Our society is wrought with symbols of it to the point of worship. It is our sustenance, nourishment, fuel, energy, calories along with countless other words to describe it. Food. Call it whatever you want, but the revolution of production in the food industry has created a bounty like no other in history. With such an abundance of choice and ideas on how and when to consume it, many of us have lost a sense of what the basic purpose of it is: to provide health and energy.
I hesitate to open a dialogue about the world of diets…consuming this over that, this counts more than those count and eat this macronutrient over that macronutrient, but I offer yet another way to interact with food. Being an endurance coach, I get to see the deficits incurred in expenditure from workouts of many different clients. The one thing I have noticed most is the tendency to under-consume calories.
By journaling your consumption of foods over time, we can look at the relationship of food and the workout as well as the overall improvement over time. You don’t need to count calories or even change what you are eating at first. We want a snapshot of your current habits before changing any aspect of diet. Far too often athletes make a change without knowing where the change will take them, based on the fact that they don’t know where they are to begin with. Being diligent by keeping a record of what is eaten can assist in answering questions like, “How come I bonk after the 4 hour mark in a century ride?” Looking at the preparation before the century and the fuel consumed during the ride can give us a much overlooked place to find improvement.
Once you have a fairly accurate record of current eating habits, small changes can be applied to your diet so that your body will be able to better perform. When it comes down to fuel sources of fat, carbohydrates and protein, the macronutrients our body uses, we need to concentrate on certain percentages of these based on our body weight. Many times protein is over consumed, which is not a source that our bodies like to rely on, and carbohydrates are under consumed, which is a source we really need. So, shifting the percentage of the macronutrients that we eat can give us more energy that is ready to use for the work at hand. This plays big dividends when we discuss high intensity work and fueling of the muscles, a topic for another discussion.
Nutrition journaling is a tough job and finding a good resource to capture this data is very important. There are many ways to do this, such as keeping a notebook with you at all times to track food intake or using your planner to record the data on each day. These methods work well but leave the calculation to you, often the cause of not adhering to the goal. There are also web-based applications to record the nutrients, the better approach. These allow for a visual aspect as well as calculations being done for you. The application I prefer is TrainingPeaks. Their system is very robust, containing a huge library of foods, with the ability to create meal templates. Once you have a few days or more of food entered you can look at a daily calories pod which compares expenditure to consumption.
I feel that all endurance athletes can perform at a higher degree through the implementation of nutrition journaling. Stay away from fad diets and large deficits in eating while training by monitoring your intake against your outflow to create a better balance for improvement. This can be attained by consuming everything in moderation and the daily attention to understanding your consumption of the life sustaining substance we know and love as food.