Should Runners Keep a Food Journal?

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Keeping a food journal can be a great tool for helping you hit your running goals, but are they for everyone? Should Runners Keep a Food Journal? www.runnerclick.com

Nutrition and properly nourishing your body with the right amounts of fats, carbs, and protein to fuel your activity is extremely important to help you be the best runner you can be. And while running certainly burns a lot of calories and you need to make sure you are putting those calories back into your body to avoid fatigue and burnout, runners still can’t just eat whatever they want at whatever volume they want. There are specific ratios of carbs to fats to protein amounts that runners need in order to nourish themselves, but breaking individual foods down and counting calories and macronutrients can seem like an extremely overwhelming and daunting task. Keeping a food journal can help make this easier as you write down and track everything you consume. But should you do it? Below, we go through the pros and cons of keeping a food journal.

Pros

Helps You Efficiently Meet Your Goals

Once you have done the work to calculate exactly how much of each macronutrient you are eating, and how many calories you need to sustain your running and provide your body with enough energy to accomplish all the tasks you need done, tracking your food will help you ensure you are meeting those goals each day. This can be especially beneficial to runners who are working hard toward a PR or goal race.

Your body functions like a machine, and once you know how to best oil your machine to make it work the best, you can excel at meeting your goals. Tracking your food is one of the most time-effective ways for getting your body on track to perform its best.

Tracks Trends and Pinpoints Problems

Even if you are not focused on actual macronutrient and calorie counts, tracking your food can help you spot potential problem areas and trends in how different foods impact your training. To most effectively track trends, you will also need to not just write down everything you eat, but notes about how you are feeling physically throughout the day and how well your training and running went that day.

If you start noticing that your performance is improved and your body responds well to eating a protein-rich meal the night before a run, then that can really help you understand how your body uses food to fuel itself. Similarly, if you notice stomach bloat, gas, or general GI issues and distress after your morning bowl of overnight oats, you might be lactose intolerant to the yogurt or dairy milk you used (or have a sensitivity to gluten if your oats are not gluten-free). Knowing how different foods affect your body will help you understand what you need to be eating in order to run your very best.

Helps Create a More Balanced Approach to Meals

Writing your meals and snacks down keeps you accountable. If we know we have to write something down on paper (i.e. make it more “real” or “concrete”) then we are more likely to think twice about our choices. It is likely that if you know you will be logging and tracking your intake, you will start focusing more on healthier, more balanced food choices. Our bodies were made to function the best when we feed them ALL the macronutrients, so making it a point to make sure you are logging at least one serving of fats, carbs, and proteins at every meal and snack will ultimately lead to more well-rounded nourishment for your body and brain.

Cons

Can Be Tedious

Unless you are a food blogger, you probably do not already have a habit of documenting everything you eat. Just the thought of having to write down and keep up everything you eat in a day might seem daunting. Furthermore, it takes quite a bit of self-discipline to log and track all your food. It can be time-consuming and when your schedule starts to get hectic, it might seem like just another tedious chore you have to keep up with on a regular basis.

Aside from actually remembering to log your food, there is also the logistical details to consider. Carrying around a journal or physical notebook might be completely out of the question for you. Fortunately, there are plenty of phone apps that you can download (for free!) in which you can log your food. Or you can use the general notes app on your phone to not only track food, but also activity and workouts, and how you felt after each meal.

Limited Flexibility

Knowing you have to track each meal and snack might make you a bit self-conscious, especially if you are doing so in front of others. Therefore, when you log your food, you might be less inclined to eat out, enjoy social gatherings, and eat unknown or new foods. If you are tracking your food so as to hit very specific macronutrient counts or calorie goals, then that puts even more limitations on what you can eat. Being so rigid with a food journal might end up making you feel a bit crazy, and like you can’t just let go and enjoy your meals. Plus, you might be the kind of person who gives up on eating healthy if you choose to spontaneously go off your meal plan – and that can lead to a downward spiral. Tracking your food, then, might actually cause you to eat even worse in the end.

Bottom Line

So should you keep a food journal? If you are the kind of runner who responds well to a disciplined, ordered, and structured day-to-day schedule then it might be exactly the tool to helping you really polish up your nutrition and hit your running goals, as well as help you identify which foods work the best for (or against) your body. But if the thought of food tracking gives you anxiety and sounds just downright awful, then it probably isn’t worth it. You can certainly still make mindful, healthy choices for yourself without logging your food.

Sources

  1. Dr. Liz Applegate, Keep A Food Diary, Runner's World Article, Dec 27, 2007
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