Fitness Trackers – Are They For You?
How do you track your training sessions? At worst I’m hoping you have a notebook to record your loads, weights, reps, sets, rest breaks etc and be able to refer to this information from one workout to the next.
With something as simple as bringing a notebook to the gym you’d think everyone would do at least this much. it doesn’t cost anything and takes no extra time or effort. You can make all your entries during a rest break or immediately after training.
But besides going old school and low-budget with a journal there a number of fitness trackers which will monitor and record everything from heart rate intensity and averages, caloric output and even sleep cycles at night.
Recently, a study at the Iowa State looked at the accuracy of 7 different fitness trackers. Researchers looked at BodyMedia FIT, DirectLife, Fitbit One, Fitbit Zip, Jawbone UP band, Nike+ Fuel Band and the Basis B1 Band. BodyMedit Fit and the Fitbit Zip were found to be most accurate. And in a related story Nike may be killing off its fuel band in the near future.
But back to the point of gadgets to track your caloric output I have never really been sold on them. I’ll admit there are benefits to knowing what your heart rate data is and to monitoring the length of your workouts. However when you think about it these type of products are usually favoured by those with a few pounds to spare.
And my concern is that individuals tracking how many calories they burned at Zumba or spin class will then see this as a credit to indulge later. For example, if a fitness tracker shows that I burned 473 calories sweating to the oldies can I then rationalize a 300 calorie treat later in the day? And does knowing how much I burned influence why decision to indulge and have a treat later that day?
To me it’s kind of like starting a new job. Most people know what they are to be paid. Yet they still wait to actually receive the cheque in their hands before they go out and spend what they know they’ve earned. Until they have the confirmation of how much is coming off for dues, taxes, insurance and everything else they may be reluctant to go out and spend by assuming their new paycheque will cover what they buy.
Case in point…once people have have a job for some time they may know exactly how much they will receive on each cheque and then spend accordingly. They know not only how much they can spend but when payday is and how long the wait is until they can spend again.
Nutrition and creating a caloric deficit probably works in similar way. If we know exactly how many calories we have burned we may feel justified or even entitled to bigger and more frequent indulgences.
The problem then becomes one of accuracy. If we are using one of the less than accurate fitness trackers we may be over-estimating our caloric output. If the best devices were 10% off then how inaccurate were the less accurate ones? 15%? 25%?
Imagine for a second if you were using a less accurate fitness tracker that displayed 500 calories burned for a workout. And then you decide you can have a treat that is only 380 calories. You are still 120 calories ahead, got in your training session and were able to enjoy life by having a treat. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
But let’s back up for a second. If your fitness tracker was 20% off in its accuracy than that means you really only burned 400 calories instead of 500. And if the restaurant that prepares your treat makes it a little differently than advertised you may end up with more than 380 calories as expected.
Now not only is your training a wash when you factor in your treat but you also no longer have a 120 calorie credit left over from believing you burned 500 calories. And how do people behave when there is surplus? They spend it as quickly as they can! Nobody invests extra money from a tax return or a bonus at work. No way! This is free money to do whatever you like without any pain or guilt associated.
So what is the take home from all this? Well if you use a fitness tracker be aware of the limits on accuracy. And if you are going to pick one up try one of the ones in the study that provided the truest record of calories burned. Either way know that caloric outputs are simply estimates and should not be used as tools to budget your nutritional consumption.