Fitness & Nutrition Tracking: What (& What Not) to Track

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There’s never been a better time to track your health and fitness statistics than right now. From calories to steps, to sleep, to even tracking your poo, there’s a way to watch your every move and gauge your progress. While I agree that there are great advantages to having lots of information at your disposal, it’s easy to go overboard and waste your time and energy on useless stats. And it’s even easier to get overwhelmed by all the info and as a result do nothing with it. Here’s when to track your health and fitness, and what you don’t need to worry about:

< < <     WHEN To Track     > > >

When You Need To Make A Change: If the way you’ve been doing things hasn’t gotten you to where you want to be, then maybe it’s time to assess the situation. Using trackers to see where you are currently can help you determine what needs to change to reach your goal. Starting to pay attention is a great first step.

When Your Doctor Recommends It: If your docter tells you to get healthier, listen to them. They’re not f***ing with you. You don’t always need medication. Most times you just need to switch up a few of your habits.

When You Feel Like Ass All the Time: If you’re always tired, always in pain, feeling depressed, etc, these are signs your body needs something different. You may need more water. You may need to take a walk a few times a week. Whatever it is, listen to your body! You should feel ok most of the time.

< < <     WHAT To Track     > > >

Heart Rate for Recovery (and Accurate Calorie Burn): Remember that using heart rate numbers during your workouts isn’t about seeing how high you can get your heart rate and for how long. It’s about seeing how quickly your heart rate can come back down after being elevated. With the calorie burn function, use them to get an accurate account of calorie burn during workouts (since most people over estimate this number).

What I like: I love my Polar H7 monitor w/ bluetooth and use it probably once or twice a month. Check out the H10 model here.

Nutrition Tracking with Apps: Use these to get an accurate account of what you’re taking in each day. Calories counts are good if you’re trying to lose weight, but you should also look at trying to get protein, fiber, and vitamins out of the foods you eat – not from pills or shakes. Also make sure you’re putting in your drinks and snacks because those things have calories, caffeine & sugar that could be throwing you off.

What I like: I love the Lose It app for a week or two when I’m craving too much crap. There’s also this post.

Sleep Tracking with Apps & Smart Phone Features: There’s more and more evidence showing that lack of sleep is seriously hindering our bodies’ abilities to recover from different kinds of stress, thus leading to weight gain and chronic illness/pain. Tracking your sleep and using sleep reminders is a great way to not only ensure you get a full night’s rest, but also so that the sleep you do get is uninterrupted (except for you new parents out there… sorry).

Instead of just tracking the hours you’re bagging, look at other factors like whether you drank alcohol or not the day before, how much caffeine you consumed, whether you were stressed from work, or whether you got any physical activity that day. These factors can seriously impact your sleep. Paying attention to them for a few weeks can give you some great insight into how you can get better sleep.

What I like: I use the iPhone’s “Night Shift” feature in the Display & Brightness settings to get warm light from 8pm – 8am each day automatically. I also use its Bedtime feature in the Clock app to remind me 30 minutes before bedtime to start shutting things down, get away from screens, start reading my book, etc. I also periodically use the Sleep Cycle app to wake me up during my lightest sleep to feel better getting out of bed each morning.

< < <     WHEN NOT to Track     > > >

24/7: The point of a nutrition app is to get a good look at how much you’re taking in and of what types of foods. Tracking some things is great every now and then, but don’t get so carried away that it starts stressing you out. For nutrition tracking, I usually recommend doing this for 2 weeks at a time, including weekends. Then take a break and try to introduce a few new habits. After a little while, try it for another couple weeks to see if you’ve made progress.

When It Impedes Your Actual Workout or Cooking: Getting to the gym or the park, getting your heart rate monitor on, and setting up your various apps shouldn’t take more time than your actual workout. Time is already fleeting enough for most of us, don’t let you workout get too shortened or your meal of real food get replaced by take-out because you’re messing with all your tracking apps. If it starts getting out of hand, just leave it for the day and pick it back up tomorrow.

When You’re Broke: You don’t have to shell out money for a heart rate monitor, FitBit or Apple watch, if you don’t have it. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. If you already have a smart phone, there are lots of free apps that can help you out. If you don’t have a smart phone, there are libraries with internet that can help you find great, free resources. There are also lots of books to check out so you can learn more about any given health topic. Take advantage of these things before you go out and purchase new stuff. Just because you buy it doesn’t mean it will magically change your life.

When You Feel Fine: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

< < <     WHAT NOT To Track     > > >

Speed/Pace for General Fitness: I will probably never run a marathon or triathlon. I try to run a couple times a week because it’s good for me. Unless you’re a competitive athlete, there’s no need to track your speed, mileage, or pace (especially if you’re a beginner). A 20 – 30 minute walk, jog, or run that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up is good for cardiovascular health. Keep track of your duration, but other than that, don’t worry about much else.

Your Personal Record EVERY workout: If you’re competing for a certain max lift, then it makes sense to push your 1 rep max every so often, but if you’re just working out for general fitness, you don’t have to max out at the end of every single workout. Adaptations take time. Periodization is your friend.

Blood/Microbiome Tests: Under serious health circumstances and with competitive professional athletes, these types of tests may help, but for the average person who’s just trying to be a little healthier, these are not entirely necessary. Don’t go overboard, especially if you don’t have the time or money.

The Complicated Stuff Until You’ve Nailed the Basics: If you’re eating all your meals from the drive thru, get started on vegetables, protein, and learning how to cook before you go all out trying to find out what your Basal and Resting Metabolic Rates are. If you’re not currently eating foods that were grown from the ground, don’t worry about whether you’re in ketosis or not.

My advice: Pick ONE thing to track and do it for 2-4 weeks.

When you feel like you’ve got a handle on it, stop that one and start tracking something else for the next month. If it’s not working for you, don’t do it. If it’s not something that you need or want, don’t worry about it.

Anything else to add? Let me know!

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