Studies prove keeping a journal or log nearly doubles the chance of reaching your goals and almost cuts the time in half. Almost all food and fitness tracking software is based on this. The concept is sometimes described as “self improvement by self tracking”. So first, does the software support this? Does it make it easy to track meals and workouts daily?
Over the past 20 years, there have been hundreds of food and fitness tracking applications on the market. Some are free and others are paid, but like most software, the average lifespan is about two years. Most don’t survive major changes in technology, like switching from Windows 7 to Windows 8, and now Windows 10. When selecting any software, has it been on the market more than two years? Since tracking health and fitness is a lifetime commitment, you want something you can use for many years. Also how long does the software store your data? Many free, web-based fitness trackers only store data for a year.
Historically, fitness software began with traditional applications for Windows and Mac (software that doesn’t use Internet), followed by web-based applications (software that can only be accessed from a website), mobile apps and now cloud-based software (your data is stored in the cloud, but can be accessed from any computer or mobile device). The latest approach eliminates the need to visit a website. In a “best of both worlds approach”, you can install real desktop software and apps on your computer and smartphone, but using cloud technology, you can access your data anywhere. Large companies like Microsoft now employ this strategy.
Almost all fitness software can record the basic information you need to track progress and reach goals. However they differ widely in how much information you can track, how many tools they provide to analyze your progress, and how fast and easy it is to record data. Most lean toward tracking exercise or tracking nutrition, but only a few provide equal support for both.
Whether you’re searching for a free or paid option, good fitness and nutrition software will have the following features.
Track Meals and Nutrition:
1. The ability to track core nutrients that appear on food labels (calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, cholesterol and sugar); tracking dozens of minor nutrients increases complexity and is usually not necessary.
2. Built-in food database with search; size is not critical because since there are millions of foods on the market, every application requires you to add custom foods and most people eat the same 20-30 foods year-round.
3. An option to add new custom foods.
4. A favorites list that lets you record daily food using drag and drop.
5. Option to create and save pre-defined meals or menus; lets you enter all your foods for a meal or entire day in one click.
6. Simple chart that shows total nutrients you’ve eaten for the day, compared to goals.
Track Cardio and Strength Training:
1. Option to track both cardio and weight training with ability to record more than one workout per day.
2. For cardio, it should at least track distance, time, pace and speed.
3. For weight training, it should at least track the name of each exercise along with the weight and repetitions for each set.
4. The ability to copy paste previous workouts is helpful.
5. Option to create and save pre-defined weight training workouts or templates (weight training is very time consuming to record).
6. Some provide tools to map routes, which is helpful when planning a run or bike ride.
Track Daily Measurements:
No tracker would be complete without the ability to measurements.
1. It should track daily or weekly body weight.
2. Tracking body fat, heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol is helpful.
3. Some also track measurements like waist size, hip size, arm size, etc.
Tools to Analyze Progress:
To track progress, and know if your workout and diet plan is effective, several tools can be helpful. Whether you use them or not, a good food and fitness tracker should include calendars, graphs and statistics.
1. Calendar that shows information and progress by month and year.
2. Chart that shows progress over time, including workouts, nutrition and measurements.
Good fitness software should also include some widely used calculators. Look for the following.
1. Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator.
2. BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) calculator.
3. Percent body fat calculator.
4. Target heart rate calculator.
5. Calories burned calculator.
Regardless of the food and fitness tracker you choose, it should be something you can comfortably use every day. It should track meals, exercise and measurements (they all go together), track and analyze progress and provide some basic fitness calculators.
While there some good free fitness trackers, there is a catch. To cover their operating costs, they typically generate revenue by embedding advertisements, selling your personal information (like your email address and custom foods) and only store data for a limited time. We also hope you’ll try Athlete’s Database! It uses cloud technology, installs like desktop software and it’s been evolving for over a decade.