Episode 59 - Why you don't need to count calories as a triathlete

Why you don't need to count calories as a triathlete

Triathletes love data. But not all data is useful or beneficial to helping us reach our goals. 

Calorie counting is one of them. It can be overwhelming. And there are limitations to both estimating energy intake and energy expenditure - tune in to hear more on this!

You don’t need to count calories and track everything you eat to be successful in the sport. Or to reach your ideal body composition. 

I can help you achieve your goals WITHOUT tracking calories. Does that make you heave a sigh of relief?

If you want to learn to eat to fuel your body, without having to track everything that you put in your mouth, come and join us inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy!

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Episode Transcription

Episode 59: Why you don't need to count calories as a triathlete

Taryn Richardson  00:00

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Taryn Richardson  00:43

Hello, and welcome to today's episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. We are right at the finish line for Doors Open of the Program. They close tomorrow at 6pm, Saturday the 17th of September, AEST. So if you're in the US, that's Friday night, your time. It's been such a fun week. I ran my first online Triathlon Nutrition Training Camp over three days - that was pretty cool. And I'm pretty excited to welcome a whole range of awesome new triathletes inside the program. This is your last chance to come on inside if you do want to get your nutrition sorted. Doors close tomorrow, like I said, and they don't open again until 2023. We're going to spend the next few months getting everyone sorted with their nutrition as we hurtle towards Christmas.

Taryn Richardson  01:36

What I wanted to talk to you today about, is why you don't really need to count calories and track those things when you're a triathlete. Now, I know the type of personalities that thrive in the sport of triathlon (I know because I am one). But that type A personality - a little bit high achieving (not gonna lie),  and this is not me, but a lot of triathletes love data and love numbers. They love to be able to control that stuff, or just have all that information at their fingertips. And for some people, that's great. It keeps you on track, you can see what's going on. But for others, that data is actually a hindrance. It's overwhelming. There are too many things.

Taryn Richardson  02:22

And it's the same with food. Tracking your food and counting calories and constantly putting what you're eating into an App is just another thing to do. It can be really time-consuming. It can be overwhelming. And is it actually helping you to reach your goals? You don't have to answer that. But think about it. Now, I'm not saying stop tracking if you are currently tracking your intake and absolutely love it. I know some athletes that it really works for. There are a couple of people inside the Program that do track calories, and that's totally fine. But you don't need to track your calories or start tracking because you think you should. I'm here to tell you that you can lose weight, or drop body fat without having to count calories. There's an easier way.

Taryn Richardson  03:13

Now there are a few things we need to talk about when it comes to actually tracking your calories. I want you to have all the information so you can make an informed choice. Firstly, there's limitations with the whole recording thing. We know that you change what you eat when you have to write it down. There's literature that shows us that. But also just think about it yourself. If you suddenly start tracking your food in an App, or you've been doing it for a while, and you see an almond on the bench, could be a chocolate bar, could be an almond, could be an apple. And you're like, "Alright, I want to eat that. I'm going to put it in my mouth. Oh, but wait - I have to then put that in my App if I ever do that, so I'm not going to", and you put it back down. We know that we change our behaviour when we have to write it down. That's why food diaries with people, I always take with a little grain of salt, because you have to read between the lines a little bit - not everything gets written down. And you do change your behaviour. So keep that in mind when it comes to tracking intake. It's not always an accurate and true representation of your food behaviour.

Taryn Richardson  04:19

The second thing is, there's limitations with the recording of those calories in the first place. A label has a tolerance of 20% on either side of its calories! So if a muesli bar says it's 150 calories, it has a tolerance of 20% less than that and 20% over that for what's actually in the packet. It depends how they've cut the bar into its shape. That one might have more chocolate chips on it than the next one. That one might have got more nuts in the mix than oats. So keep that in mind - what is written on a label is not gospel. It is NOT EXACTLY what's in that packet. There's a 20% of tolerance on either side.

Taryn Richardson  05:02

Now, if you're not eating food that has a packet and has a label that you can scan into your App, you're estimating, right? On your mad estimation skills! If you're at home, you can weigh things on little kitchen scales and that can help you get it a bit tighter. But if you're eating out, then you really are relying on how good you are at estimating how many grams of chicken that is, or how many olives are in this thing, to again, estimate your calorie intake. So keep that in mind as well - we're not tracking perfectly and your actual calorie intake may not be exactly what you've tracked in your calorie counting App.

Taryn Richardson  05:45

The third thing, if we're trying to estimate our energy expenditure, there's limitations with that as well. Your sports watch or your bike computer, whatever it is that you use to estimate your energy expenditure in a session, is a prediction equation. And that, again, can be significantly different from what is actually happening in your body. Some of the prediction equations are okay, like we can put height, weight, gender, those sorts of things into the equation. But it doesn't take into account all the other variables that change the way we expend energy. What are your hormones doing? How much sleep have you had? There are too many things that it can't tell what's going on. And so again, it's an estimation of what your expenditure is. It's not actual - we can only do that in the lab. When you train for three sports, you don't have a standardised energy expenditure on a day to day basis, which is what your App thinks you do. So it's really hard if we're trying to get good meaningful data from limitations with what's going in our mouth, and trying to estimate the expenditure that's going out as well.

Taryn Richardson  06:56

And so my question to you is, does it really matter? I can help you achieve your goals without tracking calories. So does that make you heave a little sigh of relief? Or you're freaking out a little bit right now? All I want to do is to get you to think. You don't have to track calories. I'm not asking you to. If you do it now and it works for you, I'm not asking you to stop either. But I just want you to understand a little bit about the whole process, and that we can't take it as black and white. There's definitely gray areas.

Taryn Richardson  07:27

I've got two examples for you of two TNA athletes who track their calorie intake -  I'm going to walk you through those. The first one is Jill Gaudio from Texas. She's not quite an alumni just yet, but she's almost finished Phase 3, and Jill is a calorie counter. It helps her stay on track. And for Jill, it helps her to eat because when she goes off the Richter, she doesn't eat. And it also helps her to make sure she's getting enough protein as a vegan athlete, too. So tracking for Jill works. And we did a private one on one session right in the beginning of her Triathlon Nutrition Academy program journey to make sure that she was actually hitting the right targets that she needed to if she wanted to train for three sports. And what I could see really, really quickly is that she wasn't doing a good job of eating to support her training. Here's Jill.

Jill Gaudio  08:26

Before the Triathlon Nutrition Academy, I was running out of gas all the time in my workouts. On my really long workouts, I would, you know, be on the couch the rest of the day. The best thing I've learned is that I need to eat for performance. You can't get by just barely eating and trying to do triathlon training. You're just not going to feel good. Your training is not going to be good, your racing is not going to be good. You have to eat. And that's my biggest takeaway because I always limited what I ate before.

Taryn Richardson  08:56

You're not alone in that. A lot of people come into triathlon with a dieting mentality. And it's shifting that mindset to eating and fueling for more of a performance than constantly scaling back for weight loss.

Jill Gaudio  09:10

Yes, and I think that's what sets your program apart from all the others because everyone else is focused on weight loss, fat loss - you're focused on how can you perform at your best.

Taryn Richardson  09:20

Yeah, and as a result, dropping some body fat in the process without actually trying to do that as the first and foremost goal.

Jill Gaudio  09:27

Yes, and there has been a very pleasant surprise. Now, I have more energy. I've improved my running mile by about two minutes. You know, seen a lot of improvement because I have more power. I have more energy.

Taryn Richardson  09:41

So for Jill, counting works, and we can use that data to help make change and get it to do what she needs to do. The second example is another Academy athlete, Jason, who counts calories because he's come from an F45 program where they teach calorie counting and carb phobia. Whatever you do, don't do an F45 challenge and follow their nutrition if you want to do triathlon training. It contains no carbs. So with Jason, I'm trying to get him to understand that carbs are his friend, and we're working on him having more carbohydrate for his fueling -  because Jason does crazy distance events. I've talked about him before, but he did 14 Ultras in 14 months or something insane. And he did all of that with very little carbohydrate. So now he's feeling way more supercharged that he understands how much carbohydrate it is to fuel his exercise. But for Jason, tracking is not serving him. It is making him more fixated in the dieting culture and the weight loss culture. And he's getting stuck on not being able to eat to fuel. And he would be a better athlete if he stopped counting calories. Are you listening Jas?

Taryn Richardson  10:56

So there's two examples - one that works, one that doesn't work so well. There's no right or wrong, as long as it's serving you and it's working for you. Because my passion is to teach you to eat, to support training, and maximise your performance. Nutrition really is the fourth leg of triathlon. You can't swim, bike and run in a week and eat terribly. You have to eat well to get the most out of your body now and for your long term health. And my goal is to teach you WHY. Why do we do the things that we do so that you can understand that? And those knowledge and skills that you get from the Program you can take with you forever. Because when you understand why, and you understand the plan, that's where the magic happens. So if you want to learn to eat to fuel your body properly, without having to track everything that you put into your mouth, I can teach you how to do that the easy way. After working with triathletes for more than 13 years now, I've definitely come full circle in my own practice. I used to write meal plans till I was blue in the face. Because that's what you think you need or you want. And it can help you get started. But then you have no idea how to change and adapt the plan if your training changes. You get sick, you get injured (you're not gonna get injured).

Taryn Richardson  12:18

And I know that it's more valuable if you can adapt your plan on the fly. You will get to a better body composition if you can do that. You will fuel your sessions better if you do that as well. You'll run less of a risk of getting sick and injured. Because you can be on it straight away without needing to make an appointment, get a new meal plan, wait a few weeks. You know how to adapt things on the fly. If life throws you lemons, you're gonna know how to fit that in on your plate based on your training day.

Taryn Richardson  12:48

So this is your last chance to come inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program if you want to fast track your success in the sport. Doors close tomorrow, 6PM sharp, Australian Eastern Standard Time (Brisbane time). It is literally a click of the button to close the doors. And they're not opening again until January 2023. And in that time, you'll have already had a plan for exactly what you're doing on a day to day basis. So you can work through that as we hurtle towards Christmas. And then practice that over the Christmas holidays before we start to tackle our race nutrition side of things come January 2023. You're allowed in, if you track calories. And if you don't, I don't discriminate. But head to dietitianapproved.com/academy to check it out now. The clock is ticking!


Taryn Richardson  13:40

Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to www.dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition! 

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