This week marks the half-way point of 2013. If you have been following (and most importantly applying) the habits from my 52 Weeks to Better Nutrition and a New You series, you have no doubt made some great improvements to your health, body composition and performance. As we continue in the second half of the year, let's look at an important element for helping you to individualize your nutrition - looking for nutritional deficiencies. Back at our 1/4 year mark in week 13, I had you do a 24 hour food log. It is time to take that to the next level with a more complete dietary analysis.
Dietary analysis serves many purposes. The first is that it gives you a picture of where you are at with your nutrition. Most people have at least some surprises when they do this. The surprise may be that you were eating way more sugar than you thought and now know why you can't seem to lose weight. Or you may be trying to gain lean muscle and think you are eating a ton of calories and find out you are eating no where near enough food.
Another important purpose is to identify nutritional deficiencies. You can have a nutritional deficiency for a variety of reasons which can include: taste preferences, tight budgets, restrictions due to a food intolerance or simply a planning error. Either way, you can be hurting your health if you are lacking sufficient amounts of a certain nutrient. Also, remember that anything that hurts your health will effect your ability to train and recover properly and so your performance and body composition will also suffer.
The most accurate way to do this, would be to have your diet analyzed by a registered dietitian. If you wanted to go this route, your task for this week could simply be to contact a dietitian and book an appointment.
Another option is to do this on your own. This will not be as accurate, but will obviously be more convenient. In my sport nutrition class, I give my students the assignment of doing an in-depth 3-day food analysis. For the assignment, they pick 3 days (ideally 2 week days and one weekend day) and log what and how much they ate. To improve accuracy, be sure to log your food as you are eating it and do your best to weigh or measure the food. Once you have your 3-day food log, you need to analyse the data. There are numerous nutritional analysis software programs you can purchase. The quality, accuracy and ease of use can vary with these. However, you can also access a free online version at Fit Day.com.
Once you have identified your deficiencies, look at fixing them. The number one choice should be looking for foods higher in those nutrients you are lacking. Websites like: USDA National Nutrient Database or Nutrition Data can be very helpful here. These is where you may also consider supplementation, but always prioritize real food over supplements.
Now most people do not need to do with activity on a weekly basis. But do it this week and then set an application habit based on correcting the biggest deficiency you have. Then repeat this process a few times a year.
In case you have missed any of the previous habits in this series, check out the links below:Week 24: Farm Markets
Week 23: Restuarant Guide
Week 22: Eat Natural
Week 1: Kitchen Cleanout (at the end of the introduction to this series)