Calories in. Calories out.
It really is that simple. I know there is a lot of research-based evidence out there that supports alternate diets to promote weight loss/gain/maintenance, And I’m sure, that for some people, paleo/gluten-free/vegetarian/vegan/raw/low-fat/etc. might be the ticket to a healthy weight, whatever their goal may be. But ultimately, it comes down to how many calories you are taking in versus how many you are burning through your day-to-day activities and exercise.
Regardless of the various styles of eating I’ve experimented with over the years, I always comes back to being mindful of my caloric intake. I don’t shun fats, count carbs, or obsess over protein. I aim to eat a variety of clean foods in their most natural state and purchase the least processed options when I do need to reach for convenience foods.
The reason I bring this up is because I decided earlier this week that I wanted to be a little extra cautious about avoiding weight gain while I taper. Over the past few months, I’ve been eating to support my training and the high mileage that I’ve been running. During previous taper cycles, I’ve noticed that while I might be backing off the mileage, my appetite continues to want the higher amount of calories that it has become accustom to.
A little weight gain, 2-3 pounds, during taper is totally normal and nothing to worry about. What I’m trying to avoid is packing on a bunch of extra pounds. Research shows that extra weight can contribute to a slower race pace. In most cases, just a few seconds per pound but I did find an online calculator that predicts that if I were to drop four pounds from my current (and I’m guessing what my current weight is because I rarely weigh myself) weight, I could shave 2:32 off my half marathon time or 5:17 off my marathon time. Taking that in to consideration, I think it is worth a shot to prevent gaining weight while I’m tapering.
That said, I’m going to try to avoid my OCD from taking over and work to allow for flexibility. Always. If I’m hungry, I eat. Plain and simple. (And of course, I’m totally hungry right now!) Fueling my body to perform at it’s best will always be my biggest priority!
In the past when I’ve lost weight, I’ve found, for me personally, that counting and tracking calories is the most effective method. It is a pain in the ass and time-consuming but on the upside, it holds me accountable and much more aware of portion sizes, which I have a tendency to distort. (What? A serving of tortilla chips is not half a bag?!)
Earlier this week I signed up for My Fitness Pal, which can be used online as well as an app on a Smartphone or iPhone. I’m still getting the hang of it but already see the value of it. It is so much easier than my previous system of Google-ing foods that didn’t come with the nutrient values labeled on the container. You can even scan the bar code to upload the nutrient data.
There are four things I really like about using this app:
1. Accountability with portion sizes. My aforementioned comment about distorted portion sizes… to be honest with myself, I need to measure out my food. Eyeballing it is not accurate and I know I eat way more than I think I do because I guesstimate a serving size.
2. Most foods are already in the system. I don’t have to do the research to figure out how many calories are in a cup of almond milk or enter it individually anytime I have it. Most brands, various serving sizes, etc., have already been entered by other users so all I have to do is search for it and 9 times out of 10, I find what I’m looking for. This is true of many mainstream and name-brand items.
3. It does the math for me. Considering math was my worst subject in school, followed by espanol, I love that the app automatically calculates my caloric intake for me once I enter the food item. It also adds calories back to the “bank” when I enter a run or other form of exercise. No math degree needed!
4. Logging foods before they are consumed. Sounds funny, but sometimes I enter the food or meal I’m about to eat. Once it’s entered and the calories are accounted for (subtracted from my daily allotment) I don’t want to go back to add more. Another win for portion control!
So far, the only con I’ve found is that it can be a guessing game sometimes… especially when it comes to homemade items or restaurant meals. (Though you can enter a recipe into a calculator that will generate the nutritional breakdown for you.) My rule of thumb is make the most educated guess I can and not worry too much about it. It is meant to be a guide to create awareness and some added accountability, not an end-all, be-all.
I don’t intend to use it long-term but see it as an opportunity to reset my ideals as far as portion sizes go and help me navigate my marathon taper without stressing too much about adding weight while I cut my mileage and my body and metabolism readjust.
Do you count calories, use an app to track your dietary intake, etc.? I’d love to hear what others are doing to stay accountable (or not). Shoot me a comment on you thoughts!