Food and Activity Diaries – How useful are they?

Footnote before note! – this is a must read!! about how inaccurate obsessive calorie counting may be and why….

I ask all my clients and athletes to complete a food, training and well-being diary for me. Why? For many reasons and mostly the following:

Remember, my end goal is to help you eat a more balanced diet, richer in nutrition, focused on REAL foods, reduced in food choices devoid of nutrition, that meets your training requirements and assists the achievement of each training sessions goals while also bringing you naturally to optimal training and racing weight. A diet that enables an athlete to be fit and healthy, free from illness and less prone to injury while supporting intense training, strong competition performance and swifty recovery all the while embracing a healthy relationship to food and with your body….. all done with no need for extreme measure, extreme finance or extreme cooking skills!

So why do I ask you to complete a food and exercise diary?

  • I want to see what you are currently doing.
  • I want to place this in the context of your activity levels/ training schedule.
  • To see if there are any hidden clues relating to your emotional well-being, motivation, stress and overall health.
  • I want to see your eating style and patterns (so that I can work with what you like doing).
  • I want to get an insight into what type of foods you like and your current cooking skills (so as to not ask you to do anything too drastic or overwhelming).
  • I want to gauge how much, how far and how committed you may be in this journey of yours with food (and keep things simple if needs be).
  • I want to see where you eat, what times you eat, and what you have easily available to you (so that I am not asking you to do the impossible. To help trouble-shoot busy days, travel plans, and hectic training schedules).
  • I want to glean an insight into obstacles, issues, food ruts, food attachments, emotional eating patterns, menstrual cycle blood sugar reactions, food cravings  (and how I may best help create a little more balance for you).
  • To gain a little insight into your current carbohydrate: protein: fat total amounts and ratios which is important in relation to your training requirements, current body composition and body composition goals, training energy levels, training recovery and the incidence of health issues or injury occurrence.
  • To spot patterns that may indicate vitamin, mineral, protein, fat, and antioxidant deficiencies.
  • To assess your current long-training nutrition plan (e.g. what you eat on a 4 hour bike session) (with a view to helping you to become more fat adapted through some key nutrition changes).
  • To assess previous race nutrition plans and their success or not (in order to make them better!).

And does it need to be accurately weighed to the nth gram, micro-gram, and millilitre?

  • Firstly I use a sophisticated piece of technology called Bioelectrical Impedence to measure body composition and as part of the data this gives I am provided with Basal Metabolic rate (BMR) and Estimated Activity Requirements (EAR) because with all the data it reads it can give me an accurate assessment of these needs. But saying this, when I correlate this to food intake data and what people eat during their day and week there can be differences. Why? Well margin of error aside in food diary recall, I believe this is because we are all unique metabolic beings. We all measure differently in how we assimilate and use food and in how we move and expend energy. So why waste time trying to match the two when normally a healthy appetite and intuitive eating and stable body weight indicate balance and hence no need to be obsessive in tracking calories, grams and the nitty gritty details.
  • I do not believe we have the power to accurately assess food calories (or the energy expenditure of daily living), let alone from a food diary so although I would like to gain an insight into your portions and relative proportions of macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) I do not expect you to weigh your food in the long-term.
  • There is only one time that I will ask you to be VERY exact and this is when assessing your nutrition and hydration plan for race day during training practice.
  • Tedious weighing and measuring of food leads to restrictive eating patterns (to make it easier) and an obsessive relationship with food; far better to listen to your body cues for food and to nourish it healthily and instinctively.
  • Foods contain differing levels of nutrients season to season, country to country, etc. making it even more challenging to assess nutrition intake accurately.
  • For me, I would rather that my client’s place their focus on the quality of food, the portion size and relative proportions of food groups, the methods of food preparation, the enjoyment and exploration of food, learning new cooking skills, planning and preparation, the timing of food in relation to training and high energy demand and also learning some basics about local, seasonal and traditional foods. I see this as a far more important investment of time than weighing and counting everything obsessively.
  • In a previous life and job (working with Munster rugby team for 4 years) I did assess and analyse their diets (what they were eating) and also I meticulously created diet sheets for them (to improve what they were eating) using state of the art nutrition analysis software (ESHA Research Food Processor TM). This I believe taught me a lot more than it taught them! But wow the hours and hours; just entering beef gives you about 1000 option. I see spending time with the client in education of far greater importance now. In other words just talking about food, life and how to marry the two of these together into something practical and sustainable!
  • Everyone has unique foods tastes and preferences, cooking skills, financial food budget and food availability…. the key work is actually in supporting the athlete to find the best diet for them. Rather than writing perfect food templates that cannot appeal to everyone; especially when working with international athletes. People, and especially busy athletes don’t have time to follow plans perfectly; when the day is busy the far greater skill is to know how to work it all together when you have minimal time and that is made possible by education.

So this guys is what I strive to do in the clinic. If you would like for me to review your food and training patterns please fill in the contact form, OR complete the attached template and email it on to me ( where I will do this for a fee of €85 and provide written feedback and suggestions.

Diet Record for Athletes 2017

In the meantime here is an excellent article by Graeme Close of Close Nutrition on 

Assessing energy intake – has the food diary been served its last supper?

This week has once again seen the assessment of energy expenditure using food diaries heavily criticised during the peer review process. I guess everyone who has had the misfortune and suffered the pain of collecting energy intake data and then analysing it using dietary analyses packages, understands the pitfalls and inaccuracies of energy intake; but given the importance of assessing energy intake it is still something most researchers (and practitioners) strive to achieve. However, has the time come to accept that the inaccuracies are so great that ultimately what we are often doing is wasting our time, but perhaps more importantly, wasting our athletes time – and given we often have very limited time with athletes, could this time be spent more wisely?

Click to

Lotsa love,



The aftermath of excess restriction and attempting to create a perfect food diary!







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