Every seasoned athlete knows proper nutrition is absolutely essential to recovery, and performance. Next to getting adequate Zzz's, and dialing in your training plan, what you eat directly impacts how you progress. If you're undernourished, you may feel more fatigued before and after your workouts. If you're eating too much...well, we all know how that goes. Regardless, you won't make the strides and gains you're after without the right fuel your body needs to fire on all cylinders.
But let's say you already eat pretty healthy, (like the majority of Spartans). Your grocery cart is typically full of fruit and vegetables, you stick to the outside isles—avoiding frozen pizza and junk food—but you still want to ditch bad habits, and level up your nutrition game. That's where tracking what and when you eat, and how it impacts performance, comes in handy. The key? Mindful eating. "Nutritional awareness is often the first step in dialing in your nutrition," says Corinna Coffin, Spartan Elite athlete and RD. "If we don't know what our typical eating patterns and food choices look like, we can't expect to make changes."
The good news is that with a basic understanding of micros and macros, and proper hydration, you can make your nutrients work for you. By developing healthy habits to keep your fuel in check, your body's natural metabolic response supports performance, helps to prevent injury and promotes recovery. You don't need a million fitness apps, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Instead, try these doable daily hacks to track and integrate healthier nutritional patterns and maximize your potential.
Easy, Daily Nutrition Trackers to Improve Performance and Recovery
1. Make Mindfulness Your Mindset
Just like with training, nutrition is part effort, part mindset. You need to think about everything you put into your body as either propelling you forward, or setting you back. Once you develop a sense of awareness around your intake, you'll notice where you need to amp it up, and where to cut back. "Sometimes our intake is WAY off from where we think it is, so tracking your nutrition can be a really useful tool to ensure you are consuming an appropriate amount of food to meet your daily needs," says Coffin. "Monitoring your food intake during periods of training and/or competition when physical demands of your body are increased can be extremely effective for improving performance outcomes using proper nutrition protocol."
2. Go In with a Game Plan
Planning out your meals and establishing a daily routine you stick to (for the most part) goes a long way. Just like you plan your workouts in advance, so to should you do that with food. It eliminates the guesswork out of your day when it comes to food intake. "If you a have specific calorie and/or macronutrient target, knowing the amount of meals and snacks you plan to consume over the course of the day will give you a better sense of how to spread out those nutrients in a manner that supports your lifestyle," says Coffin. "Of course, life throws us many curveballs, so you might have to adjust this schedule on the fly, but going in with a game plan will serve you better than making it up as you go."
Getting on a schedule affects hunger patterns (for the better) as our bodies adapt to new ways of eating. This means you can train yourself not to be hungry late in the evening when the calories you take in are often nutrient-poor. "There is an old adage that we should eat like a king in the morning, like a queen in the afternoon, and like a pauper in the evening," says Jim White, RD, ACSM EX-P, and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. "This has been shown to have some merit in helping people regulate intake, make healthier choices, and keep weight stable." Limit eating to a 10-12 hour time frame each day, suggests White, and should consist of planned meals or mini-meals. "This typically prevents overeating. Grazing often promotes increased calorie intake and intake of less nutrient-dense foods. Our bodies rely on a rhythm that keeps us functioning at our best and we should do our best to work within that rhythm."
3. Keep a Food Journal
Start recording what you eat. Keep a note in your phone, write it down, or download a calorie counter. However you do it, make it a daily practice for a week. Getting into this habit will accelerate your awareness around what you eat, and you may be surprised what patterns you notice. (Late night snackers, we're talking to you!) Be as detailed as you like, adding notes on when you ate and how you felt afterward. "Monitoring our intake by keeping a food journal or using an online tracker can be extremely helpful, not only by creating this awareness but also learning more about the nutrition components of various foods," says Coffin. "Food trackers are a great way to learn which foods are high in protein, versus fat, versus carbohydrates, as well as sugar and fiber content. Tracking our intake can also help keep us consistent day to day rather than succumbing to sporadic eating patterns."
4. Perfect Your Portions
To ensure each meal or snack has the right balance of nutrients, think in macros and micros. Macros (carbs, protein and fats) are the big guns that keep your energy powerhouse running. Micros (vitamins and minerals) are essential to metabolism, your immune system, and so much more. They work together to keep you optimally performing. You know if you eat garbage, you'll feel like garbage. But what about getting food ratios right? Coffin recommends thinking about your plate in quarters: ensure 1/4 is lean protein, 1/4 is whole grain, and 1/2 is fruit and vegetable. "Your hands can also be great tools for measuring and portion control," says Coffin. "Use the size of your palm as a serving of protein, your fist for veggies, the size of your entire thumb for fats, and a cupped handful for carbs. Depending on your size, nutrition/health goals and activity level, you may need to adjust the number of servings at each meal."
5. Let the H2O Flow
If you're thirsty—including when you're working out—that's a sign you're probably dehydrated. Especially now that we're coming into summer, it's a good idea to workout with a hydration pack. Also make sure you drink plenty of water in between sweat sessions, and throughout the day. "Athletes specifically should follow more stringent guidelines to ensure they don’t become dehydrated during exercise. They should drink 16-24 fluid ounces of water within 2 hours prior to training. Shortly before exercise, they should consume another 8-12 ounces of water," says White. "During exercise, athletes should drink approximately 6-12 ounces every 10-20 minutes. Don’t rely on thirst as an indicator to drink as thirst means you are already getting dehydrated."
A good rule of thumb to make sure you drink enough is to consume at least half of your bodyweight in ounces of water each day, according to Coffin. So if you weigh 150 lbs, drink at least 75 ounces of water—about two and a half 30 oz tumblers. That said, it's always better to overshoot than undershoot your water intake. "With increased physical activity in warm or hot climates, hydration needs are increased due to water loss through perspiration and regulating internal body temperature," says Coffin. Be sure to stay ahead of the game by sipping water throughout the day, even when you're not thirsty.