Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Which fitness tracker gives you the best calories burned for your workout? An experiment

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Remember my rant a little while ago about how you shouldn’t think of exercise and food as an equation to balance? Or my post about not using the exercise component of calorie counting apps? Well, I just wanted to add a little more to that conversation today.

I use a Garmin watch to track my runs and occasionally I’ll look at the “calories burned” out of curiosity. After a pretty fast longish interval run I noticed that the calories burned seemed rather low so I started scrolling back through and was puzzled to find a shorter easier run that supposedly resulted in a very similar caloric expenditure. That left me wondering how Garmin determined the calories burned during a run. I looked it up and it turns out that it’s related to heart rate. Sometime the heart rate monitor is wonky and (especially when it’s really cold out) will register a heart rate that would be more likely seen when I’m sitting on my butt than when I’m out booking it through speed work. That means that my Garmin (erroneously) registers minimal exertion and thinks that I’m not burning very many calories.

Today I decided to do a little experiment. I wore my Garmin, as per usual, which is synched to my Strava account. I also fired up the Nike+ Run Club app for the first time in ages and I set out on an easy(ish) 10k run. After the run, I also entered the time spent running at the closest average pace into myfitnesspal. All of these apps have my height and weight. Any guesses what the results looked like?

Garmin: 463 calories

myfitnesspal: 517 calories

Nike: 526 calories

Strava: 1371 calories!!!!

Now, I have no idea how many calories I actually used during this run, I’d wager Garmin was probably closest to the mark considering that the heart rate monitor seemed to be working properly. But Strava, what the actual hell?? Considering that Strava gets all of it’s data from my run directly from Garmin I find it amazing that it estimated I burned nearly three times as many calories as Garmin thought I did. I’m sure that if I had other apps and trackers I would have gotten slightly different results from all of them.

All this to say, if you’re exercising and tracking calories burned, you probably shouldn’t give that number too much weight. Try to think of exercise as giving you health and fitness rather than taking away calories and weight.

 

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Is having abs incompatible with having a good personality?

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Last week I saw my social media friend Bryan Chung (@DrBryanC if you want to follow him on twitter and you probably do because he also writes the excellent Evidence Based Fitness blog) tweeting at a writer for GQ. The writer had written a column and tweeted it out as: “Stop trying to get a six-pack – try being interesting instead”. Intriguing, no?

Unfortunately(?), the article was didn’t provide any pointers on how to be interesting or how to compensate for your lack of abs with a stellar personality. Instead, it was all about how visible abs are really far too much work for anyone other than a Ryan Gosling or a Zac Efron. Plus, apparently you can’t eat anything good if you want to have a six-pack. Now, I know that having chiseled abs is probably for the minority but they are not impossible to obtain. You don’t have to give up all food and drink and pleasure in life to have abs.

The article seemed to be trying to tell men that they should magically blind women to their absent abs by having charisma. Apparently if you tell some jokes, By the time the T-shirt finally comes up, they’ll be too blown away by your mind to care.” As a woman, I can provide some inside information here: it’s true that most of us don’t give a damn if men have washboard abs or not. A great personality is essential but what defines a great personality (as evidenced by the taste of many of the women on the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise) is as unique as your body. There is no one perfect personality and there is no one perfect body.

This article reminded me of that meme I saw a while back. Why does it seem like to embrace one body type we have to shun others? Why can’t we be okay with bodies in all shapes and sizes?

If you want to have washboard abs then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that abs and personality are mutually exclusive traits. Just because you care about your physique doesn’t mean that you have a lacklustre personality. Conversely, just because you have a beer belly doesn’t mean you have a “perfectly toned personality”. You can have both abs and personality and you can have neither.


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Why I hate the caloric math game

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I have a beef with a lot of the all-in-one fitness/weight management apps. Many people benefit from tracking their calories when they’re trying to lose weight. I’m all for that. What I hate is the inclusion of calories burnt through exercise. I think that a lot of these apps over-estimate the number of calories expended during various activities. This can mean that if you’re looking at the bottom-line to determine how many calories you can eat without gaining weight you’re probably going to eat more than you need. I often tell people to either not track their exercise using these apps or to ignore the additional calories the app then tells them that they can have. Just use the nutrition side of the app. It’s wise to remember that even that’s not going to be 100% accurate, especially if you’re not weighing everything you eat. It’s just another weight management tool in a box of many.

Now for the real beef: I don’t like that these apps try to turn weight loss into a math problem. It’s not. We used to believe that cutting 3500 kcal would result in a pound of weight lost. We now know that it’s much more complicated than that. There are many factors contributing to the weight we are. Yes, how many calories we consume (and expend) are a huge factor in determining how much we weigh, and whether we lose, gain, or maintain our weight. I don’t want to diminish that fact. I’m not going to tell you that if you just ate cleaner you would lose weight. The cleanliness of your calories doesn’t matter when it comes to weight loss. However, adding 350 calories by going for a walk is an oversimplification. It may also lead to an unhealthy way of thinking about food, exercise, and weight management.

Most of us easily consume more calories than we’ve burnt after a workout. Exercise makes you hungry and it’s a whole lot easier to eat 500 calories than it is to expend them during a workout. When we start thinking about exercise as a way to “earn” more calories we’re moving away from healthy eating and healthy fitness. While I’ve said that the cleanliness of your calories doesn’t matter for weight loss, and I’ve also said that there should be no forbidden foods, eating primarily nutrient-rich whole foods is important for your health. A session at the gym shouldn’t be a licence to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods for the rest of the day. Focus on gaining health through the food you eat and the physical activity you do, rather than the numbers in an app or on a scale.


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Follow Friday: #Elf4Health

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I saw a bunch of my social media RD friends participating in this challenge last year and I thought it looked like fun. So, this year, when I saw one of them tweet about it, I immediately signed up. You can too! You can sign-up to participate with and as a buddy or just go it alone depending on how much involvement you want to have.

Each day of Elf for Health yields a new challenge. Starting with going meatless on Monday, November 24th, and finishing with making a donation on December 21st. It’s a great way to focus on health during what can often be a stressful time of year.


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Guest post: How accurate are running apps anyway?

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Finally, someone took me up on my request to write a blog post for me. Kidding. I was a little skeptical when I received a request for a guest post from someone I didn’t know and who’s background wasn’t nutrition. However, Sara took the spirit of my blog and applied it to running (my second love). I hope you all enjoy her post as much as I did!

Running apps for smartphones have been gaining momentum ever since they sprung from the starting block. Runners everywhere are strapping their phones to their arms and keeping track of distance run, pace and calories burned.

Or so they think.

How accurate are these apps, anyway? Can they really be as precise as a GPS watch?

A professional run coach named Matt Johnson decided to find out for himself. Using a running app for a smartphone, the same app for an Android phone, a GPS watch and a bicycle computer with a wheel sensor, Matt set out on a five-mile bike ride. The wheel sensor was the controlled variable of the experiment as it measures the actual ground covered by the wheel and is the same method used to measure race routes by USA Track and Field. He also conducted the same test while running the Chicago Marathon (obviously without the wheel sensor).

The results of the experiment showed the GPS watch was considerably more accurate than the running apps. The running app reported he ran 27.92 miles during the marathon, over a mile and a half more than what he actually ran!

So what are the risks? An inaccurate measure of your distance traveled will equate to an inaccurate measure of your pace. This will give you a false sense of achievement—or lack of achievement—and will lead to quite the wake-up call on race day when you suddenly can’t keep the same pace on a measured course.

A phone GPS differs from a running watch GPS in both design and function. A phone GPS device has a weaker signal and is designed more to find a general location and not a precise, pinpoint location like that of the stronger signal devices found in GPS watches. GPS devices in phones are generally smaller because they need to compete for space and signal strength with all of the other inner workings of a phone.

The GPS devices in a phone also perform differently than those of running watches. In a phone, the GPS does not track continuous movement but rather records timed snapshots of your location, kind of like a store security camera. The distance between the snapshots is then calculated as a straight line so movements like turns or zig-zags are not recorded. While it may seem minimal, these lost steps can really add up over the course of a long run.

Different phones and different apps all have different algorithms of calculating the distance traveled. You might be using one particular kind of phone or app and running alongside your friend, who has a different phone or app. The numbers produced at the end of your run will likely vary greatly.

So running watches are the way to go? Actually, a combination of both will give you the most out of your run. While watches may be more accurate, phones can provide additional data that many watches cannot.

There are GPS running watches on the market that sync up with smartphones to give you the best of both worlds. The watches will provide you with the pinpoint accuracy of your route while the phone provides additional data that can be analyzed and stored. As this article on Verizon Wireless explains, the phone can act as your own personal running coach. You can receive real-time coaching tips based on your pace and heart rate. Music will help keep your tempo. The data recorded by your watch will be instantly transferred to your phone to see your stride length, route map and more. Training plans will be altered for you based on your progress. There are running watches that are compatible with Android, iPhone and Windows devices.

So while a running watch provides greater accuracy of your run, smartphones provide a valuable source of additional data. Combine the two and let them run stride by stride.

About the author: Sara Upton is a freelance blogger and distance runner living in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. She enjoys long runs on the beach with her golden retriever, Sally.