This article was published by USAT Triathlon’s News Blog Multisportlab on May 16, 2019. “What You Learn by Tracking Your Food Intake” by Lisi Bratcher LINK
You might have read that tracking your food and calorie intake is important. But is it really?
Should Athletes Track Their Food Intake?
A study checking Sports Nutrition knowledge among collegiate athletes revealed a poor outcome. Only 9% could be considered showing adequate nutrition knowledge. It matches our findings based on questionnaires my Exercise Physiology students handed out to their colleagues at our University.
What Can I Learn By Logging My Food?
Proper fueling is important since it is meant to improve your training, recovery, and performance. An intake high in healthy carbohydrates and lean protein helps you to achieve your goal. Active adults need on average 50% Carbohydrates/ 20% Protein/ 30% Fat, depending on their training phase. Without logging your food it might be tricky to know how much of each you are getting.
Are Macros Needed To Perform Well?
Macros are the nutrients you need in large amounts, such as carbohydrates, protein and fat. Similar like the collegiate athletes observed by Torres-McGehee, many of my clients do not know their % of carbohydrate or protein they take in. They often overestimate their protein intake, and underestimate their fat intake. Distance-endurance athletes tend to under-eat healthy carbs. Logging food for a few days can be an eye-opener!
Do Micros Boost Fitness?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals which are necessary for many metabolic processes in the body. They can be found in high amounts in fresh foods such as fruits and veggies. Micros essential for athletes are for example Iron, B-vitamins, Vitamin C+D and calcium.
Tracking your intake will give you an overview of your % of daily macro and micronutrients which are beneficial to feel and perform well.
Macros vs. Calories?
Your goal is to increase the quality of your intake instead of focusing on the quantity only. Which means eating healthy carbohydrates as in fruits, lean protein as in beans, or healthy fats as in nuts is superior to counting calories.
Why? Because calories only tell you so much.
Quality vs Quantity:
500 calories can be easily filled by eating 2 large chocolate chip cookies, but much better used by eating a large salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, roasted seeds and grilled chicken.
How Often Should I Track My Food?
Since food tracking and adding it into an online log can be a tedious job,
we avoid getting tired of it.
A simple version: Start with 1 day to give you a quick idea. Repeat it 2 weeks later after trying to implement a few better fueling strategies, such as reducing added sugars.
A more thorough approach: Log your food for two weekdays and one weekend day in your first week. Repeat it 4 weeks later, after having added mindful eating strategies such as eating a piece of fruit before having a sweet dessert and controlling portion size by using smaller plates.
How Long Should I Track?
Tracking should only be done sporadically to avoid focusing on numbers too much. Every 2-4 weeks is a good interval. It gives you enough time to try out something new for 30 days, such as experimenting with healthy, simple recipes, learning how to prep meals, adding more daily steps, and get adjusted.
Mindful Eating vs. Calorie Counting
So my quick answer? Yes, tracking food is important, but not for counting calories! Instead, use it to check your macros and micros and learn how to adjust your fueling eg. most athletes benefit from an intake of 15-20% lean protein.
We want the information, but without losing our focus by crunching numbers too frequently. Our main goal is to increase our awareness to find healthy food which helps us to fuel our training properly.
Recommended Online Tool
If you are looking for an online tracker, here is the one I recommend: My Fitness Pal