Logging your intake. I can’t tell you how important it is. The number one piece of advice I give to my athletes, regardless of if they are just starting out, or a seasoned triathlon veteran, is to start keeping track of what they eat! Even if you have (or think you have) control over nutrition, logging intake is a great learning tool. Besides tracking calories, one can monitor grams of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fiber. All of which can make or break your training session, or race!
So here is a list of five things one can learn by keeping a detailed nutrition log (even for just a short period of time):
- Am I eating enough carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are your primary fuel sources as an athlete. You need to fuel, refuel, and recover with carbohydrates. How many carbs you need is dependent upon your activity level, intensity, and duration. Without adequate fuel stores your training will suffer. Track total grams of carbohydrate – aim for 5-7gm of carbohydrate per kg if participating in moderate-intensity exercise, 60 minutes per day. For 1-3 hours per day of moderate to high intensity endurance training, consume between 6-10gm of carbohydrate per kg. And for days ranging from 4-5 hours of training, 8-12gm of carbohydrate per kg.
- Am I eating often enough? Aim to eat every 2-3 hours. Important for nutrient timing and keeping hungry bellies at bay. Most online food journals are set up to track breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack (ONE snack – who are they kidding?). Under “settings”, change the name of “meals” to represent time frames (6-9am, 9-11am, etc). This will ensure you stay on top of nutrient timing throughout the day.
- Why do I consistently have GI discomfort during my afternoon run? Perhaps your go to pre-workout snack is too high in fat or fiber. The closer you are to a training session, the less protein, fat, and fiber you want in a meal or snack. So skip the high fiber bread smothered in peanut butter and opt for something easy to digest like a banana or handful of pretzels.
- Am I making the best choices to properly recover from my training sessions? I get it; you burned 2,000 calories during your last workout. So you can eat whatever you want, right? Wrong! Writing things down will make you THINK. First things first – within the first half hour following exercise, have a high glycemic, high carbohydrate fluid, containing a small amount of protein (chocolate milk or a recovery beverage) to quickly restore glycogen levels and aid muscle recovery (this becomes increasingly important the closer you are to your next workout). Next, focus on getting in some good quality carbohydrates (from fruits and veggies), and lean protein sources including low fat dairy. The healthy, good for you foods, rich in nutrients, fiber, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Sorry pizza, burgers, and fries, you’ll have to wait!
- Why did I bonk during my last workout? Keeping track of the sports nutrition products and fluids consumed during workouts may help to narrow down the reason why long workouts leave you feeling sluggish. Getting on a schedule of “snack” times during training, monitoring grams of carbohydrate and fluids consumed will pin point areas where changes need to be made. Also note levels of energy throughout training sessions, any GI discomfort, heart rate, and pacing – know how your body responds to prevent surprises on race day.
Tracking ones intake doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, many websites, such as MyFitnessPal offer an easy alternative to the old-fashioned pen and paper method of food journaling. You can even download apps to smart phones for ease of use – scan a bar code and voila! All the info you need loaded and accounted for – no math involved! You’ll want to be careful to select foods with full nutrition information and note portion size.
Online nutrition logs are a go to in my book; easy to use and a great educational tool. An excellent way to look at nutrition and the foods you consume from a different perspective. Learn what the foods you choose consist of – become a conscious food consumer and make better choices for improved workouts and health!