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What's The (Data) Point?

We are bombarded with ways to accumulate data in the fitness and nutrition world. Every conference has vendors with new apps, new wearables, new devices for measuring velocity, etc., and it can get quite overwhelming. We’re going to look at three main areas of tracking data and why you should.


The first area is our training. I hear you saying “yeah I track my work out, I wrote it on my phone” or in a notebook, on an app, posted it on the ‘gram. But, if all you are writing is “Bench Press 4x5 185”, you are leaving a lot on the table. What was your warm up for that? What was your rest period? Did you complete all 5 reps the same? Did they start to tank on set 3?

These are basic questions that should be annotated on your workout. If you did all sets/reps with no issue, adding weight, or changing rest periods, or other variables shouldn’t be a problem. Making notes about where you started struggling or that you had to cluster set the last two will help to fine tune your training and progress more optimally; and will help to define trends.

A good example of defining trends is looking at splits in running. For folks going into the Marine Corps, there is a 3 mile run on the physical fitness test. You can say “I have a 24 minute run time, I need to get better”; however, knowing what your 400m, 800m, 1600m, 3200m, etc., splits are, will help to design a running program for YOU. Similarly, tracking your weights, rest periods, sticking points, and trouble spots, will help to fine tune your program for YOU; whether you do your own programming or your coach does.

And don’t forget to make notes of what grip, bar, or other implement you used!


Next, let’s look at nutrition tracking. As with our training, this can get as detailed or general as you would like. I start simple with most of my clients, mainly because they aren’t used to tracking their nutrition and we don't want to get lost in the minutia. For the first two weeks, we just write down everything we eat or drink with an approximate time. I don’t need to know that you 15 oz of chicken breast at 5pm. You can write “dinner 2 chicken breasts, lightly seasoned with S & P, fist size of broccoli and a sweet potato”. For the average person, this is more than enough.

The main goal of tracking, especially when starting out, is to, you guessed it, look for the trend! At the end of two weeks, you can look and see where your consistencies are and where you can make improvements. It can also help to identify easy changes. You might look at it and say “wow I didn’t know I drank a case of soda in two weeks” or “wow 4 family size bags of chips in one week!”, not that that ever showed up on my tracking! But these provide for some easy changes to our eating.


The final area that I like to keep notes on is my sleep! These notes, like nutrition, can be as general or detailed as helps you. An article will be coming shortly on sleep and developing a sleep routine to explain more, but for now, the big things to track:

1)    Did I do my normal sleep routine (pre bedtime routine). A lot of people don’t have a pre-bed routine. They look at their watch, surprised at the time and roll to bed.

2)    What time did I go to bed?

3)    What time did I wake up?

4)    How do I feel?

Within in what time we went to bed and got up, we can also note how easy it was to fall asleep and wake up. And we can get as detailed as we want the more consistently we track: when did I have last food and drink before bed, how many times did I wake up, etc. Again, we are looking for trends in our sleep patterns.

Putting it all together

Great, now we have three note books, pictures of food on our phone, apps to populate, it’s too much! I'm old, I keep a notebook, I cant keep up with apps and wearables, but if you do, that is perfectly alright! MyFitnessPal and Chronometer are both great nutrition tracking apps, the latter still allowing barcode scan for free. Apps like StrongLifts, TrainHeroic, TrueCoach, and Trainerize, and many others, offer great workout tracking options. Whoop has a great morning questionnaire when you first wake up to help with sleep details.

But what do we do with it?

Let’s say you wake up tomorrow, excited, it’s leg day, squats are on the menu. You get your warm up in and start in on your working set. 3rd set in, your tanking…this didn’t happen last week, you made all 5 sets! But, you go look at your nutrition log, you ate decent yesterday, but garbage the day before, and you drank with the boys. Last night you only got 5 hours of sleep because you got to bed late. Are these the reason why you’re tanking? Maybe, maybe not. But it does offer insight that would otherwise not be there.

Or it’s not your work out, maybe you're sleeping better and notice for the past two weeks, you’ve been eating a lot of fruits and veggies.

Finally, tracking helps with adherence to the plan. In a 2017 Study (Ingels, et al, 2017), participants who tracked their food well had better weight loss results. Additionally, keeping it as simple as possible makes it easier to track, it’s not overwhelming. We want our data to be meaningful, so we can realize our goals. In the wise words of Coach Vernon Griffith, “we need to stop collecting dots and start connecting dots”.  



Ingels JS, Misra R, Stewart J, Lucke-Wold B, Shawley-Brzoska S. The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time. J Diabetes Res. 2017;2017:6951495. doi: 10.1155/2017/6951495. Epub 2017 Aug 9. PMID: 28852651; PMCID: PMC5568610.

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