Q: I’m a beginning bodybuilder, and I’m not sure how to keep a food journal. I know bodybuilders list every meal they eat, write down total calories, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and read food labels to determine the amounts of nutrients they are getting, but I want to know how they organize all of this information and use it to gain muscle or lose bodyfat. What do you recommend I use as a journal?

A: Gaining size and muscle during the offseason is simple. Just train as hard as you can and eat as much as you can. Neither of those requires a journal, only the common-sense approach to eating that your mother taught you. Eat healthful complete meals that contain normal helpings of meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy products, the same as mom fixed, except you might need bigger portions since you’re training hard. Such is the beauty of the offseason — no cares, no worries. Just train, eat and enjoy life. Whatever else you do during that period, do not keep a journal. The emotional and mental stress of such regimentation might forever destroy your interest in bodybuilding.

Contest prep, however, is a different story. I’ve kept a diet and training journal for every show I’ve entered since the 1991 NPC Nationals, where I took fourth in the heavyweight division. That journal worked so well that I still use it to this day.

Beginning with day one of my 12-week schedule, I write down everything I eat on that day, how much of it I eat, whether it’s low- or high-carb, and how many carb and protein grams are in it. Every day, I do the same. I also record my weight, when I train and what I train; in other words, every conceivable observation necessary to control my energy and nutritional well-being.

A journal — or at least a record — of how you live can provide insight into how you can live better, but, as with anything else in life, in excess it can be a detriment. Keep it simple, so you aren’t burdened by its obligations. Every morning, at the top of each page for the day, write these words: “Today, eat healthful meals, and train heavy and hard to gain muscle mass.” And don’t cheat by writing ahead. The pages for every day should carry a fresh reminder.