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I’ve used MyFitnessPal for two periods in my life — when I used to model and now, five years later, to train to climb the 1,576 stairs of the Empire State Building. I used the free version of the health and fitness tracker back in the day and the premium membership to train for the climb — overall, I find it a useful tool, however, is the premium version of MyFitnessPal worth it?
The app is a great way to understand a snapshot of the calories you’re consuming and burning — however, I’m not a fan of obsessive tracking of either. In order to understand if a MyFitnessPal Premium account ($80/year) makes sense for you, I’d consider your starting point and goals. Considering that varies for everyone, I’ll go through my experiences.
Training for the Empire State Building Run-Up
Starting point: I’m a relatively fit person. I’m no athlete, but I can uncomfortably run a half marathon without specifically training for it. I usually do something active every day, like a fitness class, jog or long walk. I’m knowledgeable about nutrition, mostly because of my tenure in modelling. I tend to stick to a balanced diet.
Goal: I wanted to get up the Empire State stairs in under 24 minutes. I was invited to join the Run-Up around a month in advance so I had 30 days to track and train. I didn’t set any weight or body composition goals.
Tracking: I used to obsessively track my caloric intake and didn’t have any interest in doing that again. However, I know I don’t get enough protein, so I was happy to loosely track what I eat in a day using the MyFitnessPal app.
Training prep: I interviewed Shaun Stephens-Whale, the record-holder for climbing the stairs of the CN Tower the fastest, to understand how to train for the race. I also researched what gear I should wear, from shoes and socks to shirts, shorts and sports bras. Lastly, I started the “Eat to Compete” (a guide that provides tips six days before a physical challenge) challenge on the MyFitnessPal app to learn how to get ready for the vertical challenge. MyFitnessPal has different “plans” to follow, based on goals, like Building Healthy Habits and Reaching Your Calorie Goal.
Actual training: As usual, I did some sort of workout daily. As per Stephens-Whale’s recommendation, I planned on doing three stair-specific training sessions a week – I did eight total. I tracked my general food intake for the week, probably adding 70 – 80 per cent of my daily caloric intake to the app. Stephen-Whale also said to eat candy on the day of the race, which I did diligently. I connected my Apple Watch to the app to track my activity, which makes tracking workouts and movement really easy.
Results: 22 minutes and 55 seconds – success.
Lessons I learned while training
A month of training — what can be so difficult? Nothing really, aside from prioritization. Before committing to training for the climb, I already had two trips scheduled. I also have other life commitments and generally don’t enjoy climbing stairs for fitness or any other purposes. So, I didn’t train as much as anticipated.
Training while travelling: There aren’t 1,500 stairs lying around available for training purposes – I couldn’t even find a stair climber in the hotel gyms. I quickly learned I was going to have to be flexible with my training strategies, like taking the stairs to my hotel room on the 21st floor.
Training with others: I don’t specifically enjoy climbing stairs, so found it hard to motivate myself. Luckily, I have supportive and athletic friends who live in my building who had no problem yelling words of encouragement at me while climbing the 28 stories of our condo over and over again. Find people to support your goals.
Tracking while dining out: It’s simple to track calories when you make your own food. It’s easy to use MyFitnessPal with many fast-food restaurants, as the app has a huge catalogue of menu items, however, if you want to track your caloric intake at smaller restaurants, you’ll have to approximate (in the paid version you can use the meal scanner, a tool that takes a photo of your food and logs it accordingly). Overall, I’m not an athlete training for the Olympics nor do I have any health concerns, so I’m okay with more high-level tracking just to better understand what my average daily macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates) look like.
Gear: Try out different gear while you’re training to understand what best suits your needs. There were only a few hundred people participating in the Empire State Run-Up, and many of them looked like elite athletes in high-tech gear. After not minding my own business, I asked around and the people who were indeed elite athletes shared that they were wearing what was most comfortable for them, there’s no rule of thumb with what brand, style of clothes or shoes should be worn — though light carbon-plated shoes could help give you an edge. After trying different athletic gear throughout my training, I ended up wearing:
Is MyFitnessPal Premium worth it?
There are quite a few differences between the free and paid versions of MyFitnessPay, including the plans, meal scan and barcode scanner. I’ll go through some of my favourite features below. Here is the complete list of the benefits of Premium.
Favourite features: Meal scanner, barcode scanner, macros by meal, Apple Watch integration
- Meal scanner – The worst part of tracking food is tracking food. The easier the tracking, the more likely I am to do it. I generally eat similar things every day, so it’s easy to add previously logged meals, but the meal scanner makes it easy when I’m not eating my daily bagel and eggs. The tool works incredibly well — it’s really great at “reading” and logging food and drinks. It’s not going to be 100 per cent accurate down to the calorie, but that’s A-okay with me.
- Barcode scanner – The barcode scanner is a tool where you use your camera to log foods or beverages with barcodes. This is great for consumables with barcodes while the meal scanner is the right tool for prepared food and drinks.
- Macros by meal – I like understanding my macronutrients because I’m eating way too many carbs. Not in an Atkins Diet type of way, where I’m afraid of carbs, but in a way where I know I should be getting other nutrients, like protein and fats.
- Apple Watch integration – I love how easy the Apple Watch makes tracking my movement. Right now, MyFitnessPal tracks movement information from “steps” and logged exercises. You can also quickly add calories to the MyFitnessPal app via your Apple Watch, but not specific foods or drinks (you can adjust the calories to reflect specific foods or drinks in the MyFitnessPal app on your phone).
Least favourite feature: Learning how to use the app. If you have a Premium subscription, I suggest doing the plan called MyFitnessPal 101, it teaches you how to get the most out of the app. Overall, it’s not difficult to use, but there is quite a bit of personalization that can be done. Though I don’t love learning how to use apps, I’m happy that I’m up and running so I can get the most out of the MyFitnessPal Premium membership.
Recommendation: I’m not a health professional, so I’m going to make my recommendation based on the difference between the free and paid versions of MyFitnessPal. For me, I’d only use the paid version if I was trying to accomplish a goal, like consuming more protein, toning up the body or training for a physical competition.
I’ve spent many years educating myself on health and nutrition, tracking my caloric intake on MyFitnessPal and understanding what my body needs, so I wouldn’t track food and fitness outside of using it as a tool to help me towards a goal. However, when gearing up for a goal, the meal and barcode scanners are extremely helpful and key features of the Premium version of MyFitnessPal.
How to train like the CN Tower stair-climb record holder
Training to climb the Empire State Building in 30 days
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