Improving your eating habits can be a tough task. There are plenty of trends, diets, and tips to help. While many of these methods include pricey equipment or questionable advice, one great tool that we all have at our fingertips is the ability to track our intake. Of course, one method isn’t for every athlete. Here are the pros and cons to help you decide if it’s the right method for you.
Tacking your intake provides a clear look at what your current habits are. This gives you a definitive starting point. If you do not confront your current eating behaviors, you won’t know what the problem areas are and where to make changes.
Forget the pricey gadgets, coaches or plans. Logging your food intake is cheap and easy for anyone to do. Download a free app or simply grab a notebook and pen. It takes only a moment to fill out your food intake after each meal or snack, or you can allocate a few minutes at the end of the day to record it all at once.
Even if you aren’t ready to make changes or define a plan of action, research has shown that simply writing down your intake can cause you to eat better. This happens almost as a placebo effect as having to write down your food and drink might have you choosing the apple over the candy bar.
Keeping a food journal or log acts as a database backlog of dietary choices. Just as you might go back in your training logs to see what works and what didn’t leading up to a race or competition, you can go back and look at how you were eating when you felt your best or worst.
Logging each and every bite and sip is a lot of work. Especially for athletes who eat a large amount of food to fuel training efforts. Having to search a database for each ingredient takes a bit of work and patience. However, once you get the hang of it, it does become easier—promise.
Having to be confronted with your choices every day is motivating! However, for those with disordered eating tendencies, it can lead to you being overly strict, “clean” and preoccupied with your food intake.
In the end, tracking your food intake is a simple and effective tool in defining problem areas of your diet, leading you to successful changes. For the best results, be honest with your recordings, write down more than the calories (energy, weight, mood, performance) and write it down in order as nutrient timing is an important factor for fitness goals. It is best to record as much info as you can, but make it work for you. If recording the brand, portion, time and every other little detail is too much, dial it back a bit and simply record the food and drink without the rest.
Of course, it is best to use this method in combination with sports dietitian care to have the healthy, individualized and sustainable results. If at any time you feel like tracking your intake is causing you excess stress, it might not be the method for your personal success.