Why Calories Don’t Equal Macros On MyFitnessPal
Posted by Michael Vacanti
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.
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.
Consider this your warning.
We Selected 40 Random Foods From MFP
We Calculated The Average Calorie Difference
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.
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.
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.
A tiny big closer, but still not right.
And certainly not good enough for me on a calculation that should be automatic.
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?
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)
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?
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 🙂
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