A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Food Logging with My Fitness Pal
Whether you are doing it already or planning on offering nutritional support to your clients, understanding where they are on their “nutritional education” journey is key to establish the best course of action to that specific client. Just like with workouts, nutrition coaching is a complex process and while a method may work for one personal training client, it may not work for another.
Clients normally want to lose weight and/or gain muscle, have more energy and feel better about themselves. They don't need a fine-tuned and very calculated nutrition plan; any sensible method will work so long they stick to it. Tracking food is one of the simplest and most efficient ways of helping clients to improve their nutrition.
Food Logging Benefits
Helping your clients understand how writing down everything that passes their mouth will help them change habits that are jeopardising their results is key. They may already know their weaknesses but identifying eating patterns that took them where they are now is the first step in acquiring their desired look, fitness and health in the future. A study of nearly 1,700 participants suggested that logging food intake can double weight loss results . People will naturally eat less when they know their habits will be logged and monitored.
There are many ways to log food intake; from using pen and paper, through photographing meals (my personal favourite method!) to using online tools like My Fitness Pal. For simplicity of use, and because we have a My Fitness Pal integration to PT Distinction, I will take you through the steps of setting up your clients on My Fitness Pal (MFP).
Step 1. Download and Register
If you haven’t used the app before, test the process yourself. It’s very easy. Clients will need to download the iOS or Android App to their smartphone and register an account. Once they are active, they can set up their goals.
Step 2. Setup their Goals
The app will ask them to add their starting weight, their goal weight, how quickly they would like to progress and what their activity levels are. Based on their answers, MFP will calculate their estimated daily calorie intake and assign a default macro split to their goal. This can be changed manually in the Goals/Nutrition Goals menu if you provide them with individual targets to hit.
Step 3. Exercise Calories
One thing you are better to explain is that their exercises will be logged on MFP automatically when they connect a smartwatch or a Fitbit. The app will assume that the calories burnt can be added to their daily total allowance. If you calculated their calorie goals based on activity levels, they will need to ignore that number and focus on food calories only. If they decide to pay for Premium, they will be able to switch this feature off.
Step 4. Diary Sharing and Other Settings
The trick is that you can keep an eye on their diary from your own smartphone. All you need to do is to send your client a “Friend request” within the My Fitness Pal app. They will need to accept it. The key for this to work is that they approve Diary Sharing. They will have the option of sharing their diary with the public, with their friends or with people who know a code they can set.
Users can also customize meal names, the nutrient dashboard and Premium unlocks a whole host of other settings.
Step 5. Start Tracking
The design of the app will be slightly different depending on the device your clients have. From the Home page, they will have some sort of quick tool to add Weight, Exercise, Food, Water or Status or they can enter the Diary menu and go from there.
As you explain to your clients how to use the tracker, the best is to start from the easiest process to the more challenging. Foods they buy from the supermarkets that have a barcode is the easiest to log.
When they make up their own meals from individual ingredients, they will need to find those ingredients one by one and add the right portion to each meal. It’s worth mentioning that the records marked with a green tick were verified for data accuracy. Others without this symbol are also mostly accurate but they may need to be double checked.
When your clients are cooking from scratch or combine certain ingredients often into one meal, they have the option to add these to their own database for easier logging in the future. This feature is found under Recipes, Meals & Foods.
BONUS STEP – PT Distinction and My Fitness Pal Integration
The real benefit of integrating your clients’ diary into PTD is that you will be able to see far more information about their food log than as their “friend” within the app. While you can check their meals and see their daily calorie intake in MFP, macronutrient ratios and other nutrient info will only be shown within the integrated version in PT Distinction.