Get fit, lose weight quickly and healthily, build muscles: the market is flooded with countless number of apps and gadgets that promise you this. However, you should, at the outset understand that there is no holistic solution that can do everything for you.
In my opinion, all these products happen to be just individual pieces of the puzzle that form a larger picture. And in this article, we attempt at helping you solve this puzzle as we take a look at how all the different segments interlock and how you can improve your fitness with the help of apps and gadgets.
2020 was a year that turned our lifestyle upside down completely. For many of us, that includes our fitness regime.
Before you know it, there it is; a small fold of fat here, a tightening of your clothes. Then there is the lethargy. My motivation to run, for example, has diminished over the past year, and then at some point in time, my diet crumbled, too.
Instead of suiting up in my exercise gear on a regular basis, I learned how to make really good pizza at home (thanks for the pounds, Vito Iacopelli). In the absence of going out options, three pizza evenings a week tend to pile on the pounds quickly!
As important as good food is for the soul: For 2021, I have decided to whip my body back into better shape. You can read more about my personal project at the end of the article. In the following segments, I would like to go through the most important fitness aspects first.
There are plenty of books that could shed more detailed information about each sub-section, so the limited amount of space here will be carefully used to outline all of the relevant aspects.
- The calorie balance: calorie intake and calorie consumption
- Sporting activities as the main calorie burner
- Sports for better health
- NextFit: Come along for the journey!
Evolution is to blame for the fact that we can't just oxidize our excess fat while reclining on a sofa and shovelling fast food down our throats all day long. This is because our body is a machine that has been perfected via evolution. Survival is our secondary goal that is only outweighed by successful reproduction, and until the age of the supermarket, food shortages were the greatest threat to humanity for thousands of years.
Therefore, any excess energy is meticulously stored as fat for times of crisis. Due to their genetic heritage, each person has different dispositions as to where and, above all, how much fat is stored in the body. Your ancestors had to fight hard to survive? Too bad for you, because your body will probably be more effective at hoarding fat.
In addition to genetic predisposition, your metabolic training also plays an important role. For example, those who purposely starve themselves in crash diets train their metabolism to hoard even more calories in the form of fat. You can read what this has to do with the yo-yo effect below.
Regardless of your genetic makeup, the basic idea for weight loss and gain is actually very simple: if you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight - and it also works the other way round where logically, you will lose weight. Yes, there are tons of trends like "run out of carbs after 6pm", intermittent fasting, low-carb, high-fat diets, or some insane Gwyneth Paltrow fad. Some of these are useless at best, while other measures actually push your metabolism in a different direction in the long term or might help you develop generally healthier eating habits that will subsequently help you lose weight.
From my experience, however, the leverage is far greater if your body regards itself as a closed physical system, and the input-output principle applies here. The very first step is to get to know your calorie intake (input) and your consumption (output).
Yes, keeping a record of all your meals and drinks is as interesting as watching paint dry. However, doing so on a regular basis would provide you with an extremely helpful place to begin with. There are also numerous apps that simplify this undertaking by a mile. Instead of typing in the calorie content, fat, and other details from your sandwich, you can, for example, simply use Fatsecret to scan the barcode on the packaging and have your lunch noted. What's better is this: if you keep up with the nutrition tracking for a few weeks, you will quickly develop a very good feeling about your own diet - and to learn to listen to your body at the same time.
In addition to noting down the pure energy supply consumed in kilocalories, most apps also record the macronutrients that make up the amount of energy supplied. The macronutrients comprise fat, protein, and carbohydrates that are often known as "carbs". This is bad news for those who love their drinks and take a nightcap every single day: alcohol is also one of the macronutrients that contain a lot of calories. Two shot glasses of absinthe are roughly equivalent to a single shot glass of olive oil. Delicious.
Macronutrients in comparison
|4 kcal/g||4 kcal/g||9 kcal/g||7 kcal/g|
Whether you are of the low-carb or high-carb persuasion: There are innumerable philosophies out there as to how the supplied energy should be ideally built up from macronutrients. Although the composition has no influence at all, or a secondary influence at best, on weight gain or loss, depending on the source of information, it still plays a role for the body. For example, I feel tired all the time with low-carb diets because my body lacks the readily available source of energy in the form of carbohydrates. Having the wrong meals at the wrong time is also disastrous as one would increase the likelihood of overeating.
I always lived by the code of a macronutrient ratio between 60:20:20 and 80:10:10, based on carbohydrates to proteins to fats as a proportion of energy sources. If you track your diet for a while, you can see the distribution of macronutrients in the app and learn what works best for you.
In my opinion, the best app for counting calories is Cronometer. With this app, apart from the macronutrients mentioned above, you can also track micronutrients, i.e. vitamins and others. In the following article you will read a more detailed comparison between popular calorie counter apps:
Our favourite calorie counting apps
|Cronometer||Cronometer not only tracks macronutrients but micronutrients as well. Even if the database did not recognize Nutella in our review, it still has the vast majority of foods stored in its database. What also works great: Cronometer also comes with a browser version so that you can conveniently check on your diet history on the large display. The pro functions such as meal photos and detailed analyzes cost a good €30 annually.|
|FDDB Extender||The Food Database is a giant among the databases for food, nutrition, and others, and with the FDDB Extender it comes in the form of an app on your smartphone. The range of functions is very similar to that of Cronometer. A few additional functions such as goals for macronutrients will set you back by €1.67 each month. The app can also be connected to Google Fit, Samsung Health, Fitbit, or Garmin Connect.|
Due to the lack of space in this article, here is a side note: apart from macronutrients, there are still a lot of things to consider in terms of nutrition. "Fast carbohydrates" are (mostly) worse than "slow carbs" (keyword: glycemic index), there are good and bad fats (keyword: saturated/unsaturated), and there are also enormous differences in protein (keyword: value). For example, oatmeal (slow carbs) is filling for far longer than white toast (fast carbs), which makes it easier to consume a lesser amount. There is an extremely large amount of literature on this, and I am sure you will quickly find what you are looking for at a trusted bookstore or in relevant forums.
After you have determined the input, it is time to check out the output. This is made up of two parts: the so-called basal metabolic rate and the performance metabolic rate. The basal metabolic rate quantifies how much energy you use in everyday activities to oxidize - without sports or the holiday tours that have been cancelled due to the coronavirus. There are simple rules of thumb and calculators for the basal metabolic rate, where many of those are from fitness experts.
Finally, the energy turnover quantifies the entire range of calorie use from kneading pizza dough endlessly to HIIT sports. Fitness trackers are of great help in determining performance expenditure. They record your daily movements and heart rate and can thus estimate your active calorie consumption reasonably well. You can read more about calorie consumption here:
Fitness tracker: A couple of examples
Honor Band 5 (Review)
|The Honor Band series is extremely affordable. For just €35 euros, this series of fitness trackers that see an updated release each year will record your sleep pattern, heart rate, or even oxygen saturation in the blood. The battery life is excellent, lasting for around a week per full charge. Used in tandem with Huawei Health (a smartphone app), there are detailed reports to refer to and a bunch of training plans to help you get started.||Approx. €35|
|Garmin Venu (Review)||A large color display, integrated GPS, and the ability to link cadence sensors for the bike, heart rate belts for the chest and many other devices to the watch make the Garmin Venu (and most of the current Garmin watches) really suitable for ambitious athletes. The app is well executed with a generous range of training plans to choose from.||Approx. €330|
You can find out more about the various fitness trackers and smartwatches available for monitoring your calorie consumption in the linked articles below. If you don't want to buy any additional hardware, step counter apps can also help - allowing you to use them to estimate your energy consumption with the help of your smartphone. However, due to the lack of pulse measurement, sporting activities cannot be precisely recorded.
- The best fitness trackers for Android and iOS
- The best smartwatches for Android and iOS
- The best pedometer apps compared
If you now know your calorie input and consumption, then it should not be too difficult to figure out whether the result is weight gain or loss. In practice, this is unfortunately not that easy, as the body is an extremely complex system and the values for calorie consumption are only estimates at best. However, you can improve the accuracy rate: record your weight for a few weeks; either with analogue scales and a pen or take the more convenient route with smart scales that includes a smartphone app. If there are inconsistencies, you will have to adjust your basal metabolic rate, which was determined using a rule of thumb.
Or you can finally stop smuggling all those chocolate bars past the calorie counter.
When you gain or lose weight, there is also another variable: How much sporting activities do you do - and how stressed is your body? This is where the aforementioned evolution comes into play again. In evolutionary terms, muscles are a luxury for your body. When at rest, they consume a lot of valuable energy and are therefore broken down when they are not absolutely necessary for survival, i.e. are constantly in use.
This applies in particular to calorie deficit: If you do not do involve yourself actively in any sports with a negative calorie balance, your body panics and uses not only the fat reserves but also your muscles as a source of energy for its energy reserves. Because muscles themselves also need energy and having them make survival even more difficult during a long famine. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is better for your body to hold on to fat.
If you follow your eating pattern that is similar to the one before you embarked on a non-sporting crash diet, the body, which has been relieved of many muscles, will have a lower basal metabolic rate than before. With the usual energy supply being consumed and still without any additional exercise, you will gain weight again by leaps and bounds - and this time it would be primarily fat. After all, the next famine might be just around the corner. This harmful swaying of weight is known as the yo-yo effect.
If, on the other hand, you exercise vigorously while on a calorie deficit, your body considers the muscles to be important for survival - and tends to access your fat reserves more frequently for its energy supply. Likewise, with excess calories plus exercise, you will build more muscle than fat. In traditional bodybuilding, for example, many athletes alternate so-called “bulk” and “cut phases”, in which muscles are first built up in excess, and then the calorie deficit that has been added in the course of this is trained off again.
Body fat scales: Two examples
|Withings Body+||The Withings Body+ connects to your home Wi-Fi network. In order to record your values for body fat, muscle mass, bone mask, water percentage, etc., all you have to do is to stand on the scales - the rest will be done automatically. You will then find the data processed and displayed in the app. Most body fat scales offer a similar range of functions.||Approx. €100|
|More complex body fat scales like the Tanita BC-545N also offer the possibility of measuring the tissue composition of the upper body thanks to a removable handpiece - so more precise statements about the actual body fat percentage, muscle mass, etc. are possible.||Approx. €200|
Of course, it is great to use exercise to increase calorie consumption, build muscle, and let your body fat reserves dwindle. After all, it contributes enormously to the amount of general satisfaction when you feel comfortable with your appearance. However, exercise has many more aspects to it than just a lower body fat percentage.
All kinds of endurance sports, for example, not only increase calorie consumption, but also strengthens the cardiovascular system, lower your resting heart rate, and have a positive effect on your blood pressure. In addition, endurance sports usually force you to put your smartphone down and really keep your mind free from stressful alerts and incoming messages.
However, most endurance sports only involve the lower half of the body. It is extremely important for those who sit in front of their screens all day long, to train their shoulders and back muscles. It doesn't matter whether you feel more comfortable on the yoga mat or with full-body HIIT workouts, but holistic exercise, including proper stretching, is important. After a shoulder operation and a slipped disc, I can tell you a thing or two about it.
Now, this is very important: If you start exercising after a long period of living a sedentary lifestyle, observe yourself closely a few times to ensure that the exercises are carried out correctly. For example, getting friends who are enthusiastic about sports or a personal trainer (they are also available via video call). If you have any injuries or illnesses, it is better to talk to your doctor in advance. This is because exercising wrongly can result in serious, long-term injury which defeats the whole purpose of working out in the first place.
Training apps: Two examples
|Freeletics||Freeletics is probably THE app when it comes to independent fitness training. Here, you can discover countless training plans and workouts that explain every exercise with great videos that are easy to follow. But the best thing about Freeletics is the community that meets in many places worldwide to train together. Anyone who pays (from approx. €12 monthly) has access to the full training program - and an online coach at their side.|
|Bodyweight Fitness||Bodyweight Fitness does not look as polished as Freeletics, Pumatrac and other similar apps, but this Android app is completely free while the iOS version does not follow the subscription model that is commonly imposed today. There are detailed training plans and explanatory videos, but the nutritional aspect is left out and the interface does take some getting used to.|
Whatever you do, the most important aspect of sports remains: Find something that you will also enjoy, something you want to do regularly. It usually takes a month or two to internalize a new exercise routine. You will have to hold out for that long, and then it almost works out by itself like magic.
- Stay in shape with the best Android health and fitness apps
- What does your resting heart rate, SpO2, REM sleep, etc., really tell?
One thing is very clear: fitness is not a final goal, but a lifelong journey with many stations along the way. For instance, I was always too heavy until around 2012. My maximum weight at that time was around 95 kilograms at a height of 184 cm - and no, it may be a long way from morbid obesity, but I probably didn't feel it. Not in the swimming pool, and not even when walking up a few floors filled my lungs with what felt like two pounds of tacks.
It's now 2021 and I'm a lot lighter at around 80 kilograms, and above all: I feel fit. In 2019, I ran the Berlin half-marathon without any noteworthy extra training and the day after a twelve-hour flight, I can do a dozen pull-ups depending on my training level, and much more importantly, my body normally feels like it is in really good shape. When the degree of satisfaction decreases, I actually notice it. “Ciao pizza, hello sports. It's time to tweak the balance again."
And you will feel the same way, too! Fitness is a lifelong journey of trial and error. I've tried a lot of different ways when it came to nutrition and exercise; from vegan to high-protein, from yoga to plyo and pumps. I experienced three severe injuries including two operations. Perhaps this article can shorten a few trials and tribulations and help you to simply feel good with a fit body.
If you've fought your way through to the end of the article, then one thing should be clear: you don't need apps or gadgets to lose weight. But these helpers can be a huge motivator. Personally, being able to follow my development over the course of months or years was the key to my success. And even if analogue training plans with years of training are stacked up in my basement: It's easier and clearer by simply using an app.
For 2021, I have decided to get myself in really good shape again, to try out various gadgets and apps and to document the progress on NextPit. You will read more about this with us in the coming days. Stay tuned and have a great start to the new year!