Now we’re not talking about stalking animals through the woods or using the NHS app. We are talking about tracking your exercise or diet.
Did you know that research shows consistently tracking your diet, exercise or both means that you are over 80% more likely to reach your goals! A 2014 study in the Journal of Nutrition also showed that tracking using an app rather than a pen and paper had greater success rates and adherence.
Have I mentioned consistency is KEY before?!?! 🔑🔑🔑
So why track? Why does it help so much?
Let’s look at tracking our diet first. In our experience most people under estimate the amount of calories they are consuming. Sometimes this is just due to a lack of knowledge on how many calories are in certain foods or how many calories their bodies actually need. Often we don’t include things like the milk or sugar in our hot drinks, the quick bite of food as we prep dinner or clear plates or the late night snacks after a few drinks on the weekend.
In a study published in the “New England Journal of Medicine”, Lichtman and colleagues asked participants about their dietary habits and estimated intakes via a food recall analysis, then actually monitored participants’ food intake and exercise levels. What they found was quite shocking. Participants under-reported their calorie intake by an average of 47% and over-reported their exercise by an average of 51%.
What does this mean? Well, if someone thought they were eating 2,000 calories per day, and burning 500 through exercise, then going by these numbers, they’d actually be eating 2,940 calories, and burning only 330. That’s a discrepancy of 1,270 per day. 8,890 calories per week. Or, to put it another way, that extra 8,890 calories extra in a week would be enough for over 2 ½ pounds of pure fat gain.
Tracking helps us to more accurately estimate our intake (it is not an exact science, only a good estimation) so that we can adapt and modify what we eat and drink and also correctly balance our activity calories.
What else does it do?
It builds awareness and increases our knowledge of calories in what we choose to eat & drink
It is a planning tool, don’t just track AFTER you’ve eaten. If you know what you’re having for a meal or that you’re going to have a few drinks enter it in ahead of time to help you plan the rest of the day.
It can help us identify habits and behaviours. Do you realise you always fancy something sweet at 4pm? Have you noticed certain cravings when you’re stressed, tired or bored? The only way to change a habit or behaviour is to know about it in the first place.
It increases our consistency and our likelihood of reaching our dietary goals, whether that be fat loss or weight gain.
It can help you spot what’s missing. Are you getting enough protein? How’s your fibre intake?
Great, so we understand that tracking our food is incredibly helpful, all be it a bit laborious. But what about our exercise? What should we track and why?
Whether you are a runner, cyclist, swimmer, dancer or weight lifter most of us want to improve in some way. You may be entering a competition, a fun team event, looking to increase your muscle tone or muscle mass, change your body shape or just feel fitter.
By tracking what you do in your workouts you can:
Assess your training volume. Training volume is key to progression. It helps you plan your workouts so that you are progressing different elements throughout your week. For example, when running/cycling you can improve your power by doing sprints of different distances or times, increase your cardio fitness (V02 max) by maintaining a threshold pace for longer and push your endurance by running further or for a longer time.
Identify areas to work on. We can use the data from our tracked workouts to spot any areas we need to improve. For example, with weight training most of us have some sort of muscle imbalance. By tracking the weights or number of reps we are able to do especially on single side exercises we spot any differences and adapt our exercise plans accordingly. If an exercise feels really hard it means we need to do it more.
Stick to your plan. Usually with tracking comes planning which makes it a whole lot easier to stick to if you can just turn up and know what you’re doing.
Keep focussed on your goals. We all go through periods where we suffer a severe lack of motivation and will power is not a muscle that can be made stronger. Tracking your previous workouts can be just the motivation you need. You can see how much you’ve progressed and how close your goals are getting.
How to track?
There are so many ways to track both diet and exercise. The best way is going to be the one that is the easiest and most convenient for you to use regularly (There’s that consistency again). You may love a notebook or a spreadsheet or you may love to take photos. Personally we like the ease of an app, if they can also be used via a web page all the better. There are free options or paid options and again it’s more about how it suits your needs than anything else.
If you need some help figuring out what may be right for you we are always happy to chat.
Here are some of our favourite tracking apps:
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