Surprising Lessons from the (Busy, Imperfect) Food Log of a Performance Nutritionist

We analyze the daily food log of a regular busy, age-group athlete—who also is a professional performance nutritionist. The lesson? Nutritionists probably eat more like you and me, and that's a good thing.

Photo: Getty Images, Tinlane

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If you’ve ever sought out the help of a nutritionist, one of the first things they ask for is a multi-day food log. It’s as monumental of a task as it sounds: How many M&Ms did I grab when I walked by the Halloween candy bowl? Was that a small or large glass of wine with dinner? The opportunity for self-judgment runs high, as does the temptation to eat “more cleanly” than you normally would when your diet is under scrutiny by someone you assume sits on a high throne of perfect eating.

But this time, we flipped the script on sports performance nutritionist Scott Tindal to find out what he eats on a given day and why. The results were surprising (and somewhat reassuring), with more convenience food, sweet treats, and even replacement meal shakes than we would have imagined. The premise of Tindal’s daily diet is to eat the appropriate mix of macro-nutrients to support his daily activity level, eating as nutritiously as possible but not being afraid to take real-world shortcuts in his busy life—just like the rest of us.

RELATED: 4 (Nutritionist Approved) Healthy Convenience Foods

Tindal is based in Sydney, Australia, where he lives with his partner, who is expecting their first child. “Somehow, we thought we could renovate the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room before the arrival of the little man,” said Tindal, “so we’ve been without a kitchen for seven weeks and it’s still not finished!” He’s also training for his first Ironman 70.3 event next spring, so in a lot of ways Tindal is a quintessential age-group athlete, juggling work and family life (with ongoing projects) while also pursuing a personal athletic goal. He’s currently running ~35km a week and swimming several times a week in open water. 

Here’s what he eats:

The Weekly Food Log of a Performance Nutritionist

Breakfast during the week:

  • Overnight oats – 50g rolled oats, 40g whey isolate, 15g chia seeds, 15 almonds, 2 brazil nuts, tablespoon cacao nibs, 2 dollops of probiotic Filmjölk, handful of blueberries, topped with 500mL water with Yerba matte  
  • 1L cold water and 2x black coffees

Lunch during the week:

  • Fast Fuel Meal – a meal delivery service (similar to Freshly or Trifecta Nutrition in the U.S.) 

Tindal selects his options according to how many carbs are in a particular dish. A low carb option is peri-peri chicken, which is basically a spiced chicken and vegetable dish with less than 30g of carbohydrates (“CHO”). A moderate carb selection (~45g CHO) is Teriyaki salmon, which includes rice along with vegetables and fish. If he’s had a particularly intense workout and plans another workout later in the day, then he will opt to go heavy on carbs with a Beef Bibambap (~75g CHO) or similar meal with plenty of rice, sweet potato or other starchy carbs. 

Weekday snacks:

  • Protein shake – 40g whey isolate, 5g creatine monohydrate, 300ml water
  • Fruit – apple or medium banana
  • Handful almonds

Dinner during the week:

  • Another Fast Fuel Meal – Beef stir fry (50g CHO)

Daily dessert:

  • Chocolate popsicle or a protein shake/hot chocolate

Breakfast on weekends:

  • Scrambled eggs with steak and sausage, or a chicken sandwich, accompanied by a green salad and kimchi/sauerkraut
  • 2x Flat Whites

Lunch on the weekends:

  • Wrap with cooked chicken/tuna/salmon and salad
  • Simple salad with chicken/lamb/beef/oily fish topped with avocado and dukkah

Dinner on the weekends:

  • Dine out at a local restaurant on Saturday night
  • Sunday dinner is typically a BBQ with fish or steak, served with roast potatoes and a fresh salad

RELATED: Last year, Tindal also documented for us the effects of a month with no alcohol. Read how that went.

The Lessons Behind His Food Log

As I review Tindal’s food log with him, he anticipates my surprise and is quick to explain that pre-made meals and meal delivery services have come a long way in recent years. They include a range of fresh and nutritious food that offer a good selection of macronutrients with appropriate portion sizes.

“I know it sounds terrible that I’m eating ready meals at the moment,” said Tindal, “but living without a kitchen, they have been a Godsend. Plus, it’s an interesting experiment to see how these pre-made meals can work with my traffic light system of nutrition.”

The traffic light system Tindal refers to is his methodology of periodizing carbohydrate intake according to an individual’s activity levels throughout the week. Tindal’s personal program focuses on a predetermined macro-nutrient target (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) for each day, given the overall volume and intensity of workouts on his schedule. “I will look to eat more carbs after a strenuous session and especially if I have another workout the same day,” he said. “And I have found that eating a higher amount of carbs at night has typically helped me sleep better at night, as well as sets me up well for intense morning workouts.”

He recommends higher carbohydrates before and after particularly long and/or intense workouts. Lower carbohydrate (25-30g carbohydrate) meals are saved for rest and recovery days, as well as before and after shorter, less intense workouts.

In terms of protein consumption, Tindal includes a little protein in every meal, splitting his total protein consumption evenly across meals throughout the day. He is currently targeting about 180g protein per day, so each meal or snack contains approximately 30-40g protein. His approach is similar for daily fat consumption. “I do not purposefully add a lot of fat to meals, as most proteins I consume contain fat.” If he adds fat to a meal, it’s in the form of olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds.

Tindal’s goal over the last two months has been to lose about 10 pounds while training for a self-directed half-marathon. He practices race fueling during key runs with carbohydrate gels, targeting 90g CHO per hour to train his gut to that level of CHO consumption. He succeeded in losing the weight and just completed his half-marathon in 1:41 after six weeks of focused run training. 

“My daily regime is far from perfect,” Tindal said, “but eating well is all about having a system that works for you and fuels you appropriately for life and training.” His current plan includes eating healthy meals a large proportion of the time, but there are desserts and several restaurant meals in any given week. “It’s all about balance and making things work for your specific situation, even if it means taking some shortcuts.”

[Editor’s note: Scott’s kitchen is now fully renovated and he is back to cooking most of his meals.]

Scott Tindal is a performance nutritionist. He holds a Bachelors in Science (Physiotherapy) from the University of Sydney, a Masters in Science (Sports Medicine) from the University of London, and a post-grad diploma in Performance Nutrition (ISSN). Scott is the co-founder of Fuelin, an app-based personalized nutrition coaching program.

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