#18: Nutrition Monitoring
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
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In the past 2 blogs I talked about productivity. Why would the Coach's Blog, a blog about cycling performance, waste time talking about productivity? Good question. I believe the more productive you are, the better and more focused your training will be. Therefore, productivity can play a big role in your success as an athlete. Check out Blog #16 and Blog #17 for more details on productivity and some of the methods I suggest to be more productive.
We took a little break from the Racing Weight series, but now we are back on track. We'll take a look at Step 4 in Matt Fitzgerald's Racing Weight plan. As a quick reminder, here are the 6 steps to his Racing Weight plan:
Improve your diet quality
Manage your appetite
Balance your energy sources
Time your nutrients
In this blog we'll tackle the topic of monitoring yourself.
Why should we monitor our nutrition? We are talking about Racing Weight and the journey to find your optimal performance weight. So don't forget the wise words of MC SpandX, "It's all about performance, it's the name of the game." Hence Optimal PERFORMANCE weight. So we must approach weight loss with a mindset that is focused on performance. A common mistake endurance athletes make is that they focus too much on getting as light as possible and end up decreasing their overall performance.
"Yes, you want to be light, but you don't want to be light at all costs. You want to be light and lean." -Matt Fitzgerald
And this makes the whole Racing Weight system a little more complicated than simply "lose weight." We only want to lose weight if it's going to help us perform better. And we don't want to lose too much weight if it's going to have negative effects on our performance. If you lose weight, but decrease performance then you're just defeating the purpose.
So the main reason to monitor your weight and nutrition is to find your optimal performance weight and ultimately increase performance.
Another reason you want to monitor yourself throughout this process is because you need to stay informed with how your body is adapting. Making dietary and training changes without tracking your progress and results seems a bit counter intuitive. You must not only make those changes, but also monitor how your body is reacting to those changes. This will make sure those changes are actually producing benefits and not hindering your health and performance along the way.
"What gets measured, gets managed." - Peter Drucker
The more aware we are, the more likely we are to succeed at reaching our goal. It doesn't make much sense to set a goal of losing 10 pounds, but only step on the scale once every couple months. How do you know if what you're doing is working? It's been proven that people who weigh themselves daily are a lot more likely to lose weight and keep the weight from coming back. They are constantly monitoring themselves to make sure they stay on track. It may take a month for you to realize your pants are fitting a little tighter than normal, but you'll notice a change on the scale within days. This allows you to adapt your plan quicker and more effectively.
Side Note: Do realize that your weight may fluctuate up and down by the day due to a long list of different causes, but you want to keep your focus on the big picture of a downward trend over each training block.
What should I monitor? Good question. There are three main things you'll want to monitor as you search for your optimal performance weight: body weight, body composition and performance.
It should be obvious that you'll want to monitor your body weight throughout this process. While this is definitely the easiest thing to monitor, it doesn't quite give us enough data to help us toward our goal of optimal performance.
You'll also want to monitor body composition. The primary thing here is body fat percentage. Unfortunately your typical body weight scale doesn't tell you this. Fortunately, we can order a body fat scale fairly easily and they are quite inexpensive. I found one by the brand Renpho on Amazon for about $20 and seems to be working fine so far. I'm not sure if it's extremely accurate, but it is consistent which is what's important. As long as you're using the same scale and under the same circumstances you'll still be able to monitor your body's changes.
Another thing that I've been monitoring alongside body fat percentage is my muscle mass. This gives me a glimpse of what my overall muscle mass looks like in comparison to my overall body weight. If my weight went up 2 pounds, but my muscle mass also went up 2 pounds, then that's probably a beneficial 2 pounds and will improve my overall performance.
And last, but not least you'll want to monitor your performance. This doesn't mean you'll do an FTP test every day. However, you should be performing FTP tests every couple of months to monitor performance on that front. This is probably the simplest way to monitor performance. Simply perform the same exact 8-20 minute power test on the same course, under the same conditions and watch the watts increase and time decrease (ideally).
But what do we do in the meantime? I think there are other ways to track performance along the way. One alternative is simply being a bit more aware of how you feel during intervals and keeping a journal that logs this information. The easiest way to do this is to leave comments in TrainingPeaks and use that as a training journal. It will save all your comments and you can go back and view any previous comments and workouts online. An added benefit of this is that your coach will be able to see your input as well and provide helpful feedback along the way. The more communication between coach and athlete, the better.
This is where all the geeks and data-nerds will jump up and down (myself included). The best way to monitor this process is by creating a chart and logging the data along the way. I've created a table in my "Learners Manual" (more on this later) that looks something like this.
You can see my weight fluctuates each week, but over the 4 week period I ended up about 2 pounds lighter than at the start, which is the right direction. I haven't taken an FTP test yet so that number has stayed the same. The notes section is just a quick preview of what that week looked like. If I've made any changes to my diet I will log that info here. For example: I started taking a greens powder supplement in the mornings so I put that in the notes, because I want to see if it helps with performance or health at all. I also track any big rides or training that may have occurred that week that may have played a role in my weight.
Another good idea, but not crucial, is a food journal. Basically a food journal is you logging everything you eat. Sounds a bit complicated and could be a hassle, so maybe this isn't something you do every single day, but I definitely find it useful occasionally to get an idea of what your overall diet looks like.
There are a lot of easy apps you could download and use, like the MyFitnessPal app which also track macronutrients, calories and all that mumbo-jumbo. I've said this before, but I only do this every few months to get a snapshot of what my macro-nutrients intake looks like. I think this is too burdensome to do every single day.
An alternative could be to simply log the food you eat without all the details. This could simply be a note on your phone each day and then copying it to your TrainingPeaks. This wouldn't capture exact quantities or nutrient intake, but will at least give you a good look at the foods you're eating.
Nutrition is cause and effect. Monitoring body weight and performance is all about the "effect" of the food we eat. The actual food we put in our body is the "cause" of those "effects." Knowing the "cause" allows us to get to the root of the issue. We want to capture both if we want to make meaningful change.
I mentioned a "Learners Manual" earlier. Your Learners Manual is really whatever you want it to be, but its a place for you to "think" about your nutrition. That's a pretty broad definition, but that's the idea. This could be where you log your daily food journal. This could be where you keep your Optimal Performance Weight chart we talked about earlier. This is the place for you to log all your nutrition information and also to ask questions and design experiments.
Experimenting: This is where it gets fun. This is where you can experiment with certain foods, nutrition plans or even training protocols and capture your results and thoughts along the way. Here's an example from my Learners Manual. A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to experiment with a soda near the end of a long endurance ride to see how if it could be a useful tool late in a long race. I primarily wanted to see if it would cause gastric distress, aka stomach cramps. So about 20 miles from home I stopped at the gas station and filled one bottle with RC Cola. And not only did it taste great, but I felt strong all the way home without any stomach issues. So it's safe to say from this experiment that I could potentially use a soda near the end of a race to give me that last bit of juice to finish strong.
Be creative. Try out new foods and log the results. If you've got questions about specific foods or ingredients then ask those questions in your Learners Manual and then do some research on that food so you can go back and answer your own questions. I've also been encouraging athletes to log any food or questions they may have and the next time we jump on a check-up call we'll talk about those concerns and come up with ways to move forward.
The Racing Weight plan is all about making changes to increase performance. Nutrition monitoring is all about tracking those changes and your bodies reactions along the way. The more aware we are, the better.
I talk about a handful of different methods to monitor your racing weight plan. You may not implement all of them, but hopefully you implement some of them. Find what works best for you and stick with it. The more simple we make it, the more likely we are to follow through with it. Results don't happen from big, short-term change, but from small, long-term consistency.
Next up is Step 5: Nutrient Timing