‘Tis the season for resetting fitness and nutrition goals! Many of us could benefit from maintaining a food and/or exercise journal to help track our progress. And of course there’s an app for that! Actually, there are several apps….oh, where to begin?
This month I figured it would be helpful to gain first hand experience using some of the free food tracking and fitness mobile applications. Before I begin, let me be clear. I do not officially endorse any nutrition or fitness applications. My goal is to share some of the pros and cons of these applications to help others determine what may best suit their needs. Also, for selfish reasons, I want to figure out which ones I may encourage future personal training clients to use to complement their fitness goals.
Now, first up is the MyPlate application hosted by the Livestrong Foundation.
This app starts off with asking for some basic demographic information: age, weight, goal (maintain/gain/lose weight or other) and activity level (sedentary, light, moderate, very active).
Bar code scan: Instead of manually entering nutritional information, this app gives you the option of scanning the bar code of foods. The bar code automatically uploads nutritional information. I’ve noticed that the bar codes of bulk items purchased at large food warehouse stores tend to not work and I need to manually enter basic nutritional information (i.e., carbs, fat, protein, and calories).
PC and Phone Access: You can download the FREE MyPlate app and log-in online with the same username and password to upload various information about food intake and exercise. All entered on either device information automatically syncs.
Track water intake: This is pretty handy and helpful to keep you on track with daily water intake.
Clever naming: The Livestrong Foundation’s MyPlate calorie tracker application shares the same name as the MyPlate initiative created and hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). To my knowledge, Livestrong and the USDA do not have an official partnership.
Direct access to full Livestrong website: The MyPlate calorie tracker is only one tool on a very comprehensive website dedicated to fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Other examples of resources on the website include: blogs, how to exercise demos, articles, diet plans, workout gear, and more…
Frustrations and other things I wish were better….
Simplistic nutritional tracking: The manual food entry option on the app only asks for calories, carbs, protein, and fat information. It doesn’t break down food intake into smaller sub-categories (i.e., vitamins, minerals, sugars). However, I noticed in a daily summary that the app somehow tracks fiber, sugars, sodium, and cholesterol, too. I assume the app collects additional information about other nutrients via the search list of the Livestrong food database. In a nutshell, this extremely decreases the reliability and validity of all reports in this app.
Exercise tracking: You can search for popular exercises (i.e., yoga, boot camp, Zumba, weightlifting, boxing) and calories burned automatically fill in. Otherwise, you must enter custom exercises and figure out how many calories are burned. The drawback of auto-fill calories burned is that we expend different amounts of calories based on our individual body mass. A 130 lb woman will burn less calories in 1 hour of boxing than a 170 lb woman. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor to calculate calories burned during specific exercises, then you’re left guessing. It looks like the MyFitnessPal app has a more comprehensive listing of various exercises and respective calories burned. MyFitnessPal includes a mini-calculator to determine calories burned based upon body weight and the duration of exercise.
Other hydration sources: There’s a grey area when it comes to hydration with this app. For example, when I log a tea beverage it counts as tea and not water. As the user, you must determine how you want to count tea — as a part of a meal, as part of your water intake, or both? For me, I don’t mind not counting tea or any other non-water beverage as water because the overall point is to drink more water.
All fat is not the same: This app asks for fat, calories, carbohydrates, and protein. Period. That’s it. More specifically, or should I say less specifically, fat is not broken down into saturated and unsaturated fats. It is very helpful to breakdown our saturated and unsaturated fat intake because we receive numerous benefits from unsaturated fats such as improved cardiovascular health. Also, many people make the assumption that all fat is bad and as a result, not eat enough fat daily. Back in 2005, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended total fat intake of 20-35% of daily calories for adults, 25-35% for children ages 4-18, and 30-35% for children ages 2 to 3 years. Check out pages 24-29 of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for America report released in January 2011.
Time of day: There is no time of day entry option when you eat or exercise. I think this would be a very interesting factor to analyze in a custom report and would be very insightful for a personal trainer. For example, some of us may eat our daily recommended caloric intake, but go long periods of time without eating and cramming in a super high calorie meal at the end of the day.
Average summary and analysis charts: Most of us want to view detailed summaries and reports of our nutrients we consume daily, weekly, and across multiple weeks. Unfortunately, the MyPlate application only allows you to view ten days at a time. I noticed a view by month option and this may illustrate daily nutrient consumption over the course of 30 days, but I only used the app for 10 days. I believe the GOLD (for fee) option may offer more options to review collected day and to also alter the type of nutritional data you collect (e.g., specific micro and macronutrients, minerals, etc.).
Other notable features include: food/diet/fitness diary (you can set it to private or public), online community to share fitness and nutrition MyPlate journey, includes a pretty comprehensive exercise library that automatically calculates burned calories based on body measurements, and enter personalized recipes (makes for easier food entries in the calorie counter app)
Grade: C (average)
Did I miss anything? (probably so)
What do you like or not like about the free version of the MyPlate app?
Is there a FREE fitness or nutrition mobile app you want me to review? Send suggestions.