Bruce Lee - Exceed Your Level
How to track diet progress

Stressing about progress itself causes stress which hinders progress. Are you avoiding this by tracking your progress objectively?

To have success in dieting (whether this be cutting or bulking) tracking your progress is vital. It forms the base from which you can make objective decisions on changes necessary in your diet. Have you progressed these last 4 weeks or not? – Your tracking system needs to be able to answer this question. It isn’t as simple as Bruce Lee’s example above where a stopwatch will do, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

In this post I’ll explain…

  1. Why it’s important, with a story of a trainer and BB competitor at my gym,
  2. Tell you what not to do, specifically why the mirror and scale is not enough, and
  3. The system I use, which takes the guesswork out of things.


Why Tracking is Important – Louie’s Story

Ten weeks before his Osaka Bodybuilding competition, Louie, a Japanese trainer at my gym, was sitting at about 12% body-fat. He was panicking about coming in too fat for the second year running.

I asked him about his progress and it became clear his only method of tracking was lifting up his shirt to look at his abs and the scale weight. Worried that this wasn’t going to end well, I cycle back to the gym later that day and gave him my only spare tape measure and begged him to use it. – He wasn’t a client but he seemed eager to learn and that made me care probably more than I should.

Two weeks later, I’m just finishing off some dips and Louis came over, notepad and pen in hand, and starts asking very sincerely what about the tracking stuff I was talking about the weeks before. I lift up his shirt. He’s around 9% and it’s just a week before the competition. He knows he’s screwed it again. I ask him his food intake.

Louis: “Around 300g of chicken breast, green vegetables, 100g of carbs, zero fat or as close as I can get. Everyday the same.”

Me: “So you’re consuming around 1000kCal. You’re lacking energy for the workouts thus losing muscle along with the fat, your metabolism has slowed prematurely meaning you have to eat even less, which you’re already struggling and miserable about, and I’m guessing you’re having trouble getting an erection too, right?”

– I was spot on accurate and his face said it all. He asked me to coach him after the comp.

Louis went wrong because he ended up starving himself when he didn’t see changes, rather than tracking things objectively to take the emotion out of it. If you can’t answer these questions then your tracking system is inadequate:

  • Did you actually progress this week even though you can’t see anything in the mirror?
  • The scale didn’t move, but did you lose fat and gain muscle?

What follows is a sample chapter from my book, ‘The Last Shred: How to adjust your diet like a pro to reach single digit body fat. I hope you find it useful.


Part 4: How I Recommend You Track Your Progress

Here’s what most people do that I suggest you don’t…

  • Rely on the mirror.  Don’t. We can’t trust the mirror because of the tricks our brain’s play on us by constantly adapting our perceptions to new levels of stimulation. This is another phenomenon known as “perceptual adaptation.”  Furthermore, lighting will vary, and your condition will change depending on the salt and carb content of the foods you have eaten. Trying to track your progress by checking yourself in the mirror is a recipe for disaster, as in the short term the mirror will just screw with your head.
  • Try to track by measuring your body-fat percentage. – Don’t. There are accuracy and consistency issues with all commercially available methods. (BIA, BodPod, underwater weighing, callipers and DXA scan all have their issues. I’ve written more about this on the site here.)

Here’s how I suggest you track things…

1. Take 9 Points Of Measurement Once A Week

Consistency is key to accurate tracking. This means that measurements need to be taken at the same time of the day, under the same circumstances. Do it yourself, as you are the only person that will always be with you. The best time to measure is in the morning, after you wake, after going to the toilet. Once a week is fine.

Measurement Guide - Rippedbody.com  
  • Measure in nine places as per the illustration.
  • Tense/flex your muscles for each measurement as this enables more consistent results.
  • To help you take the measurements in the same place each time,
    • Use the widest part of your legs,
    • Measure at the nipple-line for the chest, being sure not to get the tape at an angle or twisted,
    • Curl your biceps in a pose like Arnold to take your arms at the widest point,
    • Measuring the stomach two fingers above and below the navel is a good guideline instead trying to measure 2 inches above and below each time.
  • Consider getting yourself a Myotape/Orbitape as it makes self-measuring easier and more consistent.
  • Take and note measurements to the nearest 0.1 cm.

FOR COACHES: Accept nothing less than a 0.1 cm degree of accuracy, regardless of what system they are used to. Not only is it exceptionally useful for noting small changes and trends in the data, it sets the client up with a mindset on precision – that they need to take the data seriously. Without the data, you are blind after all. I hammer this point home to clients at the outset – no data, no assessment. People sometimes screw this up, so it’s worth checking that they have filled out the tracking sheet correctly in the first week so that there can be no misunderstandings at the update point 2-4 weeks later where you have no data to look at, incomplete data, or data to the nearest 1 cm (or even more annoyingly, nearest half an inch).

2. Weigh Yourself Every Morning

Here is a quick summary of all things that can cause fluctuations in weight:

  • Water & glycogen – due to a change in carb intake.
  • Water – the stall-whoosh effect.
  • Water – due to hydration status.
  • Water – due to a change in salt intake.
  • Bowel content – some foods have a higher ‘gut residue’ (they stay in the gut for longer).

We want the conditions to be as consistent as possible when weighing ourselves, and the best thing for this is to weigh last thing at night, or first thing in the morning. My preference is for the morning – scale fluctuations can mess with people’s heads we don’t want sleep to be disturbed because of them stressing about this.

→ Weigh yourself every morning upon waking, after the toilet (empty your bladder). Then at the end of the week calculate the average and note it.

You can expect to lose 1-2% bodyweight over night through the moisture lost when breathing, so definitely do not weigh yourself in the morning one day, and then the evening the next.

FOR COACHES:

Scale Weight Obsessors – If you’ve noticed that your client is completely obsessed with the scale weight and won’t get it into their head that there will be fluctuations as they progress, you probably want to limit them to weighing themselves once a week. – The stress from the fluctuations can cause water retention and will only make them stress more.

Weighing once a week is not ideal by any means as it leaves you open to random fluctuations in weight happening and screwing up your analysis. The downsides of this need to be weighed up with stress from daily weighing that happens with certain personality types. Education on the causes of weight fluctuations is usually a cure in most cases, but not all.

 

3. Take Photos Once Every Four Weeks

Take two photos, front and side. Use the same lighting conditions, camera, camera angle, time of day, and pose.

I’ve experimented with weekly and fortnightly photos with clients and I’m convinced that every four weeks is best, and taking them more often can be counter-productive as the changes are often too small to be motivational.

FOR COACHES: If someone comes to you with an initial set of photos where they have their stomach forcibly sticking out, ask them to retake them. Tell them to tense their abs from the start – it’s important to be consistent. The goal with the photos is not to have the most striking before-after shots, but to have a reliable visual gauge of progress.

4. Track Strength

Track your strength in the main compound lifts you perform. Some days you will feel stronger than others, so note the best set for the week. The conditions must be the same for you to be able to compare – rest times, form, etc.

FOR COACHES: I like to get clients to note the best session for each main compound lift of that week, as it means I can look at all the data at a glance and I’m at less risk of missing anything. Of course, feel free to track the entire workout routine as well, or the total volume performed for the week for a body part or exercise – when I coach clients through a bulk this is something I have been doing this last year. Total ‘hard sets‘ for an exercise or body part is another option of tracking training volume.

5. Track Diet & Training Adherence

Rate your diet adherence as a percentage – If you get each macro target to within 10% either side, consider that to be perfect adherence (100%). The total percentage I’d suggest you write is the percentage of days you managed to achieve that. It’s also a good idea to list any instances where you feel you went well over the calorie balance for the day – that could be a big drinking session, wedding party, etc. Note the date that you did this in your tracking spreadsheet (because otherwise you’ll forget) as you can expect a rise in the numbers that week.

FOR COACHES: Some people are going to screw up their counting of things. Short of requesting a complete list of the client’s meals and their ingredients (which I think may be overbearing, and possibly counterproductive because you get them stuck into a rigid meal planning mindset from the start), there is no real way to check for this, you just have to be aware of it. So, if someone isn’t losing weight as it seems they should for the macros you’ve given them, miscounting may be a factor. More on what you can do about this later.

Rate your training adherence as a percentage. – This means the percentage of completed workouts, not how well you thought you performed. Fluctuations in performance are normal and to be expected.

6. Track Qualitative Factors

Rate your sleep quality, stress level, and hunger on a 1-5 scale each week. As you look back across your tracking data to see how you are progressing, if weight and measurements aren’t changing according to plan, check to see how your sleep or stress levels were for these weeks. – If they are high, then it is likely to be water retention rather than a lack of a caloric deficit to blame. This is especially true if you have been finding yourself hungry at the same time. (Just note, hunger doesn’t always mean you’re in a caloric deficit, but it can be a good gauge that you are if other things point in that direction.)


Points to note when self-assessing

Here is some additional information. It’s covered in the book in far more detail but I think you’ll find it useful.

The Number 1 rule: Always look to gauge progress by looking at data over a four week period and assessing the trend, never before. There will always be fluctuations during the initial weeks.

Measurements

  • When around 15% body fat or lower, fat comes off the upper abs first, before that there doesn’t seem to be any pattern.
  • Changes in salt intake or carb intake will cause changes in water balance. Therefore it’s best to look at the general trend in the data over 3-4 weeks.
  • Ladies, your weight will fluctuate with your cycle due to water retention, compare data points 4 weeks apart.
  • When getting lean, use the fluctuations in hardness over the week to your advantage. – If you’re a model, actor, or (more likely) have a pool party you want to look good for then time it right. (You’ll know when this is for you when you get there.)

Strength

  • Strength increases correlate well to muscle gains.
  • Muscle growth will hide fat loss so don’t just rely on the scale.
  • For more experienced trainees that are cutting (and thus not likely to make any muscle mass gains) the goal is muscle preservation. Strength maintenance is a good sign of muscle maintenance, however there is the mechanical inefficiency of getting leaner that you need to be aware of. Thus, for experienced trainees cutting a lot of weight, drops in strength should probably be expected The degree of the drop will depend mainly on the level of fat loss (20%->10% body fat would see 5-10% decrease in lifts, fatter folks possibly more – I have nothing to back that up except for observation). Limb proportions will determine which lift is most affected. There is individual variance.

Same weight as 4 weeks before?

Are your strength stats up? Stomach measurements down? If so then that’s progress. If you are not making progress but your sleep is terrible and/or you are stressed, work on those factors first.

With the client work I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting trends and this helps immensely when assessing whether changes are needed. I hope the above is good enough to get you going.

Bonus: How to lose 4% body fat in 24 hours and walk away $50 richer.

Did you already buy a BMI machine and want your money back? Here’s a quick way to do that.

  1. Bet $60 with your friend.
  2. Training day, don’t drink any water during the workout (fasted preferably). Measure straight after.
  3. Go home and carb up. Drink lots of water throughout the day and make sure your urine is clear.
  4. Drink another liter of water and measure again (that evening or the night after).
  5. Collect $60 from friend. -Send $10 to me.

Think this tactic hasn’t been used to sell more member subscriptions or exaggerate program results at some gyms?

**********

Thank you for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments. – Andy

Enjoy this article? Go more in depth ↓


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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional coach and trainer. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, riding a motorbike, or staring at watches I can't afford.

327 Comments on “How To Track Your Progress Like A Pro, To Ensure Body Composition Goal Success”

  1. Pingback: Body fat percentage, Better to forget about it? | RippedBody

  2. Pingback: How Do I Find Maintenance Calorie Intake After Dieting?

  3. Working as a HIIT couch I have lost a lot of weight. Now I want to gain more muscle with no fat. What do you think how much more (in percentage) should I increase mine TDEE to be able to get more lean muscles?

  4. Hi Andy! First, Thank you for your site and e-mails!

    I have a doubt: You said that the initial adjustments should be made for the 4 week trend, and after this, each 2 weeks. What you by mean?

    1. Hi Rodrigo, thanks for the question.
      For the initial assessment you’ll wait until you have four weeks of data (weeks 0-4). Every two weeks after you’ll reassess based on the prior four weeks of data. So, the first reassessment will be based on the data points in weeks 2-6, and then the second based on weeks 4-8, etc.
      Hope that clears it up.

          1. Andy,

            Let’s say that after the initial 4 weeks of data (week 1-4 and ignoring week 0-1 because of initial jump), you have to make an adjustment to go back to the target (week 5).

            How would I reassess the data? I should wait until week 7 and calculate the trend of week 4-7? Or week 5-8? (the adjust was after the end of week 4)

  5. Hi Andy. Thank you for the valuable information.

    When coming from a bulk to a cut. How to calculate the new maintenance? And should there be a straight jump to deficit of gradual steps?

    1. Mahmoud, thanks for the question. I’ll put up a new article on that at some point. For now here’s the quick and dirty method: take a look at the scale weight trend over the last weeks. Average it. Multiply the difference between what you’re gaining and aiming to lose by 3500 if using pounds, and 7700 if using kilos. Subtract that from your weekly intake.

      So, if you’re gaining 1lb per week during your bulk and want to lose 1lb per week for your cut, reduce your weekly calorie intake by 7000 kcal (2*3500). This is the equivalent of reducing your daly calorie intake by 1000 kcal.

      Now, your metabolism will adapt, so track for a few weeks to see how far you are off. Then make gradual cuts downwards to bring yourself in line with your target.

      Hope that helps.

  6. Hello Andy, I have a question. It ‘important to the quality of carbohydrates taken in the different hours of the day or it is important to respect the daily quota with respect to the type? If I have to lose weight can eat a serving of rice cakes in the evening (which fall within the macro level) even if they have a glycemic index a bit too high?thank you so much.Flor

  7. Hi Andy, I can’t thank you enough for your online effort in teaching, but to keep my post short in consideration of your time here is my question:

    Do you have any experience with people that work night shifts? Is the shifting of your biological clock detrimental in progress (in terms of rest)?

    I have been working night shifts for 10 years already, I already accustomed myself to it in the sense that I sleep say from 7am to 2-3pm. Even on my days off I keep the same sleeping schedule. I feel very used to it mentally and physically, but I wanted to ask in your experience how can this affect despite my established sleeping pattern.

    Thanks!

  8. Hi Andy,

    What should a person look for in particular when self-coaching and taking progress pictures every 4 weeks? I was hoping you could provide some insight as to what coaches look for when clients send them progress pictures

    Thanks

  9. Hi Andy! I have just recently stumbled on to your website and I am officially a convert! Thank you so much for all of the useful and free info! I have lost 100 pounds in the last year but I am officially stuck in the realm of not being big and not being cut enough (estimate about 18% bf). After reading your website I am definitely going to be following your diet advice and following the big three workout. Previously I have been doing a five day split and working out each session about two hours but I am not seeing any results and it is seriously disheartening. I think that I was not allowing my body to recover and I am hoping that this is the right path for me and I will update you with my progress. Just want to say a huge thank you!

  10. This is hands-down the best fitness site I’ve ever seen!

    I do have one question about measuring, just to make sure I’ve got it clearly:
    When measuring at the navel and above and below, should I also tense/flex for those measurements?

    Thanks for providing so much valuable information, Andy. I’m truly blown away by what you’ve built here.

  11. Is it a red flag if you don’t see any progress after the first week. On a cut, I started the week 183.8, my weight kept fluctuating throughout the whole week between 183.8 to 185.6. End of the week I am at 185.6, when I was just at 183.3 the day before.

  12. Hello Andy,
    To begin my comment/question, I must first say that everything you have posted on your website is golden, and im too addicted to this site. You’re the man! Firstly, i’ve been on a cut for 8 weeks now using all the info from your site and books without a diet break(yet). Weight is being lost at a steady 1lb a week, although i did experience a stall and whoosh effect around week 5, which i was completely ready for thanks to your amazing book “The Last Shred”. It has been on my mind that sort of worries me just a bit, and that is.. with 8 weeks of cutting, should i be estimating my new bf% and setting a new average weight loss per week in order to progress onward with my diet without risking any muscle loss? Considering I started around 11% initially. I mention it’s a silly question mainly because i probably missed something in the book. Thank you so much again Andy!

    -Nathan L.

    1. Nathan, thank you. Glad you’re progressing well and taking a lot from the book.
      “Should i be estimating my new bf% and setting a new average weight loss per week in order to progress onward with my diet without risking any muscle loss?”
      Technically yes, but I dont think there’s any need to be anal about measuring it. Just half your original rate of fat loss. Here’s my logic: If you started at 11% and have lost ~8 lbs so far (ignoring any initial water whoosh), you’ll be sub 8% body fat now and closing in on truly shredded. Progress needs to slow and at that range you’d set it conservatively at around 0.5-0.7 lbs. The other option is to go by percentage of total body weight as a target (you’ll also see that listed in the book as a suggestion from Eric Helms), and you’ll see I’ve suggested <0.5% per week at that stage, which will line up well whichever way you look at it.

  13. Hey Andy,

    I started my cut in late October at 6’1 at 201lbs and calculated my TDEE at 2700 cals and subtracted 500 which gave me 2200 cals and was losing weight rather slow at about ~.5 lbs a week. I took a diet break at 197lbs in December due to illness which lasted around 3 weeks and I ended up at 208lbs. I dropped water weight to about 203lbs and dropped cals to 2100 and haven’t lost weight. I just feel that being almost 4 months in I haven’t seen much change on the scale. I do notice a little bit a difference around my waist but still am a bit frustrated with the overall progress.

    I did a cut about 2 years ago at 185lbs and ate 2400 cals and was losing weight rather steady. I am unsure if I need to keep dropping the cals or am I eating too little and need to bump them back up.

    Thanks again

  14. Hello Andy,

    Fantastic site. Haven’t stopped reading since I stumbled upon it.

    I have probably messed up my metabolism over years of training, eating way too little with the majority of calories consumed sugar based. I want to change this. I want to lose fat. The TDEE calculated on the site is much higher than i have eaten for a long time. About 600-800 calories a day more than I have been eating for several months. Should I just jump in and start at the recommended TDEE? I feel I am going to put fat on straight away even following the recommended macros.

    Thank you for your time.
    Enjoy your evening

    Charlie.

    1. “I have probably messed up my metabolism over years of training, eating way too little with the majority of calories consumed sugar based.”
      – Probably not. You’ve more likely read some anti-sugar, metabolic armageddon nonsense online. Don’t worry Charlie.

      “About 600-800 calories a day more than I have been eating for several months. Should I just jump in and start at the recommended TDEE?”
      If you know your current maintenance calorie intake and want to lose weight then just calculate your deficit off of that. A drop in metabolism in normal when dieting (various reasons covered When and How To Adjust Your Diet | Manipulating Macros), as it over calculating.

  15. Hi! I just want to thank you for all of your free info. I stumbled across you from researching IF because NOTHING seems to work for me losing weight. I pretty much summed it up to me not eating enough while doing workout programs from bodybuilding.com. I’ve never looked at or understood the importance of hitting your macros until finding you. I’m working on finding my right calculations. It was a bit overwhelming when I first read it. Lol but I’m going to give it ago again today. Sorry I don’t have any questions as of yet just wanted to comment and say thanks😊

  16. Hi Andy, what is the exact process you used for online training? How did you manage progress of your online clients i.e. is it just the 3-4 weekly progress photos? How exactly did you go about this for online clients and do the necessary adjustments in diet etc.?

    Thanks and great info

  17. Hi Andy,

    So it’s Friday morning where I am, and I just woke from another night of lackluster sleep… I don’t feel very rested. Here’s a quick run-down of my evening schedule: I eat my second meal around 20:30, then go to bed at 22:00. Both Wednesday night and last night I woke up and fell back asleep two or three times before 6:00 (when I get up): 3:30, 4:30, 5:30. The frustrating thing is that this is the second week of my cut and I’ve been sleeping like a baby up until now with the same exact schedule. The only thing that I can think of are two things that I’ve done: I drank a preworkout (first one I’ve ever had) before my 6:00-7:00 training on Wednesday (which was the first night I had a bad sleep), and I was almost an hour late to my dinner that same night. But that shouldn’t have affected my sleep Thursday night. Thank you so much for your help.

    1. Hi Holden. I think you’ve answered your own question on what the issue was the first night. (Stimulant drinks in the evening are not conducive to a good sleep.) The second night is probably just be a coincidence.

  18. Hi Andy,

    Great article. I will start measuring and taking notes. I have a quick question. I recently got a Dax scan it said my lean body mass was 110 lbs. (29.2% fat). I was surprised at how little lbm I have since I consider my strength to be above average. To give you an idea for some compound lift I’ve hit recently: dead lift 355 x 5; squat 225x 8; bench: 215x 5…
    Do you have any explanation as to why my lbs is so low? Is the Dax scan off? If my lbm is so low, will this affect my fat burning capabilities? They say more muscle more calories burned…..

    Thanks for your help. I really enjoy the info on your site.

    Prad

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  22. hi Andy. my question isnt on tracking so apologies for that but i wanted your advice on health screening. what do you use? i was planning to use the acsm’s risk stratification as it seems more comprehensive than the par-q (which only gives the green light for light to moderate intensity anyway). In the acsm risk stratification i would need to know cholesterol and blood glucose levels as well. do i take them or does the client need to know this info already? thanks andy

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  24. Hi Andy,

    I was just wondering about the specifics of what to look out for in weekly measurements. You recommend taking 9 different measurement once a week, Which of these measurements would you ideally like to see change (and in which direction) during either a bulk or a cut and what changes might indicate a move in the wrong direction?

    Is it simply a case of during a cut everything should gradually come down and during a bulk everything should increase, or is the application more nuanced?

    I would probably put myself as an intermediate lifter, I know this probably influences things.

    Thanks so much for your help, the site looks great and I love the new changes, they definitely make the information even more accessible!

    Cheers

    Cian

    1. Hi Cian, thanks for the question.
      Pinch the fat on your stomach, on your back at chest height, and on your tricep. Compare these three points. If you’re cutting (and muscle mass is remaining constant) you can expect that these measurements will come down in approximately this proportion on your way to shreds. Also, bear in mind that fat loss generally happens top down, which is why we have 3 points of measurement on the stomach.

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  27. Hi Andy.

    First of all, two thumbs up for your articles, very educating.
    Secondly, when you write tense/flex for each measurement, do you mean that you should tense and flex the muscles a couple of times before measuring, or the you should write down two numbers for each place, a tense number and a flex number?

    1. Hi Robin, thanks for the question.
      You want to measure yourself under the same conditions to get consistent data. Whatever helps you personally to do this is fine. I can’t see there being any need to tense multiple times before taking a measurement though – you don’t want to purposefully increase blood flow to the area.

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  29. I am on a calorie deficit and doing the sample 3-day split RPT routine that you have listed on your site. I am at the end of my 4th week. My strength is up, body weight is the same and my belly measuremeants have not moved up or down and more importantly I just “feel” softer or fatter. I don’t know if I need to increase my volume because I can’t go much lower with my calories. Any general suggestions?

  30. Hey Andy,

    This may seem like a bit of a silly question but how does tracking body measurements help exactly? What extra info does it give and how do you know what warning signs/ thumbs up to look out for when tracking during a cut?

    Thanks so much

    Your site is really awesome btw, really cool

    Cian

    1. Cian, thanks for the question.
      1. It keeps you motivated: Sometimes the scale weight won’t change but the measurements will. This keeps you motivated and let’s you know you’re on track.
      2. It tells you where the weight changes are happening. Did you gain muscle? Did you lose fat? This is especially important for beginner and early intermediate trainees who can expect a degree of both.
      Make sense?

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    1. Ah, glad you liked it Newton. If you have an answer to this and have a recommendation, I will happily make an edit to the site to make it more prominent.

  33. I notice that you give a recommended frequency for weighing (daily, take the weekly average) and progress pics (every 4 weeks), but how often should you take measurements? Is weekly too often? Did I miss something?

  34. How do I know if I am eating too much protein, in relation to the other macros, carbs and fats?

  35. Hi Andy.

    Quick question: Is it possible for you to give a comment on progress if I would just give you some numbers to look at? The reason for asking is if my progress is a solid/normal one or if there is something that can be tweaked.

    // Patrik

      1. Ok, Andy not a problem.

        Then I’ll leave it be at that and keep on going.

        As always, thank you for the quick replies and all your help. I think I have all the things/info I need now and hopefully will not need to keep terrorizing you with questions.

        Have a nice day.

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