Why should endurance athletes keep a food diary?
As a Sports Nutritionist I work with endurance athletes who might be trying to lose weight, maintain weight or simply follow a healthier diet to improve their performance. I always start by asking my clients to keep a food diary. It’s an effective way for me to understand their eating habits, the balance of different nutrients in their diet and their calorie intake.
I know that recording what you eat sounds boring and tedious but if you are serious about getting the results you want in your training and racing, there are a number of very good reasons that you should start keeping a food diary today. Here’s my top 5:
1. Your Food Diary Will Show You What You Eat & How it Affects Your Energy Levels.
As an endurance athlete, this is one of the most underrated aspects of keeping a food diary. You probably think that you know exactly what you eat everyday. You probably even think you could guess the number of calories that you take in through your meals. But the truth is that most people eat more than three times everyday and most of their extra calories probably come from eating between meals. As an athlete food is your fuel and nourishment so you need to understand which foods help you to perform and those that don’t. Make a note of your energy levels after your meals and snacks. Do you feel more lethargic after some than others?
2. Your Food Diary Can Help You Lose Weight and Get Leaner To Go Faster.
If your aim is to lose weight and get leaner to go faster then keeping track of calories is what’s most important. Many endurance athletes I speak to aim for calorie deficits to shed excess body fat. By that I mean that they train harder and eat less. Unfortunately, by doing this, they are causing their metabolism to slow right down – the body’s normal reaction to starvation- they actually need to eat more (of the right foods) to lose weight, not less which is counter intuitive.
Using an app such as My Fitness Pal to track your calorie intake means you can conveniently tally up your calorie count for each day. Doing this will help you understand if you have a calorie excess or deficit and then you can control your calorie intake by better understanding the sources of calories and consequently portion control.
By seeing exactly what you eat everyday, you can begin to modify your diet to either decrease or increase your calorie intake. You can also start to time your nutrient intake around your training plan meaning that you will be full of energy when your body needs it and store less fat if you are resting or more sedentary.
3. You can identify what triggers binges
Every once in a while I get an urge to clear the kitchen cupboards of everything that’s sweet…a whole packet of biscuits….no problem, where’s the next one ! Why? Well, by keeping a food diary, I identified that it was my hormones at work ! As endurance athletes, we sometimes train or compete and then an hour afterwards, eat everything we can lay our hands on often over compensating for the calories we used in our exercise session. For some people there is an emotional link for example comfort eating when life is a bit tough. You need to identify the things or situations which trigger your eating binges and a food diary will help with this. If your binge food of choice is broccoli, that’s fine!
4. Your Food Diary Will Reveal Patterns
After a few weeks of keeping a food diary, patterns will start to emerge. Are you getting enough veg or do you frequently skip breakfast? Your food diary serves as a record of everything that you do–and do not–eat. Knowing that you are deficient in certain food groups can be helpful and enables you to add in or increase foods which you might be missing and top up on calories if your training volume has been higher.
5. Your Food Diary Will Help You To Eat More Healthily
You may not realise it right away, but over time, your food diary will actually make you want to eat healthier. Every time you write down a food that you know won’t help your training and race times, you’ll want to avoid doing it in the future. Your food diary can actually help you to look at food in a whole new way. It’s one of the best reasons you should want to start a food diary today. Your food diary will not only help you enjoy new foods, but it will help to make sure you are giving your body what it needs.
Make today when you start to keep track of what you but into your body.
Remember NUTRITION. ENERGY. RESULTS.