MyFitnessPal iPhone App.

In a previous article on losing weight, I discussed the general issue of people overestimating how much they burn, and underestimating how much they eat. Well, the good news is that there is a tool that will help you correct these issues relatively easily. The bad news though is that you still have to make an effort if you want to lose weight. It’s a tool that helps you, not a magic pill that does it for you.

Anyhow, I have been testing the MyFitnessPal application for iPhone over the past few days. The application is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, and as a web application also. For free. You can’t beat free. You need to download, create an account, and then you’re set to go.

When creating a profile, you will enter some data (e.g. age, gender, current weight, height, etc.) and will also enter a target weight and a date for reaching your target. My first test was to check if the app. warns you when trying to lose weight to quickly. And thankfully, it does. If you say you want to lose 10lbs in one week, you will get a message suggesting that it isn’t recommended. Check 1.

The app. allows you to enter what you eat, and the exercise you do. You get to choose if you add a food entry, or an exercise entry, through a nicely designed interface:

Data Entry

When it comes to exercising, it separates cardio and weight activities. I only tested the cardio activities. It comes preloaded with many options, and for the most part, you will be able to get a pretty good estimate of your calorie expenditure. When it comes to food, this is where the app. is really great. It comes with a large library of foods, a search function, a very large selection of meals from various chain restaurants (Starbucks, Chilis, BJ’s, etc.) and a scan function, which lets you scan a bar code, and enter the value direction. The phone locks in very quickly, and therefore, you have no search to do. If requires the bar code to be intact, so do this before tearing the pack.

Entries

Not only does it enter the calorie intake, it also enters the nutritional breakdown in terms of carbs (separating sugars and dietary fibers), fats, proteins, nutrients, etc. This is especially useful for people who need to monitor their sugar levels, their calcium, and iron intake, etc. You can see daily and weekly summary, and evaluate how you are doing in with respect to your target weight, but also whether you are eating a balanced diet, as it indicates if you are over or under the current dietary guidelines set forth by the FDA. Of course, take this with a grain of salt since these recommendations vary per individual.

Weekly nutritional intake

You can also choose to get a pie (pun intended) chart of your food breakdown, and you can also see how well you are doing with respect to your target weight, and target date.

The app. also provides some pretty good insight into your nutrition and how it relates to your training, even if you aren’t trying to lose weight. For instance, I tend to train very well from Monday through Thursday, and hit a bit of a wall on Friday, to jump back on Saturday and Sunday. I always assume that it is due to a combination of work, workout, and shorter nights. However, looking at my daily nutritional intake during the week, I have noticed that I tend to not eat enough during the week (I know some are already laughing at this preposterous idea), with some days before short of 1500kcal to just maintain weight. On Friday, I tend to not train as well, and eat a lot more. So, it seems that the poor training on Friday may well be due to a less than adequate intake during the week, which accumulates until Friday, when I end up having to rest, and eat more.

So, all in all, a very easy to use app. with not much of a learning curve, a simple, well-designed interace, with all the components you’d expect to see for a fitness app, which will be useful for both those who want to lose weight, and those who want to eat healthy, and exercise.

Weight loss

I think I have everyone’s attention now. Although many came to triathlon at its beginning because it just sounded crazy, and let’s admit it, pretty stupid, the demographics have changed quite dramatically over the past few years. Many come into the sport now to lose weight. Yet, the ‘how do I lose weight’ question pops up regularly at Tri club meetings, group rides, and on internet forums (fora for those of you born in ancient Rome).

It’s pretty easy to do a long article on the topic so I’m going to stick to the fundamentals, and give some tips on how to lose weight in a healthy manner.

1. Thermodynamics 101: there are heated debates about whether the first law of thermodynamics should also apply to us. Yes, there are some metabolic issues, there are some efficiency issues, and water soluble and insoluble fibers, etc., but the bottom line is that the vast majority of studies show that if you want to lose weight, you must get less calorie in, than you get out. In other words, if you get in 3000kcal and burn 2500kcal (including basal metabolism), you will likely go on packing on weight.
Rule 1: get less calories in than you get out.

2. Overestimate / Underestimate: most people tend to underestimate how much they eat, and overestimate how much they burn. There are numerous apps that exist if you want to count calories, so these are a good start. Now, to estimate how much you burn, that gets trickier. Generally, running amounts to your weight in kg time your distance in km, on a flat course. So, if you run 10km and weight 70kg, that’s 700kcal. On the bike, it’s a bit more difficult, because it depends on air resistance, and a bunch of other factors that are difficult to measure. But a rough estimate is that an hour at an easy pace for someone around 140-150lbs shouldn’t be more than 350-400kcal, and 600kcal for someone bigger. When pushing the pace, you can assume a lighter person will be around 600kcal to 700kcal and 800 to 900kcal for someone bigger. These are crude lower bounds, which is good since the goal is to get more out than in. In the water, the estimates also range between 400kcal and 900kcal, depending on how fast you swim. A rule of thumb is to count 700 for 3000yds.This probably underestimates a bit, but once again, the goal is to lose weight.
Rule 2: running for 20min on the treadmill, burns less energy than a venti vanilla latte at starbucks.

Food items: that’s where things get really tricky, because you want to lose weight, but also stay healthy. So rather than writing a nutrition book, something I’m not qualified to do anyway, there are a few rules that you can use:
-Focus on fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, lean meats, seafood, various nuts, and fibers.
-Carbs are NOT bad. You are most likely exercising, and you need to replenish your glycogen stores. Make sure that you eat soon after working out, and eat carbs at that moment. Note: the calorie balance still applies at that moment. It applies ALL the time.
-Stay hydrated, and favor water. It’ll keep your stomach relatively full, and will limit the amount of food you can get in.

Other general rules:
-Try to avoid snacking too late. Avoid eating dinner past 7pm whenever possible. Or at least, avoid dinner too close to bed time.
-Don’t skip meals. In particular breakfast. A couple of studies show that missing out breakfast leads to consuming more calories during the rest of your day.
-Don’t lose more than 2-3lbs per week.
-Stay clear of the various unhealthy weight-loss strategies, that promise quick weight loss, that rely on ridiculous assumptions with no underlying scientific evidence.

That will probably not answer all your questions, but that’s a good start for those who are trying to lose weight, stay healthy, stay active, and race.

The value of hard work

One of the questions I frequently have to answer as a coach is the following ‘can you make me faster, faster?’ It invariably leaves me a bit puzzled because I start wondering why is it so important for improvements to happen instantly. Of course, those who know me won’t miss the irony of my saying this, given my impatient nature. However, when it comes to sport, I thoroughly enjoy the actual preparation, and the process of improving.

Instant gratification has been a societal accelerating trend over the last few years, and I am convinced that it makes us focus on the wrong thing, and blatantly misleads people (in all aspects of life). When it comes to athletic performance, losing weight, shaping up, getting fitter, whatever you want to call it, we are inundated with ridiculous commercials: lose 6in of belly fat with just 3 times 10 minutes a week of product ‘A’; improve your running economy while running less with product ‘B’; etc. You never (or rarely) see a commercial or an ad saying: work hard, work for many years, and you will improve, and enjoy the simple process of getting better.

The little triathlon community jumped on the ‘HTFU’ acronym, and quickly turned it into an ongoing joke: how can I improve my 5km time? HTFU. It’s raining and I have to ride on the trainer, what should I do? HTFU. Swimming is tough and I don’t seem to get better. HTFU. My own athletes will laugh at this because I’ve used it on multiple occasions. But truth is, it often IS the right answer. There is just NO SHORT CUT for hard, consistent work. How do you get better at swimming, cycling, or running? It’s simple. You swim, bike, and run a lot. You’re consistent. You focus on what you do. And you start realizing that what matters is to actually get better, at your own pace. Of course, the content of the sessions, the planning, etc do matter, but the sine qua none conditions to improving are consistency and hard work.

A practical example of this was started by accelerate3 coach, Brian Stover on slowtwitch. With the premise that many triathletes want to run faster (it seems we can’t just buy running speed unlike cycling), Brian created the simplest running plan ever: want to run faster? Simple! Run 50mi per week for 12 weeks straight! The content matters. Somewhat. But for the vast majority, it will pay hugely. Of course, you need to take this with a grain of salt. If you’ve never run more than 15mi per week, then try 30mi per week for 12 weeks. Although…start at 15, go up to 50 slowly but surely, and then do 12 weeks at 50mi. You get the idea. The same is true for swimming and cycling. Practice does make perfect. And, to be clear: sure Kenyans have longer lighter limbs, but the main reason for their running superiority is that they just run more. A lot more. My friend Olaf likes to quote Lao Tzu: the goal is the way. Focus on being consistent. Focus on repetition. Focus on making tedious tasks become easy habits. Focus on the process of getting better, rather than goal times. And you may surprise yourself, going way beyond what you thought you were capable of.

Who’s up for the 50mi per week challenge?

Big Racing

Two of my athletes were racing this weekend. Rob was heading out to San Diego for the SD Tri, following a strong showing at the Eagle In The Sun Sprint Triathlon in El Paso. Rob was a tad disappointed with the racing there because, despite some very solid training, he finished in the same time as 2011. Given the amount of training done lately, and no taper to speak of for EITS, I was expecting this, but was still glad with his performance. We followed this race with a real taper, that will be used for the SOMA half in October. A few weeks after the NYC Tri, Rob shaved a total of 15min to his OD time, improving his run by 7min, and taking 3rd overall in the clydesdale division (Rob is about 3 feet taller than me, and around 50lbs heavier…I’d rather take him in a triathlon than in football)! That is some serious butt kicking, and suggests a very strong performance to come next Month in Tempe, AZ. I am guessing he might be starting to believe that indeed, an Ironman in 2013 is a definite possibility…(no pressure mate).

The other athlete, Kristoph was racing the Ironman Distance, Rev3 in Cedar Point. That was a decision made later in the year after some serious improvement during the season. A very solid preparation, a fair amount of suffering in training yielded a finish time of 9h56, a whole 1h31 faster than Kristoph’s fastest Ironman thus far, 40min faster on the run, 50min faster on the bike, in very windy conditions! I felt very proud, in particular when I read ‘I kept thinking that it was still easier than one of François’ workouts’ on his Facebook.

The season that was

That’s not really the end of the season, far from it. However, I haven’t written anything in ages, and it’s time to update a bit. I have to say that as a coach, this season has been extremely satisfying.

Jonathan went from not being able to run at all because of an injury, to finisher at Ironman Mont-Tremblant. He didn’t go fast. But he got the job done.

Tona slashed all his times: over 40min in a half-Ironman, with a close to sub-5h performance. Here he is with a big smile on his face 😉

He followed that with a 12min improvement at Hy-Vee. Now, I just have to convince him to race an Ironman next season.

Arnaud started the season in style with a sub-3h marathon, and followed this with solid 10h15 at Ironman Texas; an improvement of 1h06′ compared to 2011. The sub-10hrs is getting closer, and I’m expecting this for next year. Gretchen was there too. I tricked her into doing Ironman Texas, and she put a very solid performance for her first Ironman ever, breaking the 12hr mark, despite suffering a lot on the run.

Then Kristoph…well, let’s leave him out of this for the moment, and let’s go back to him Sunday evening. Others are racing soon too. Rob is racing his first Half in Soma next month. Maya is racing her first Olympic distance shortly as well. Brooks has improved a lot this season, but had to cut the season short. And I will be racing Ironman Arizona in a couple of months. I can’t wait to swim in beautiful Tempe Town Lake 😉