How Frequently do I Need to Log my Nutrition For the Expenditure Algorithm and Weekly Coaching Updates?

Short answer: BASICALLY every day. This article explains why.

Short answer: at least six times per week, but ideally every day

Longer answer: MacroFactor’s algorithms calculate your expenditure based on your weight trend and logged nutrition intake. Coaching updates are downstream of expenditure changes.

In essence, MacroFactor needs to know the way in which your energy intake is influencing your weight. If you keep logging your weight, but you don’t log your food frequently enough, MacroFactor knows how your weight is changing, but it doesn’t know about the energy intake that’s causing the observed change in weight. So, your expenditure calculation will pause (its status will change from “updating” to “holding”) until you start logging your nutrition consistently enough again.

If you’ve read the companion article about how frequently you need to log your weight, you might be wondering why you need to log your nutrition (basically) every day, but you only need to log your weight at least once per week. The answer is simple: we can reasonably estimate missing weight data (using linear interpolation), and those estimates will be close enough to reality for the expenditure algorithm to perform well. However, the same can’t be said for missing nutrition data.

In other words, if you weighed 170 pounds two days ago, and 172 pounds today, assuming that you weighed 171 pounds yesterday will always be “close enough” to reality. Due to normal day-to-day fluctuations in weight, you may have been 174 pounds or 169.2 pounds, but an estimate of 171 won’t be that far off, because weight fluctuations are inherently constrained. Nutrition data doesn’t have that same property. Your body weight may fluctuate by 2-4% day to day, but your daily energy intake can easily vary over a much wider range. Furthermore, the weights you log before and after a span of missing data are informative about the plausible range of weight values during the span of missing data – if you weighed 170 pounds on Friday and 170 pounds on Monday, you probably didn’t weigh 230 pounds on Saturday and Sunday. The same can’t be said for nutrition data. Using the same example, you may have eaten 2000 calories on Friday and Monday, but 4000 calories on Saturday due to a night out with friends, and 3500 calories on Sunday due to brunch or a family get-together. 

Since there’s not a good way to mathematically estimate your energy intake on days you don’t log your nutrition, you need to consistently log your nutrition nearly every day for MacroFactor to provide you with a continuous running expenditure estimate and consistently appropriate week-to-week coaching adjustments. Logging every day is ideal, and your expenditure calculation will pause when there are at least two missing days of nutrition data in any seven-day period.

Of note, if your expenditure estimate pauses, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you don’t log your nutrition intake for a while, it’s unlikely that your body’s energy expenditure will have radically changed during the stretch of time you weren’t consistently logging your nutrition. So, pausing updates ensures that when you do start logging consistently again, MacroFactor’s estimate of your energy needs will still be fairly close to reality. Continuous updates in the absence of data that’s consistent enough for accurate updates would just increase the error of your expenditure calculation and coaching updates, with no meaningful upside.

If logging your nutrition sometimes feels onerous, but you don’t want your expenditure calculation to pause, we’d generally recommend simply estimating your energy intake for a day (or even just a meal) that would be difficult to log accurately. For example, if you go to a family barbecue, and you don’t know the precise nutrition information for all of the dishes your family members bring, that’s totally fine! After logging your food for a while, you should have a rough idea of the energy content of most meals. If your gut tells you that you ate about 1500 calories, just quick-add 1500 calories and move on. Alternately, you can roughly describe the foods and portion sizes you consumed using AI describe. Either option will be totally sufficient for the purposes of MacroFactor’s algorithms.

To illustrate, let’s assume you accurately logged your food on Sunday through Thursday, and consumed 2000 calories each day. On Friday, you accurately logged your food until the evening, totaling 1200 calories. During the evening, you go out with friends, get food at a restaurant, and have a couple drinks. You estimate that you consumed 1800 calories during the evening. On Saturday, you felt burnt out from a long week, so you didn’t want to deal with logging your food. You were a little more relaxed about your diet than normal, and just quick-added 2500 calories at the end of the day as a rough estimate. So, in total, you logged 15500 calories for the week.

If you actually had 2200 calories on Friday night, and 2800 calories on Saturday, that’s totally fine. You ended up consuming 16200 calories for the week (2314 calories per day, on average), instead of 15500 (2214 calories per day, on average). The resulting error would be reflected in your estimated expenditure, but it would be small enough that you probably wouldn’t even notice it in the long run. If you were trying to lose a pound per week, an error of 100kcal/day would result in nutrition recommendations that would be consistent with losing 0.8 or 1.2 pounds per week – certainly close enough to your goal to keep you on track. Furthermore, since MacroFactor considers more than one week of data when calculating your expenditure and adjusting your nutrition targets, those estimation errors would likely only impact your nutrition recommendations by maybe 30-40 calories per day – not even enough to really notice.

So, you do need to log your nutrition at least six days per week (and ideally every day) for consistent expenditure updates. However, you don’t necessarily need to log every calorie you consume with perfect accuracy for the algorithms to perform well. Estimating your intake for a meal – or even an entire day – that would be cumbersome to accurately log is totally fine (and is generally preferable to just leaving the day blank). Furthermore, if you either can’t log your food for a while, or you just want to take a break from logging, MacroFactor pausing your expenditure calculation works in your favor. Unless you experienced a radical lifestyle change during your time away from logging, your previous expenditure estimate is almost certainly close enough to reality to generate nutrition recommendations that will get you back on track toward your goals.

To summarize:

  1. You need to log your nutrition at least six days in every seven-day period to receive continuous expenditure updates, but logging every day is preferable.

  2. If accurately logging every day feels like too much of a hassle, don’t be afraid to simply estimate from time to time.

  3. It’s totally fine if your expenditure calculation pauses from time to time due to breaks from logging. Our goal is to generate appropriate nutrition targets for you and your goals, not to simply keep your expenditure calculation constantly updating for the sake of constantly updating. Updates based on insufficient data would run the risk of generating much larger errors than simply pausing updates until you start logging consistently again.

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