The What, When and Why of Your Nutrition Plan
By Bob Seebohar
Keeping a daily food log. Do you do it? If you are like many athletes, you may i ndeed keep a daily tally of what you eat and while I will not argue the efficacy in this exercise, I do want to provide guidance on what you should really be looking at in your daily eating patterns.
Far too many athletes address the wrong components when it comes to analyzing their own daily nutrition intake. For example, the most popular food logging questions athletes attempt to ask themselves are:
- What am I eating?
- When am I eating? and
- How much am I eating?
Ah, and this is where the rubber meets the road. Do you really need to look at all three of these? Let’s take a closer look.
When you attempt to answer the question, “what am I eating”, it is for good reason. This addresses the quality of the nutrients that you put in your diet. Are you substituting whole fruit for canned fruit or whole grains for enriched starches? You can obtain a good amount of useful information when you step back and assess the quality of your diet by addressing what you eat. This question has my blessing.
What about logging at what time you eat your food throughout the day? Again, to get a better snapshot of your personal nutrient timing plan, this is an extremely important question to ask yourself. I find many athletes who become enlightened when they report to themselves the timing of their meals and snacks. When it comes down to it, what you are really trying to accomplish is the control of blood sugar. Because blood sugar ebbs and flows every 3-4 hours, it is quite important to understand when you choose to eat certain foods, especially as it relates to your training sessions. This question also has my blessing so continue to track it.
And then there was one question left that addresses quantity of food, or more important, how many calories you put into your body. The question of “how much?” Registered dietitians have often asked this question to their clients in order to get a more accurate idea of the quantity of calories the athlete is eating. The first question you should ask is how important this really is. I would argue that it is not important and that instinctual eating, that is, eating when you are biologically hungry, should become your main goal in navigating your daily nutrition plan. As infants, we are very aware of our bodies’ biological needs for hunger. Babies cry, parents feed them. However, as we age, we tend to lose our instinctual nature of eating and allow ourselves to choose meal and snack times based on emotions and habit, rather than listening to our body’s hunger responses.
Herein lies the problem. By asking yourself (and logging) how much you eat, you are contributing to your inability to assess your biological hunger. You are focusing simply on the number of calories to tell you when and if you are full instead of internalizing your hunger and getting to know your body and its hunger cues better. The worst thing you can do, especially if weight loss is your goal, is to track and count calories. Yes, you did read that correctly and yes, I am a registered dietitian telling you this. I work with athletes like you daily and the one overwhelming similarity in all athletes is the inability to let go of numbers and teach and trust their body cues once again. This is what I strive for and this is what I teach athletes. Tracking how much you eat in terms of calories does not hold much significance in my books. What you should be asking yourself is why you eat. Why are you choosing a particular food at a certain time of the day? Are emotions driving your hunger? Is it because it is 12:00 and thus it must be lunchtime, even though you are not hungry?
By spending a little time getting away from calorie counting and re-learning your body’s instinctual hunger cues, you will become much more educated about when your body needs certain nutrients and when it doesn’t. And because I know you are thinking, “I will overeat if I don’t count my calories and I don’t trust myself,” don’t worry. Your body becomes self-regulated after you allow it to experience biological hunger again. It is quite refreshing actually because you will better control your blood sugar which has a direct effect on mood, cravings and body weight.
If you continue to keep a food log, be sure to only include what, when and why you eat. Give it about 4-6 weeks and you will have a new outlook on your food choices.
Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sport dietitian and elite triathlon coach. He traveled to the 2008 Summer Olympics as the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian and the personal Sport Dietitian for the 2008 Olympic Triathlon Team. He has served as head coach for Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympian, was a performance team member (sport dietitian and strength coach) for Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist. He is the current coach of Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite National Champion.
Bob's new book, Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat, will teach athletes how to structure their nutrition and training program throughout the year to maximize their body's ability to use fat as energy and improve body composition. For more information and to order the book, visit www.fuel4mance.com or contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org