It’s no secret that I love donuts. Eating them is a significant reason why I ride my bike so much. They’re an acceptable dessert you can eat for breakfast, they’re incredibly sweet and indulgent, and they can be found nearly everywhere you go. There aren’t many foods I love more than a maple-glazed, creme-filled long john after a hard morning on the bike.

But donuts are probably one of the last things you think of when you think of elite-level cycling. With so much attention on strict training regimen and diet, cyclists are often pushed towards calorie restriction in the search of gains in watt-per-kilogram performance in order to climb hills faster. While weight loss is a great way to climb faster, skipping out on the foods you love is not necessary to achieve that goal. To me, consumption is all about balance.

Since September 25, 2014, I have accounted for every maple-glazed donut, every double IPA, every Baskin Robbins double-scoop in a waffle cone, and every calorie burned in exercise. Nearly 2,000 days of data on my calorie consumption and expenditure cataloged meticulously. That probably seems a bit insane — who really tracks their food every single day without fail? Well, thanks to the MyFitnessPal app’s guilt-inducing, built-in streak counter: me.

I do this every single day. Thanksgiving, Christmas, my wedding day, on vacations abroad.

The Beginning

After studying for and passing the Certified Public Accountants exam I found myself with an immense amount of free time. For nearly a year and a half, I had spent hours each day studying, neglecting my love for exercise almost completely. So when I received my passing grade for the exam I dove headfirst into fitness — signing up for my first half-Ironman triathlon. I knew if I wanted to get across the finish line that I would have to start training hard and eating better, so I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app and I logged my first meal: Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal (160 cal), 1/4 cup of Silk Vanilla Almond Milk (15 cal), and 1 tablespoon of Jif Creamy Peanut Butter (95 cal).

In the ~7,700 meals (4 per day counting snacks as a meal) I’ve logged since that breakfast, I have learned so much. I’ve learned how to make better decisions at restaurants, how I should fuel my exercise to maximize my performance, and most importantly: I’ve learned if I ride at 250 Watts for 2 1/2 hours, I’ll burn enough calories to eat a dozen Krispie Kreme original glazed donuts (12 x 190 cal = 2,280 cal), and still have my dietary baseline of 2,160 cal remaining for the day.

The Routine

As I stated before, it is a bit insane to log everything you eat, but for me, it’s all or nothing. Making food logging a daily routine was the only way I was going to stick to it, and thanks to MyFitnessPal’s streak counter I have been able to maintain this routine for over 5 years. The app gives you an updated notification every five days saying “you’ve logged in for 5 days in a row!” or for instance, this week’s “you’ve logged in for 1,955 days in a row!”

In 2014, I couldn’t have told you that a pint of my favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was 1,250 cal — I could only have told you that it isn’t enough ice cream for a single sitting. The MyFitnessPal app allows you to scan an item’s bar-code and easily record the dietary information. Plus, many restaurants have built their menus into the MyFitnessPal database, so you can learn exactly how many calories are in that Arby’s Brisket Bacon Beef ‘n Cheddar (760 cal), Large Curly Fries (650 cal), and Ultimate Chocolate Shake (820 cal) before you order it. For the home cook, recipes found on the Internet can be imported directly by pasting the link into the app’s Recipe Importer — making portioning out your week’s meals a snap (or you can build your own recipes by pulling in the ingredients from the MyFitnessPal database)!

Whatever you’re eating, logging it and forming a routine is the best way to learn about your diet and make better-informed decisions about what you put in your body.

Stages Smart Bike

The Data

After nearly 2,000 days of logging, the amount of information I amassed on the food I’ve eaten is a mountain of donuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sports gels, and pizza slices. Sifting through that data is pretty hard to do, and honestly I’m not sure what I can do with all of it. The weekly data I glean from my logging is more important to me as I track my training and nutritional needs. Did I have a weekend which outpaced the weekday deficits? Do I need to increase next week’s intake for not eating enough this week? Each week I reflect on the data and plan accordingly.

This sustainable habit is built on consistency, while still giving myself days where I couldn’t care less about the amount I eat. I don’t panic about the implications of eating over goal calories — I quantify it and move forward, because knowing the numbers behind the decisions you make allows you to track, plan, and stick to your goals.

For example, the week of November 11 – November 17: I ate my normal meals, and maintained training volume with small deficits each day of the week.

On Saturday when my wife Kathleen and I wanted to have some beers and go for Indian food at one of our favorite local restaurants: we went!

1,665 cal of delicious garlic naan, basmati rice, and chicken tikka masala, washed down with 855 cal of glorious Toppling Goliath Double IPA.

While I don’t have the time, and you certainly don’t have the interest, to sift through the detail of my last 5 years, I have gleaned some interesting information from the data:

  • Months of year with highest consumption:
    • March: 3,801 cal avg per day (Vacation to Italy in 2019 — gelato + pizza every day!)
    • June: 3,824 cal avg per day (Near-peak triathlon volume. Appetite is huge with so much exercise.)
    • December: 3,662 cal avg per day (Eating everything and keeping up with calorie burn — Christmas / New Year feasts!)
  • Largest single-day consumption: January 31, 2019
    • Calories Consumed: 5,986
    • Food: Donuts, breakfast burrito, homemade pizzas, beer, ice cream, cookies!
    • Details: Went out for donuts, then spent the day prepping, making pizza, and enjoying delicious beer with Kathleen. This was a doozy of a day to account for everything, and every single calorie was savored to the fullest extent! See the pics below!
  • Months with highest per-day exercise expenditure:
    • December: 1,860 cal avg per day (Time off around Christmas, riding more to enjoy all the food!)
    • November: 1,740 cal avg per day (Zwift season starts heavily. More riders online, more racing!)
    • April: 1,630 cal avg per day (Middle of my triathlon training build. Longer runs, longer rides!)
  • Largest single-day exercise expenditure: August 12, 2018
    • Calories Burned: 4,792
    • Exercise: 70.3 Steelhead (1.2 mile swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run)
    • Details: This was my A-race in 2018 — aiming to qualify for 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France for 2019. I raced hard, I qualified! Huge calorie burn day replenished by an epic McDonald’s stop on the drive home to Des Moines. See the pics below!

The Takeaway

All in all, since I began logging my calorie consumption and expenditure, I’m at a total net deficit of 39 cal per day. How am I not a heap of bones and organs? Inaccuracies (under or over-estimations) and sometimes things just go un-logged. Did I eat some samples at the grocery store while shopping? 0 calories. How about that after-dinner mint or six at the restaurant? 0 calories. I will regularly steal a sip or bite of my wife’s meal — I don’t take the time to log it. I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy. Just be flexible and realistic with yourself, stay consistent, and the rest will take care of itself.

I certainly don’t expect every person who reads this to take up logging every single meal they eat; that’s just the way I’ve chosen to do this. For me, food logging gives me crucial decision-making information so I can meet my nutritional needs, maintain weight, and train at a very high level. However, I do challenge you to give food logging a try for a day, or a week, or a month — whatever you can manage. I can promise you that it will grow your knowledge about the decisions you make regarding food and exercise, and knowledge is power!

This post originally appeared on TeamIndoorSpecialist.com and is re-posted here with permission.