This is one of the most frequent questions I received since starting this blog. It’s really quite simple, it only takes few ounces of effort per day for benefits that are quite substantial and greatly outweigh the extra labor. As of now, I have a complete list of everything I ate from 25th of November 2012, which is over a year worth of nutrition data. When this information is coupled with my training dairy, I can really evaluate the impact of nutrition on my performance and recovery, body composition and body weight…
Basically everything you need for successful nutrient tracking is a kitchen scale and spreadsheet application. And a bit of tips & tricks to minimize the time consumption. But first, the #1 used appliance in my home:
Nothing fancy, approx. €15 investment with a great cost-effectiveness ratio. Digital is of course better and besides, it’s harder to get analogue scale anyway. Just be prepared to change batteries often 😉
Being the most used item in my kitchen, it stands in the middle of my kitchen counter, so it is no problem to scale everything that goes into the dishes or directly into my mouth. Somewhere near are also a pencil and a block of paper for writing down the qualitative and quantitative composition of meals. This is the time for a tip that I foundnd very useful. I preprint small notes with usual foods I eat for breakfasts, snacks or launches, so when I weight things, I only need to put down the quantity. It might not seem much of an improvement, but when you think how many “macadamia”, “cottage cheese” and other long words it saves, it’s a big time saver on a cumulative scale. Along with food items and quantities I also note the time of meal consumption.
Although I eat vast majority of my meals are at home, there are inevitably some situations that prevent me the use of my kitchen scale, i.e. dinning out situations. The composition of those meals is of course less accurate, due to estimation quantities, but when you weight your every food for about a week, you quickly get a hang of quantities remarkably accurately. Let alone if you weight your food for a couple of months, this estimation is really no problem at all. I often even “play” with my assessment capabilities in the kitchen, estimating the weight of items before actually weighting them. And surprisingly, I am not far away in estimates for the items that I use the most.
As described before in my blog, I developed my own spreadsheet for tracking nutrient intake in Microsoft Excel. Fundamentally, all you need is a list of foods with nutrient composition (carbs, protein, fat, kCal…) and a list of food that you ate. Linking them with a simple VLOOKUP functions and then summing data with a couple of array formulas then gives me summarized nutrition information for specific day, week or month. Just basic Excel formulas, no macros or visual basic programming needed. I only threw in some fancy conditional formatting and graphs that allow me easier analysis and interpretation of data. Additionally, I also implemented tracking various categories of foods (i.e. dairy, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, meat, fishes…), mostly just out of curiosity for how much of specific food groups I eat. I keep this spreadsheet in my Dropbox cloud, so I can access it from everywhere.
As far as nutrient composition of food goes, I get most of the information from Wikipedia, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Wolfram alpha and food labels on food products. If everything above fails, then Google usually comes to the rescue.
Below are some screenshots from the spreadsheet I use.
All in all, I would estimate that additional labor for tracking nutrient intake takes me less than 5 minutes per day. I do not find this extra work troublesome as it has become a part of my daily routine. Basically, it’s the same thing as with every other “investment” in our lives: it’s not hard to do something if the benefits outweigh the effort.