Friday, March 20, 2009

Calorie Counting Dilemma

OK, I admit I'm not one who usually worries much about counting calories. I've been happy as long as I have the energy to do what I want and my weight does not fluctuate too much either up or down. But my current training with Coach Bill is much more rigorous than what I've done on my own in the past and my goals are more performance-oriented. I've got some new friends (muscles) that are being put to the test in speed and strength workouts and being in base building mode, my workouts are getting longer. I'm getting tired of reporting back to my coach that I was tired before a workout even began!

I was thinking I'd start a food log but then realized it does no good if I don't know how many calories I'm supposed to be consuming in the first place. Here's my dilemma:

The Tanita Ironman Body Composition Monitor says I need to consume ~1300 cals/day to maintain my Basal Metabolic Rate (i.e., do nothing but rest and perhaps read blogs :-).

My new Timex heart rate monitor (HRM) is giving me calorie expenditures during my workouts that are considerably higher than various other online calculators based on my weight alone (i.e., 700 vs 420-450 for a 5-mile run, 1340 vs. 1000-1150 for a 33 mi bike ride @ 18mph avg). Doing 2-3 workouts a day, these differences add up quick!

If I google "HRM calories burned accuracy," I get various links to articles and forum posts about HRM numbers often being quite far off, esp. for females (because we have generally higher HRs?). A number of them mention that metabolic testing (resting metabolic rate and VO2) is the only way to accurately determine calorie expenditures and needs.

How do YOU decide how many calories you need to fuel your workouts?

Does your calorie intake vary by the day (say, depending on what workouts you're doing) or does it stay pretty constant throughout the week?

Has anyone undergone metabolic testing? If so, did you think it was worth doing? (I know it's not cheap)

22 comments:

Jenny Davidson said...

The chapter on nutrition in Gale Bernhardt's book Training Plans for Multisport Athletes is brief and good - I am a big fan of that book more generally, it is well worth a look if you haven't already read it.

I would think that in your case, you should err on the side of eating more than you think you need! You are slim and have a tendency to eat not quite enough! That said, I cannot imagine a 5-mile run would burn 700 calories for you - I would think 450 is a much more realistic estimate. I have a better sense of run calorie burn than I do for swimming or cycling - I find that as a c. 150-lb. person I can count 100 calories/run mile (perhaps it's slightly fewer than that, depending on effort levels i.e. less for long slow runs, but it's useful ballpark).

I do not think metabolic testing is needed, at any rate given the fact that the money can always be spent on other more immediately useful things - you'll get a better sense just experimenting, and I suspect that you will find that if you eat rather more than you think necessary the night before a workout you will find yourself having a surprisingly easy and enjoyable effort the next morning!

(I find fueling during the day on 2- or 3-workout days possibly the greatest challenge, exercise-wise, especially on work days where I do not have full control over the timing and content of meals - I definitely feel that the calories needed for the later workout are somewhat at odds with the preference for not having a very full stomach or eating a serious meal midday!)

Scott said...

For me, I maintain a 1800 to 2200 per day intake. This depends on what I am doing and how much fuel I need. Just keeping my diet clean and being more aware of eating less processed foods is making all the difference for me.

jen said...

Personally, I don't count calories or track my food too closely as it tends to lead down a bad road for me. I try to just eat when I'm hungry and stick to wholesome, nutritious food. I know I eat a lot though, probably 2200-2500 calories a day. I work out a lot though too, so my weight stays constant. Good luck finding your balance!

ShirleyPerly said...

Yes, when running higher mileage and doing pretty much only endurance type of bike & swim workouts, things were simple. I was pretty much always hungry. But now some of my workouts don't leave me very hungry yet they really poop me out so I take a big nap afterwards instead of eating anything. One of the bad things about working from home is I can do this ...

Bruce Stewart (ブルース・スチュワート) said...

I'm afraid I have not developed a very scientific approach to nutrition, etc. I try to eat a lot of fairly simple food, like potatoes, etc. and being on a budget am not into supplements. I have always been on the light side, and everyone considers me thin and undernourished (at just below 190-lbs).
Maybe like you I am now trying to incorporate some strength training into my workouts, and focusing more on anaerobic training. So I too feel "pooped" and more sluggish a lot of the time.
So for me without having a lot of instruments, I can only go by body weight and a general feeling of well-being, and maintaining my times. Maybe when I am less busy, I will start working with a coach, and I am sure I will learn a great deal.
I know a bodybuilder who is now about 50% more than his previous "normal" weight (and in peak condition). However, when he retires from that, he expects to return to his previous weight. The lesson is that you can only really be the size that you were made to be at least over the long run.

X-Country2 said...

1300 calories seems way low for as much as you're working out.

I eat about 1800 a day, but it really depends. I don't monitor it too much.

Oz Runner said...

i don't count calories...maybe I should, but it just seems like too much work...i just try to eat healthy foods when i'm hungry, and usually eat more on high workout days....

Petraruns said...

I don't have much knowledge to contribute here but I do think 1300 is too low for your level of activity... It is well worth doing some reading up on this - I have just listened to RunRunLive's interview with Tom Fox and he's interesting about nutrition. He can be found at http://www.thomasafox.com/sitemap.html
and might be worth shooting an email to. He sounded nice and intelligent on the topic.

Cliff said...

Hi Shirley,

Ironman talk did a podcast interviewing with Gordo in regards of diet and health.

http://cdn1.libsyn.com/ironmantalk/Episode_145_IMTalk_-_Challenge_Wanaka_Special.mp3?nvb=20090321204010&nva=20090322205010&t=07f773beeb118c389219a

Gordo doesn't believe in calorie counting. This does not answer your question but might bring the diet issue from a diff perspective.

cheers!

Fe-lady said...

Eat enough until you are full- rest when you are tired and go like mad when you feel good.

That's about it.

Irish Blue said...

Well, I'm no expert on this topic, but I know what works for me. I'm lifting a lot now too and I'm eating lean and clean - 5 mini-meals a day and about 130 grams of protein a day. No sugar or white stuff. I'm consuming about 1500-1800 calories a day. Lots of egg whites and oatmeal, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, yams, protein shakes, chicken, and veggies. I haven't felt this good in years!

I like the advice in Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto.

Rainmaker said...

I roughly track my calories day to day. I take into account the day's activity, as well as the upcoming day's activity. For example, if I have a long run early in the morning - I need to fuel for that, so I eat a little heavier the latter half of the day before.

I agree though, this time of year is tough with the semi-reduced workload. Once summer hits it's much easier. I don't worry too much about being +/- a few pounds (more +) right now. Things even out in a month or two.

RBR said...

I am the absolute wrong person to ask about diet. I suck at it in the exact opposite way that you have trouble with. I eat WAY too much of WAY bad stuff.

I just wanted to say 'Hi' and commiserate about being tired before just about every workout begins. *sigh*

Stef said...

I agree with the comments here that espouse clean eating, small mini meals and eating more than you think necessary.

I have an issue with not eating enough at times but have never counted calories. I've tried but it's too much of a pain in the butt for me to do it consistently.

When I'm eating tons of clean foods frequently I am at my best. It is during these times that my body is most receptive to food, whether I'm stressed, busy or relaxed. So I can eat more than I normally would and have even more confidence in my ability to do the workouts the way Liz says to do them.

I've never considered metabolic testing for myself but am mildly curious about it. I may do it someday to feed that curiosity.

Stef said...

I agree with the comments here that espouse clean eating, small mini meals and eating more than you think necessary.

I have an issue with not eating enough at times but have never counted calories. I've tried but it's too much of a pain in the butt for me to do it consistently.

When I'm eating tons of clean foods frequently I am at my best. It is during these times that my body is most receptive to food, whether I'm stressed, busy or relaxed. So I can eat more than I normally would and have even more confidence in my ability to do the workouts the way Liz says to do them.

I've never considered metabolic testing for myself but am mildly curious about it. I may do it someday to feed that curiosity.

Sunshine said...

Journaling .. not just number of calories.. but WHAT you eat.. might give you some insights.
High glycemic foods may give energy.. but without proteins .. could leave you tired a little later. (Be sure to get adequate sleep in a comfortable, dark room.)
By all means keep an eye on the scale.. first thing in the morning.. most days.
I think you have to see what works for you. Go Shirley. We cheer You!

Sunshine said...

PS.. I find that it is really important for me to eat a little protein and complex carbs in the first hour after runs, races or workouts.

jeanne said...

My 3 cents: I was seeing a nutritionist who specialized in working with triathletes, and for me to lose 10 lbs, working out 5x a week, my caloric intake needed to be at 1400! it was insane and i couldn't do it. I'm 5'9" and weigh 160.

I also tried tracking my food intake using the daily plate at livestrong.com, but learned that all that does for me is make me think about food nonstop, all day long.

i'm no help at all, but good luck, it's a great question!

The Alien said...

Wish I could be of some help, but my nutrition is a mess, I'm can't seem to do it right, I'm always either feeling full or hungry before a workout...

Susan said...

If you were sedentary, I MIGHT agree with the 1300. But NO WAY for a super hero like you! You need far more calories, in my opinion. Looks like you've gotten lots of good advice and are already on top of it! Sorry this is so late - blame Isaac. :)

Arland said...

You might take a look at fitday.com . Annette and I have used it quite a bit for logging our foods and intake. Pretty amazing when you log it what you find. The problem is just finding the time to keep up with it all. It will also give you a base of what your intake should be and you log your activities to add more calorie burn. Good luck with it!

PLANET3RRY said...

When I want to lose weight, I use a food journal. With stuff like Item: Calories, Fat, Protein, Carbs. etc. I don't worry so much as my expenditure but I track what I put in. Since the rate of expenditure is so varied, even on a personal level from day to day, I just try to make sure that my intake is consistent. I don't want to have this situation: "Oh NO! I took the stairs. Did I burn an extra 10 calories? or was that 10 calories per step? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Plus Muscle is denser than fat, so I might not lose weight if I diet AND exercise because I might be building muscles and the thermodynamics of reduced caloric intake might be off set by the building of muscles.