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Food Logging: Is It a Stress Worth Adding?

By Rachel Baker

The No. 1 piece of advice I give to my athletes, whether they’re multisport newbies or seasoned triathletes, is to keep track of what they eat. Even if the athlete has 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 a training session or race.

Here’s a list of five things you’ll learn by keeping your own detailed nutrition log — even for just a short period of time:

1. 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, aiming for 5 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram if participating in moderate-intensity exercise, 60 minutes per day. For one to three hours per day of moderate- to high- intensity endurance training, consume between 6 and 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram. And for days ranging from four to five hours of training, your intake should be 8 to 12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram.

2. Am I eating often enough? Aim to eat every two to three hours. This is 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 (6-9 a.m., 9-11 a.m., etc). This will ensure you stay on top of nutrient timing throughout the day.

3. 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.

4. 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 are rich in nutrients, fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids. Sorry pizza, burgers and fries, you’ll have to wait!

5. 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 and monitoring grams of carbohydrate and fluids consumed will pinpoint 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 smartphones for ease of use — scan a bar code and voilà! 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. Find a tool that works for you and become a conscious food consumer, making better choices for improved workouts and health.

Rachel Baker is a registered dietitian working with triathlon coach Jesse Kropelnicki at QT2 Systems and She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition. TheCoreDiet is a sports nutrition specialty group working with athletes from age groupers to world class professionals. Visit their website to explore how you can add a nutrition component to your coaching business and help your athletes achieve better body composition, health and performance.