Athletes often raise a question in Fuelin: "Do I have to track my food intake?”. It can be divisive amongst nutritionists and dieticians due to potential negative connotations associated with tracking. For specific individuals, tracking can reinforce poor dietary habits and behaviors, but for other athletes, it can be the game changer that improves an athlete's nutritional habits. We have been improving athlete intake tracking, staying accountable, and educating them on nutritional composition. We want athletes to feel free of pressure and not to be neurotic about their daily fuel intake. This article outlines how we would like athletes to utilise the different tracking methods within Fuelin. Athletes can use these systems depending on their current training cycle, educational desire, the purpose of their training and finally, willingness in their nutrition journey.
1. Simplifying your life
2. Why track?
3. Considerations for food tracking
4. What type of tracker are you?
5. Final thoughts
Simplifying Your Life
Many athletes need help understanding, comprehending or appreciating the complexity of decision-making behind Fuelin when choosing the meal's colour. Over 50+ calculations occur daily to ensure we deliver the correct amount and type of meals for every athletic session.
Simplicity is a blessing and a curse for us. A benefit is that we have simplified the messaging and decision-making for the athlete to simply see a red, yellow or green and know what amount and types of carbs they should eat. The same is for the amount of protein, fat, meal timing and forward planning. A curse in that it is misunderstood how the complex interplay between session intensity, duration, number of daily sessions, athlete biometrics, athlete purpose, total weekly training hours, and overall coaches' training plan dictate the selection of these meal colours.
“Fuelin is removing the “decision paralysis” associated with understanding the amount and type of fuel required to support the athletes' individual needs.”
Providing a simple framework the athlete can follow, and trust is paramount to our success. The most common feedback we receive is, “It just makes life simpler”. Once the athlete understands and recognizes this, tracking to improve the quality and quantity of nutritional intake is the next piece of the health puzzle.
For us at Fuelin, the first reason for tracking is Awareness. Food tracking allows an athlete to gain visibility of their eating habits. Food tracking helps the athlete with what they set out to learn and achieve. Often the awareness will come in the form of education surrounding caloric and macro-nutrient details of specific foods or ingredients. All too often, we will receive feedback such as, “I never knew that one tablespoon of almond butter had so much fat in it!”, “I know avocados are good for me, yet gee, I need to be mindful of just how much I am eating due to the total fat content.” or “I did not realise my granola had that much sugar and total carbs in it.” The educational aspect of tracking can be invaluable in the short term. Long-term visualization of portions and composition allows hard food tracking to be reserved when required, in and around essential competitions or periods of defined time.
“Food tracking allows an athlete to gain visibility of their eating habits. Food tracking helps the athlete with what they set out to learn and achieve.”
The reason for tracking is Accountability. Food tracking helps athletes stay aligned with their targets and the provision of nutrition. How are they executing the plan if not tracking? Is an athlete tracking their fitness metrics? Do they follow the reps, sets, and weights lifted in the gym? What is their wattage and distance on the bike? Heart rate and pace during running? Why should tracking nutrition be different if you're trying to maximise the output?
“One consideration for tracking (amongst several others described below) is that tracking is only as good as tracking quality.”
If you are “hard-tracking” yet not doing it in real-time, there will likely be omissions and reductions in total amounts consumed. If you are “soft-tracking”, the exact caloric intake will not be correct. Both are essential acknowledgements to consider. Ultimately, if you are achieving your desired outcome and that outcome results from the application of eating better and focusing on that. You are in a better position than before you start your tracking journey. If you are not getting the results from the process, then step back and ask yourself, “Is the process accurate and as good as it can be?” It is crucial not to blame others for issues; instead, work with the people attempting to help you and figure out where the gaps might exist. Taking a step back could ultimately prove to be a better way forward.
Considerations for tracking?
There are multiple considerations related to tracking, as highlighted by the infographic above. The psychology of food tracking is critical. If you are an athlete who has suffered from disordered eating or an eating disorder, you are encouraged to discuss your circumstances with a health professional. Triggering unhealthy behaviour is the polar opposite of Fuelin’s focus. Your motivation will largely dictate the degree to which you track. From “hard-tracking” to “soft-tracking”, or utilising a blend of the types of food tracking discussed below may very well be determined by your internal motivation to achieve your purpose. The end goal is not the focus. I have discussed this previously - this relates to embracing pain and hardship, enjoying the struggle in the knowledge that this brings the reward. When enjoying pain is achieved, the enjoyment is limitless as the pain is forever at your fingertips.
“It is important to remember that the end goal is not what should be focused on….embracing the pain and hardship brings the reward.”
What type of tracker are you?
At Fuelin, we refer to athletes' food-tracking style in three ways. The TICKER, THE BUILDER, and THE TRACKER effectively achieve their purpose. They differ in complexity and effort. Below is a description of each style of food tracking that is possible through Fuelin. It is possible to use all three type of nutrition tracking independently or as a combination method to suit an athlete and their tracking preference. Here is how they work.
“This is the simplest of all forms of tracking. At the most basic level, this is about recognising the carb colour for each meal and ticking it off when consumed.”
The MEAL TICKER can be handy for two types of athletes. The first is the athlete who is starting and wants to start with a minimal amount of effort and accountability. Essentially, recognise low, moderate and higher amounts of carbohydrates prescribed for the specific meal and eat it accordingly. The athlete would understand the consumption of protein and fat content in foods & beverages. The MEAL TICKER method is not the first-line recommended tracking method for the beginner or nutritionally uneducated athlete. The reason is whilst it is the easiest, it may need to be more accurate to get desired results. It could lead to under or over-fueling and mismanagement of micro-nutrition due to gaps in nutritional knowledge about certain food groups and ingredients.
The MEAL TICKER method can be very effective for the seasoned, nutritionally educated Fuelin athlete. We see this quite a lot with Fuelin athletes who have been on the program for longer than six months and understand the colour coding and their protein and fat requirements. During the post-ad off-season period, this quick reference technique to get teh appropriate amounts of fuel can be beneficial and rewarding without the need for “hard-tracking”. A reference method, if you will.
“The MEAL TICKER method is not the first-line recommended tracking method for the beginner or nutritionally uneducated athlete.”
There are two ways to approach the “meal builder” approach to track within the Fuelin app. The first is utilising the “hand sizing” method. We outlined the visualisation method in the extensive athlete onboarding PDF. Precision Nutrition created this popular method of using your hand as a reference point for macro tracking. We do not claim to have made it; instead, we acknowledge its value. We have adjusted the method to suit what we believe is the easiest way to use it and have accurate macro tracking.
One hand of PROTEIN = 40g PRO, 10g FAT, 0g CARBS.
One cupped hand of CARBS = 3g PRO, 4g FAT, 20g CARBS.
One thumb of FAT = 2g PRO, 10g FAT, 2g CARBS.
One fist of VEGETABLES = 2g PRO, 0g FAT, 10g CARBS.
Fuelin provides this method to track nutrition intake within Fuelin. The best “guestimate” method keeps an athlete on point without being meticulous. There is an underlying assumption and agreement with the Fuelin team that an athlete using this method has a good grasp of the nutritional composition of ingredients and food.
The other way you can be a MEAL BUILDER is by utilizing the ingredients and recipes within Fuelin. You can pre-populate your days and week to hit your macro targets and then tick them off in real time as the days happen. The MEAL BUILDER method is a very effective way to use in-house ingredients and recipes. It can also incorporate the hand visualisation method into the selections to create a bastardised system that works. Select a meal based on the carb colour prescribed. Then add protein ingredients to top up your per-meal target for fat and protein (if required). A general rule is 40g of protein per main meal with 15g of fat. The intake calculation uses the athlete's body weight and daily caloric requirements for the specific amount. If a meal selected has 20g protein, adding at least another 20g protein (100g produce weight) is recommended to top up. Examples of this would be 100g or half a hand of chicken/beef/fish/tempeh/tofu. (see image above) The added ingredient provides an extra 20g of protein, 5g of fat and 0 of carbs (3g for the plant-based choices).
The final method an athlete can choose to be on top of their nutrition intake is the MEAL TRACKER method. The MEAL TRACKER method involves using an external food tracking system. Fuelin syncs with MyfitnessPal and Loseit. Tracking via a food diary is the most accurate method. The accuracy is dependent on the athlete’s dedication to monitoring correctly. Food tracking accurately involves weighing food, at least initially, to assess portions. Using similar-sized plates or measuring cups at home removes the need for weighing food over time. Another consideration is choosing the correct ingredient or meal inputs within the tracking apps. Selecting verified options assists the accuracy. Fuelin recommends double-checking the macro amounts and total calorie descriptions within the ingredients or meals. Quite often, there can be errors that require amendment.
“Fuelin syncs with MyfitnessPal and LoseIt. Tracking via a food diary is the most accurate method. The accuracy is dependent on the athlete's dedication to monitoring correctly.“
There are many methods of food or nutrition tracking that can suit every individual athlete. Fuelin has purposefully integrated several ways into the program to allow the athletes to achieve their purpose. The purpose, in this case, is either performance or improvements in body composition. Fuelin recommends playing with all the methods to find the best fit for you. A combination of one, two or three methods is possible, and it works very well. Enjoy the challenge and learning experience you gain from educating yourself on what you eat. We are what we eat, and if you are eating better quality food, more of it, then you may just become a better quality athlete.