Thursday, October 08, 2015

How I made better use of a calorie tracker app

The run up to my marathons this autumn has had many ups and downs, and I thought I would share one of my better 'discoveries'. I have been using a calorie tracker app MyFitnessPal for a long time now (I first blogged about it in 2011 - "Calorie counting no really") - it is as far as I know one of the most popular. Every now and then I find more people I know are using it.

You might be wondering... "So what? People use it to keep their calorie intake in check?" Yes, of course this is its primary function, and one that I have made much use of in the last few years. I have set it up to loss weight slower or faster (once even to maintain weight) and I discovered that if I set it to lose relatively steeply that over the course of several weeks I got increasingly tired, with feelings of zero energy. Granted this could have been any number of things, but what I discovered lately is the most likely cause - hidden activity!

What is it that I am labelling hidden activity? Well the tracker does a great job of logging your training, your food intake, your body metrics, and your baseline activity levels. It is in the last one that I found I had issues. The baseline activity asks for your job type / daily activity levels. Upon discovering that my smartphone was tracking my steps (yup, some phones have pedometers in them that you would struggle greatly to switch off apparently - some suggested you can't turn them off!), reasoning if it was there I might as use it I linked this pedometer to the myfitnesspal app.

Bingo! I now have a day to day gauge of how active I have been and thus a better feel of my calorie 'needs' - some days I have had to pack a bit of extra food down so that I am not in crazy sized deficits. What was happening before the tracker was that when I started a training plan I would also start walking to work when I could, taking the stairs, walking the dog a bit further each day, etc. and making no allowance for it over and above the baseline option I had ticked in the app. So when I was hitting my targets I was more often than not in big deficits leading to the tiredness, grumpiness and increasing energy deficit.

The moral of this story is thus - if you track calories for restriction make 110% sure you have a good handle on just how much activity (including and on top of training) you really are doing.

Over 9 weeks before the marathon I dropped 10 lbs, and unlike in the past have not seen any of the niggles, grumps, and fatigue in the process by linking in my pedometer. Yup I dislike technology's ever increasingly pervasive intrusion into day-to-day lives, but if you are going to utilise things like lifestyle apps make sure you view them 'in the round' and use them intelligently (if only so that way they work so much better at the job you have tasked them with).

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