Triathlon Nutrition Tracking

My triathlon training and racing has been going well lately, but I’d still like to step things up a gear and get faster still.

I can’t afford new go faster kit such as aero wheels or a tri-specific bike which could shave some seconds off my times. I could increase the training load which I will do as the World Champisonnships approach, but there’s only so much I can do there without breaking myself and I intend to put in all the training and preparation that I can. So, the next thing to look at is my diet.

It’s not bad anyway and contains plenty of fresh fruit and veg along with healthy fat and proteins, but as with many things I’m sure it could be improved. I’m currently reading a few books to help me learn more about the complicated and often controversial world of sports nutrition. These include:

Matt Fitzgeralds ‘Racing Weight’

Anita Beans ‘ Sports Nutrition’

and

Anita Beans ‘Food for Fitness’

As well as this I’m tracking and maybe adjusting my diet based on the recommendations in these books. The first step to improving or modifying your diet is to track what you are actually eating at the moment. Being a bit of a geek and an iPad owner, the various (and there are lots of them) calorie and exercise tracking apps available through the Apple App store are an ideal way for me to do this.

The review of calorie and exercise tracking apps that I wrote a while back is a good staring point, but since then there are even more, so I started out using a few of them again for comparison. As in my previous review, the important aspects of any such app are that it has to be quick and easy to use, has to be accurate, it has to look nice and it has to have some cool features. So, here’s a quick run down of the ones I tried this time and why some of them were discarded.

Cal Counter was one I hadn’t tried before. It was good, it looked nice, the interface was easy to use and it seemed fairly accurate. The database of foods wasn’t the best out there though and it had very little in the way of analysis and extra features.

Calorie Counter by Fat Secret was still fairly boring to look at but did have a good database of foods, was relatively easy to use and still syncs nicely with the online version. It didn’t look as good as the others though so soon fell by the wayside.

The Diet and Fitness Tracker by Spark People was again fairly good with an excellent database of foods, a nice looking and easy to use interface and syncing to an online version as well. However, it’s accuracy was lacking when it came to entering in any exercise that I’d done. It seemed to grossly underestimate the number of calories burnt during exercise. Most other apps and my Garmin GPS device would say that an hour or so of fast cycling was burning close to 1000 calories, this app had it down at around 200. So, that app soon got discarded.

Calorie Tracker Lite from Livestrong. As before, I just didn’t get on with this app. It promises much but just doesn’t suit me. You may like it as many do, but I’m just not sure about it.

MyFitnessPal. This was a new one for me and at the moment seems to be the one I’ve plumped for. It looks nice, syncs with an online version (that has a few extra features), has good documentation, and excellent database of food that is quick and easy to use. It has lots of social features as well that I’m not interested in but for simple nutrition tracking and calorie counting it seems to work well.

Calorie Count. I’m just about to start testing this one, but initial thoughts are good. It seems to be quick and easy to use, looks accurate and has a nice analysis page that not only shows you a nutrition report but rates these and shows you a calorie distribution chart which breaks down where your calories are coming from – carbs, fats, protein or alcohol.

They are all however pretty similar so any one will do as the important thing is that you track your diet so that you can then make changes where necessary. The ironic thing though is that tracking shop bought, mass produced processed foods is easy. The databases within these apps usually have detailed nutritional information about such products, but it is often these exact producs that you shouldn’t be eating. These products often have far too much sugar and salt in them, along with all sorts of preservatives and other addictives. Tracking homemade meals isn’t quite so easy within these apps though, simply because there is no published data available for such food items.

We cook most of our food from scratch using fresh (often home grown) ingredients. We don’t add any salt to anything and always add extra vegetables to those listed in the recipes. The only way to accurately track the nutritional data for such meals is to add the ingredients and quantities one by one to these tracking apps. Fortunately MyFitnessPal that I seem to be using at the moment does allow you to save your own custom foods and even recipes to its database so once you’ve added it once it should be easy to add it again. The initial data entry may be a little time consuming for fresh cooked, homemade meals but it should become easier in time.

We’ve also had a couple of buffet meals this weekend and adding data for those isn’t easy as I end up eating lots of different types of food. Overall though diet and exercise tracking apps on the iPad make recording such things a breeze.

So, what’s msising?

Well, all of these apps seem to do pretty much the same thing. They all have a database of foods that allow you to quickly and easily enter anything that you consume, and they all have a way of adding any exercise that you do. This allows you to track calories in and calories out to give you an overall calorie balance for the day. They also allow you to track your weight and in some cases other body parameters such as percentage of body fat. Most of them contain a more detailed breakdown of the nutritional composition of your diet as well, allowing you to track macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient intake.

All of this is well and good, but they do all seem to approach this from a weight-loss point of view. I guess that is where the money is for such apps, but I’m not necessarily looking to track my diet from a purely weight-loss point of view, I’m looking at it from an athletic performance standpoint.

Analysis and comparisons of various metrics from an athletic performance would be nice additional features of such apps. It would be good for instance to have a graphical representation or even just a score of the quality of your diet, not just the calorific value of it from day to day. It would then be good to be able to compare this against your body parameters such as weight and body fat percentage so that you can see what diet changes make a difference. Better still would be a way of adding data from performance benchmark tests so that you could compare athletic performance against your weight and other body parameters and also against your nutritional intake. Seeing such things in a graphical way may just help highlight what a difference your diet has and may provide the necessary motivational stimulus that encourage you to make a change for the better.

I shall continue to monitor my diet for a while and see how it goes.

5 Responses

  1. mum says:

    I think go faster bike and/or wheels sounds easier

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.