Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

How do YOU track your fitness?

Gone is the need for paper and pen to track calories burned and calories consumed. I use technology on my wrist and in my iPod Touch to track this stuff.

My next goal: to get ONE tool that lets me track everything. Meanwhile, here’s what I do. If you know of better ways of doing this stuff, be my guest – the comments section awaits below.

Right now, I use three tools to track my fitness

FitBit Flex activity-tracking bracelet

This gadget measures, among other things, steps taken every day, “distance traveled” and “calories burned” (estimates both). Interestingly, it also keeps track of the quality of my sleep. It wirelessly sends all this information to my computer and my iPod Touch.

Fitbit Flex activity tracking bracelet

Fitbit Flex activity tracking bracelet

The only time I need to physically connect the Flex to my computer is to recharge the unit at the beginning and end of each week. I do this while working at my desk so I minimize the number of steps I don’t capture. (I doubt working at a stand-up desk the way I do makes that much of a difference.)

MyFitnessPal

I could keep track of what I eat using the Fitbit software, but the MyFitnessPal calorie counter has a much more comprehensive database.

How comprehensive? I had a hot dog and fries at CostCo once, so I looked up both “hot dog” and “fries.” Near the top of each list of results were the CostCo hot dog and fries! I was amazed that these items would be included. (I was also horrified to read the nutritional information about these items. That was the first time I ever ate at CostCo. It was also the last.)

MyFitnessPal_food_diary

Not the healthiest lunch I’ve ever had – at least I only ate 3/4 of the fries.

The MyFitnessPal and Fitbit apps talk to one another so that, for instance, Fitbit picks up calories consumed during a specific meal (not the actual stuff eaten) from MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal also makes a ‘Fitbit calorie adjustment” in each day’s diary, depending on the number of steps the Fitbit tracks.

I have difficulty precisely estimating the volumes of food I eat, so I tend to overestimate volumes to help me stay honest and proceed towards my weight loss goal.

Here’s a very cool feature – I use the camera on the back of my iPod to scan the barcode of any packaged food I eat, and the calories, fat, etc. get saved to the MyFitnessPal diary without my typing anything.

Polar training computer

I also use a heart rate monitor when I work out to track the number of calories I burn. (The Polar and the Fitbit weigh my left wrist down a bit, but it’s tolerable.) MyFitnessPal takes the start time and exercise duration for each workout, plus personal information like birth date, height and weight I entered some time ago, to estimate calories burned, but I prefer estimates that also take heart rate into account like the Polar does.

Polar_rs300x_blk_km_top_left_500x500

I wear the Polar when I play squash, lift weights, bicycle, and so forth. I don’t wear it when I play hockey, though I do wear the Fitbit. Unfortunately, the heart rate sensor on the chest strap can only send data to the watch in real time. It doesn’t store the data like the Fitbit can, to send hours worth of data when it next connects to a device.

Why I’m tracking this data

Gathering information like this opens my eyes – and it reinforces knowledge I already have – to help me make better decisions. For instance, I’m cutting out chips and ice cream, though I’ll allow frozen yogurt and gelato on occasion.

I rethought the diner breakfast I have after playing hockey (we start skating at 6:30 am), dropping the home fries and limiting myself to vegetarian omelettes accompanied by two grilled tomato slices, plus rye toast with no butter. And of course, no more big-box-store “meals” for me.

The setup isn’t precise, of course.

The Fitbit Flex doesn’t seem to measure every stride I take when I play hockey, nor can it account for the differences in effort between activities like skating, walking, climbing stairs or doing pushups.

MyFitnessPal’s estimate of how many calories I burn playing hockey may be low or high – I can’t tell. I wish I could use the Polar heart-rate sensor instead, without fear of it getting smashed.

While the MyFitnessPal and Fitbit apps talk to one another, the Polar training computer remains the disconnected one of the three. I can upload data from the Polar to a Polar website – IF I buy a gizmo called a FlowLink that “reads” the watch wirelessly. (If you’re interested, my birthday is coming up next month 😉

(Note: Polar now sells heart rate sensors that send information right to your smartphone. That’s cool. I presume the app shares information with other apps, and it’s easier to read information on a smartphone screen than on a watch screen.)

Here’s a nagging design flaw: why doesn’t my Polar show the TIME when I’m tracking my heart rate the way it does when I’m not tracking my heart rate?

A more nebulous problem – according to charts, for my height and weight, my weight is on the border of “normal” and “overweight” so I suspect I might not necessarily need to lose 11 pounds, the goal I’ve set for myself in MyFitnessPal. I may eventually discuss this with a fitness/nutrition professional.

Have you found the all-in-one app that helps you “precisely” and reliably capture your calories burned and consumed? Let me know in the comments below – I’d like to test your system.

Thanks to Jane Langille and Ann Douglas for sharing their experiences and tips.

1 Comment
  1. Hi came across this page trying to work out if there was a way of getting my fitbit flex to work out what’s going on when I play squash. I pretty much use the same tools as you minus the polar watch. I’m also seeking the one device in an attach to my body and smart phone that can do everything. I’m a nightmare with kissing things like watches etc and even remembering to put them on in the morning so something waterproof would be it for me. I will certainly keep you upto date with my quest but I find I reassuring that someone is doing pretty much what I am. I love these new devices being in helps. I think they have the potential to change lives. Goodl luck will

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