There Should Be a Strava for Diet

I have too many ideas. I could write two books a year for the next 100 years and still not get around to writing all the books I have ideas for, let alone execute on my non-book-related ideas. I even have an idea for a book called 100 Books I’ll Never Write. Yeah, it’s that bad.

Still, I’d rather have too many ideas than not enough. In this post I would like to share one of the ideas I don’t have time to do anything about in the hope that it will inspire someone else (maybe you!) to take it up. You already know what it is because I put it in the headline.

So, to begin: Chances are you have a Strava account, and if you don’t, you at least know what Strava is: an online platform that allows endurance athletes to share their training and racing exploits with other endurance athletes. It takes advantage of the fact that most endurance athletes are proud of their workouts and races and want other people to know about them.

In my view, though, the best use of Strava is not bragging about your own training and racing but following the training of highly successful athletes. As long as you do so in an intelligent way (not a monkey-see-monkey-do way), observing how the best athletes approach fitness development can serve as a useful source of information to guide your approach to same. This is especially true if you follow a number of such athletes, as clear patterns will emerge (e.g., adherence to the 80/20 principle of intensity balance). Most of the best endurance athletes do most things right in their training, so you can trust that these patterns represent true best practices in endurance training.

For some time now I’ve wished that there existed a dietary analog to Strava. I think it could help athletes in a way that’s similar to what I just described on the training side. Just as most athletes fail to follow best practices in their training, most athletes also fail to eat optimally. The most common mistake is simply eating too much junk food and not enough healthy food (i.e., the same mistake most nonathletes make with their diet), but a lot of other athletes make something close to the opposite mistake of being too restrictive with their diet. Indeed, if I had a nickel for every athlete I’ve encountered over the years who paid a significant cost in fitness and/or health resulting from being too restrictive or obsessive with food in one way or another, I would live in a much bigger house.

Elite athletes seldom make this mistake. There are exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of elites, particularly those who perform at the very highest level for extended periods of time, tend to follow a balanced and inclusive that is basically “normal” except in its overall quality. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the characteristics of this way of eating in my book The Endurance Diet. In any case, the point I wish to make here is that it would be really helpful if large numbers of elite endurance athletes were among those sharing the specifics of their daily eating with other athletes on a Strava-like platform.

If you’re a cynic, you’re right now thinking that it’s a lot easier to lie about what you eat than it is to lie about your training, and that people are highly prone to lie—even to themselves—about what they eat. I agree. As yet, there is no dietary equivalent of a GPS running watch that automatically uploads the details of your last meal or snack, and any nutrition scientist can tell you that dietary self-reporting is notoriously unreliable. There’s no denying these facts, but I believe it’s possible to account for them in a manner that would preserve the potential value of a Strava-for-diet type of service.

Photos would be a piece of it. If you can’t upload photographic evidence that you ate what you say you ate, then you didn’t eat it. This would do nothing to address the problem of not sharing the things you eat that you don’t want others to know you eat, but the platform could do so fairly easily by recognizing a small number of its participants as “verified influencers.” These individuals would be recruited from among the platform’s most widely followed participants and would be offered modest compensation in exchange for agreeing in writing to provide complete and accurate information about their diet. This mechanism would serve not only to give participants confidence in the information presented by the influencers but would also incentivize aspiring future influencers to provide complete and accurate information about their own diet.

I’m not so naive as to think a Strava-for-diet platform that included such measures would spare every athlete from going down the wrong path with their diet. But I do believe its net effect would be positive, because it’s a simple fact that most of the most successful endurance athletes eat in a healthy way that’s not too restrictive, and the platform I envision would make this fact apparent in a way that it’s not currently, So, anyway, if you like this idea and you’ve got time on your hands and some capital, make it happen.