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One of the most popular questions I get a day in my challenge groups is about calories. How many do I need? How do I really know how many calories I am burning in a workout? Should I eat back my calories? How accurate are the calorie counters out there???

I am a fitness gear junkie. I have tried every single device out there. Online calculators, wrist bands, chest strap heart rate monitors, GPS watches,  the arm band Body Media Fit…. which is the armband you may have seen on The Biggest Loser television show. I also really do love my Polar Heart Rate Monitor during my workouts– it monitors my heart rate and shows me a live readout of my calorie burn while I am exercising and keeps me motivated to push myself harder, or slow down if my heart rate is out of range I should be working in. However, when I decided to give the Body Media Fit a try to my fitness collection, I was hooked.  My latest addition and something you hardly ever see leave my wrist is my FitBit Charge HR. I love this little guy because it syncs with my phone, tracks my steps and there are challenges to enter with others which keeps you motivated. It also doubles as a watch for me and doesn’t ruin my outfit as much as the Body Media armband.

BodyMedia 

Its a pedometer, calorie counter and sleep monitor in one. It counts your steps you take, gives you an accurate readout of your caloric expenditure ALL day, and registers how efficient your sleep is. You may have heard me talk about how important sleep and rest are at reaching your weight loss goals, and although you may be in bed 8 hours a night, you may actually only be sleeping a handful of those hours. Monitoring your sleep cycles can be really very useful to both you and your doctor.

 

In my opinion and experience, the calorie readouts on this device are *very* accurate. It can help you not under eat and not overeat. Many MANY people underestimate how many calories they are burning and on the flipside, MANY MANY people way overestimate. My husband, for example, is in sales and sits in the car for long periods of time when he is working. When he is driving, he will wear his arm band and if he doesn’t workout that day, he will burn about 2500 calories a day (remember he is a 190 pound man). However, a day he gets a high intensity 30 minute workout in, is home with the kids and running errands, he will often break 3500 calories. What does this mean?? This means in order for him to lose weight, he needs to pay attention. He needs to pay attention not to have such a high caloric deficit on the days he has high burns frequently because in the end, his metabolism will slow down and his weight loss will slow down. Many people do NOT realize this. They think the bigger the deficit the better for weight loss and then do not understand when they aren’t losing weight. On the flip side, those days he is sitting in the car, it helps him be more aware of what he eats since he is not getting the super high burns that he normally does. Your caloric burn output will depend largely on your body size, gender, age, hormones, daily activity level, fitness level, resting heart rate, career. I myself am a very petite, fit individual. I burn WAY less calories than many people when I exercise because my heart rate is super low. However, because I am active, it is pretty typical for me to burn 2000-2500 calories/day depending on my workout of the day. There was one day we were in Disney World that I wore my arm band and I burned over 3000 calories that day with all the walking we did!

Obviously, if you know me, you know that I do not promote tracking calories forever and ever for the rest of your life. Nobody wants to live this way, and it isn’t realistic. However, I do think that these devices can be very helpful at helping you learn your own body, habits, and what changes you may be able to make when it comes to daily activity and nutrition. It will NOT do the work for you…. but it can certainly help you along the way.

If you are working out at home with one of our Beachbody programs too….it is SO helpful to have one of these devices to be able to know how your hard work is paying off! . 🙂 The online calculators for caloric needs are estimates…. the Body Media Fit gives you science. My husband, also a Beachbody Coach , has lost over 30 pounds using his arm band, drinking Shakeology and using Beachbody workouts. The combination has really been helpful for our household!

 



ETA: The BodyMedia company has since been acquired by  Jawbone since I wrote this review. I have not personally tried a Jawbone tracker– although the website says they have the same technology as the armbands,I cannot say I have tried this first hand.

Polar Heart Rate Monitor

polar

I’ve had a Polar HRM for years — it was the first fitness tracking too I used, and I find the calorie burnouts to be pretty accurate during workouts. They also come in fun colors, gives you a live readout of your calorie burnout and heart rate during the workout — which definitely motivates you to push yourself a little further! The only thing I don’t like about the Polar, is that it doesn’t track your steps, you have to wear a chest band which isn’t as comfy, and the batteries are a pain to change out when they die. It also doesn’t give you the 24 hour readout like some of the other trackers. But I do like the push it gives you during a workout, and do find the calorie readouts to be pretty spot on.

 

FitBit

Fitbits have evolved quite a bit over the years. The first one that came out was just a pedometer. Then they graduated to the flex wristband, which I had (and gave to my daughter when I upgraded) — I LOVE the step challenges and find that it really motivates me to move MORE thoughout the day with general activity. The calorie readout however, I do not find to be very accurate, and pretty much on the low end. I was excited with the HR came out with the Charge because I thought it would fix this issue. I like my HR — BUT a few issues I have with it:

a) I still think the calorie readout is on the low end

b) my heart rate will often just zero out for no reason

c) It keeps needing a reset for NO apparent reason in the middle of the day without warning. This is very frustrating when in the middle of a long walk or run!

d) You have to push the button to get different readings: i.e. calories burned/time elapsed/steps

My Overall Recommendations:

I personally like all 3 trackers discussed for different reasons. If you are looking for something with the most accurate 24 hour calorie burn– go for the Body Media. If you are looking for the best tool to use during a workout session — go with the Polar. Looking for overall activity booster/convenience – go with the FitBit.  I’m hoping eventually there is the perfect all in one tracker– but thus far I haven’t found it. 🙂 I’ll keep searching!