+ in one day. I've been trying to work all this in with fasting as well so I think it's going well. Since I workout early in the morning I've started taking 10g BCAA's during/after workout until I start eating around noon. Going well so far...we'll see. I was eating around the clock since I want to gain mass but I missed the fasting.

    November 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Christian Finn

    If you use the Atwater general factors (carbohydrates, fats and proteins contain 4, 9, and 4 calories per gram respectively) then the number for total calorie intake that you come up with is not going to be exactly the same as the number My Fitness Pal gives you. That's because the Atwater general factors have been rounded up to the whole numbers. For example, after digestibility is taken into account, the protein in meat has an energy yield of 4.27 calories per gram, while in fruit it's only 3.36 calories per gram. The fat in meat and eggs has an energy yield of 9.03 calories per gram, compared with 8.37 calories per gram in vegetables. And the carbohydrate in animal food gives an energy yield of 3.82 calories per gram, compared with 4.11 calories per gram in cereal.

    November 28, 2015 at 4:15 am | Reply to this comment

  • Joe

    It's not just the consumed calories - MFP is monkeying around with the burned calories form various fitness devices! God forbid if you have a wareable & you cycle - I'm in an argument with them now. Very Inconsistent data readings - huge problem! We work our a$$ of trying to lose weight, live and eat better, and think that we are following a good plan based on the data we enter into MFP - but can the data that MFP is getting form out fitness tracking devices be trusted? I say no! I stared with the Fitbit Surge - and found that on a regular basis it would NOT record the Calories Burned - this was sporadic at best - but even if the FB app showed data - MFP did not? Last week I moved to a Apple Watch - and I am seeing even more data problems. After O got everything setup it and it started tracking Steps - I was seeing different reading between the iPad and the iPhone - and after a conversation with Tech support - I am being told that this is the way the app(s) work? Excuse me, did I walk 471 steps or 1,029? Supports Response: "I checked in with my Tech Team and it appears this is current expected behavior with the Apple Watch integration. Your data will sync correctly with the iPhone app, but the iPad app all show different numbers." Seriously? And now - yet another bug in the system of MFP: While it seems that the Apple Watch is sending data as I can see the Step Count, I know it’s connected – but I went for a Bike Ride and MFP pulled my information from Garmin Connect correctly, MFP is ignoring the data from my Apple Watch for the rest of the day (before/after the ride)? The Apple Activity & Health app are showing 1,277 calories burned on the 5th. So logic would dictate that if a total of 1,277 was burned and 1,160 of those are form the Ride (per GC) – that would leave 117 for the rest of the days activities? It's not much, but it's the fact that MFP is ignoring that data? I'm posting here - because support is slow to respond and responds with ambiguous answers?

    December 7, 2015 at 4:00 pm | Reply to this comment

  • MG

    Hi MIke, great article again. Thank you for adding a link to calculate calories and macros for non-iphone users. Although, I just tried to calculate my calorie and macros intake and since I am fairly short, 4 ft 9in the calories for increasing fat % went as low as 900 on non-training days. I am not expert but I think those are too low for anybody. Somebody who has just started to look into fitness stuff this may be very very misleading. I thought I should comment and let you know.

    December 21, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Alexandra

    WOW thank you so so SO much for posting this information! I literally set up my Fitbit and MFP together earlier tonight and reading about this made absolute sense to me because I also noticed that MFP wasn't taking in the calories I burned from Fitbit, though I'm not sure how accurate the calorie counting on it is. I did a lot more intense cardio work instead of walking today, so I barely walked 3,000 steps (I was also stuck in the house all day, and I cleaned lol) but according to Fitbit I burned 1,850 calories in just those steps, and according to the calorie intake I need to help me loose weight with the info I put in on MFP, that's only 20 more calories than I need to make my intake goal! You think that's why MFP isn't counting those calories? Either way, I feel cheated MFP isn't counting my steps for me. I've had my Fitbit for over a year and I still love it, and I primarily use it to count my steps anyway. But I will definitely be downloading your app, Mike. A nutritionist I've been faithfully following and reading her books is currently on a macro-meal challenge and it got me interested in what macro nutrients were and your site was one of the first to pop up! I can't wait to see how much of a difference your app can do for me :)

    December 30, 2015 at 10:39 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Blaise Main

    Just started looking into your work via GaryVee. I've worked with a lot of different trainers and haven't found one that fit me well. I'm loving everything I've seen so far. What are your rates for nutrition/workout plans? Keep up the hustle!

    January 13, 2016 at 10:22 am | Reply to this comment

  • Megan

    Love the app's design! Quick question: when you choose fat loss as your goal, how many calories of deficit does that result in?

    January 24, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kyle

    Hey Mike! I found you through Gary on snapchat and have been following since he first said your name. Finally got around to checking out your website loving the articles and I can't wait for the new you posted on snapchat today!

    February 2, 2016 at 10:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Peter

    This was annoying me for a long time ! It's because some company's / food labels count fibre as 2 cals per gram and some don't count it at all I believe

    April 18, 2016 at 3:34 am | Reply to this comment

  • Laura

    I'm new to this, so how do I find out the real value of protein, carbs, and fat? I can't count on mfp to tell me these things correctly, so where do I find accurate information? I'm sorry if that's a dumb question. It may seem obvious to everyone. Thanks!!

    May 3, 2016 at 11:06 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jaryn Saritzky

    Love your app and blog! Any chance a future update of your app will include a recipe option (i.e. I can input the ingredients for a large recipe and divide by 12 servings and then track 1 serving)?

    May 24, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • john

    hey man is there a release date on the android version ?

    May 26, 2016 at 11:59 am | Reply to this comment

  • Laura

    If the calories are off in MFP, is it safe to assume that the macro calculations are correct? Because yeah, seeing my numbers off on calories won't matter that much if I see that I hit my macros, but what if that's wrong as well?

    October 8, 2016 at 12:39 am | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      The truth is I don't know -- but, I don't trust user uploaded foods as being accurate. There have been cases (doing research for my Sushi blog post!) when I noticed very obvious errors in MFP macros (zero grams of fat in a fried food, for example). So... I would say it's not safe to assume the macros are correct based on my experience :/

      January 4, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Maria

    ...As well as all the above, I found that when I recorded my weight the previous days weight would mysteriously change to the weight of the day before (hope that makes sense). This made the entire app useless to me as I particularly need to see which foods cause a reaction such as water retention and if the reports are inaccurate it's all just a waste of time. I did report it and their tech dept led me a merry dance for a couple of days, til I realised they were just taking the mick and so I waved goodbye with two fingers and shifted to another app.

    May 13, 2017 at 9:22 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mike

    "All I know is that when I am trying to hit: 250p / 625c / 60f / 3940 calorie" Doesn't that equal 4040?

    May 13, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Bridget Brink

    So if mfp is saying I ate 1800 calories and I'm literally adding up every calorie that goes into my mouth, but then when I calculate by doing 4x9x4 with my ending total macros it tells me more the 2000 range. Am I actually eating 1800 or 2000 calories a day? I'm looking to slowwwwwwly gain, and that extra 2-300 discrepancy is a lot and I don't want to bulk up that quickly!

    August 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Arthur Roldão

    Hey man! Nice to finally see someone with the same issue as me and that actually got to do something for people! Your app is really good, please keep updating it (especially the database) and perhaps add barcode scanner to it. There are some small bugs I’m facing with it though, so where can I report them? Thanks a lot!

    September 29, 2017 at 9:34 pm | Reply to this comment

  • andy

    Howdies, thanks for the app (hopefully I figure out how to do meals in there so I don't have to keep adding stuff over and over). Quick question that's always bothered me... I love chicken, but I can never get a clear answer as to what weight to go by. I do my chicken in a pressure cooker, whole load for the week. No additives and no flavorings, not interested in the time/effort/etc. However, after the chicken cooled enough, I break it up into large chucks (say a breast into 3 pieces) and squeeze the bejeezus out of them to get all the water out that I can. This serves two purposes (to me); I prefer dry(er) meat, and less water = longer shelf life in the fridge. That being said, a 'sqeezed' chicken breast weights less than a pressure cooked one, which weight less than a raw one. What weight do I go by?? I'm pretty sure the protein content is the same in the end, I'm just not sure how to adjust when entering data for how many grams of chicken I'm eating.... TIA

    February 2, 2018 at 10:15 am | Reply to this comment

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