Tag Archives: Exercise
Julie Price began running marathons in 2002. While training and learning about running she began to pick up new “rules of thumb” to help guide her training and performance, but something was still missing. How did she know that she was sticking to these rules? Was there any evidence that training was working or that she was accomplishing what she wanted to? Julie started tracking her running using a variety of tools to help answer these questions and start understanding her running. Watch Julie’s presentation from the 2013 Quantified Self Global Conference to hear more about what she learned when she started tracking.
We’ll be posting videos from our 2013 Global Conference during the next few months. If you’d like see talks like this in person we invite you to join us in Amsterdam for our 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference on May 10 and 11th.
Sky Christopherson is a velodrome cyclist who has been on the U.S. Olympic team. After retiring, he lived in the world of startups, and when his health started to decline as a result of that stress, he turned back to the kind of quantification he had been doing as an athlete to restore his health. In the video below, Sky talks about what he learned, like how temperature affects his deep sleep and how his blood glucose fluctuates. He also shares the exciting news of setting a world record, at age 35, after his self-tracking experiment. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)
James Stout is a professional cyclist. He also has Type 1 Diabetes. In this Show & Tell, James explains how self-tracking has empowered him to understand himself and be a role model for others. Truly inspiring. (Filmed by the San Diego QS Show&Tell meetup group.)
At a QS Meetup in San Francisco about a year ago, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he had quietly built one of the most widely used weight loss tools: MyFitnessPal (with 170,000 ratings on the AppStore, mostly 5s!). Mike Lee explains the focus, passion and patience it has taken to do this.
Q: How do you describe MyFitnessPal? What is it?
Lee: MyFitnessPal is a calorie counter that allows you to easily track your diet and exercise to learn more about what you are eating and how many calories you are consuming and burning. We have a website as well as mobile apps on every major platform, all of which seamlessly sync with one another so you can log at your computer or on your phone, whichever is most convenient. We also provide a variety of social networking tools so that you can easily motivate and receive support from friends and family, as well as stay informed of each other’s progress.
Q: What’s the back story? What led to it?
Lee: In 2005 my wife and I wanted to lose weight before our wedding. We went to see a trainer at 24 Hour Fitness, and he suggested that we count calories. He gave us a small book that had calorie counts for about 3,000 foods in it, and told us to write down everything that we ate. Being a tech guy, there was no way I was going to do this on paper, so I immediately threw the book away and looked for an online solution. There were already tons of online calorie counters available — I probably tried at least 15 myself — but to my amazement, none of them worked the way I thought they should work. They were all incredibly hard to use; I actually found it easier to track on paper than online. I was looking for a new project to work on, so I decided to write my own calorie counter — that’s how MyFitnessPal was born.
Soon my brother joined me. We’ve kept the team very small, while slowly building up a loyal following. We passed a million users a few years ago, and are still growing very rapidly.
Q: What impact has it had? What have you heard from users?
Lee: One of the best parts about working at MyFitnessPal is the messages we get from our users. I’d estimate that anywhere from 30-50% of the emails that we get are from people simply telling us how much they love the app, and how much it’s helped them lead a healthier life. People write in telling us that they’ve been trying to lose weight for 20 years, but nothing had worked until they tried MyFitnessPal. We hear from people who’ve been able to cancel surgeries, stop taking medications, fit into jeans they haven’t worn in years, or even things as simple as just being able to stand up without using their arms to push themselves up. We have thousands and thousands of members who’ve lost 100 pounds or more. We’ve even had people get married after meeting on MyFitnessPal.
It’s hard to generalize users’ experiences because we have so many users. And they vary widely: there are people who’ve never exercised, who would find a 15 minute walk difficult, and we have professional body builders.
Still, one thing stands out, which is that the biggest benefit is education. It’s amazing how little most people know about what they eat or the activities they perform, and once they start using the app, it’s eye-opening. They discover what they eat, how much, how often, the nutritional content of the food, and the impact of physical activity. They build up knowledge that stays with them even if they stop logging their foods. With this knowledge they can make their own decisions about what to change in their lives, what trade-offs are best for them. It’s not following some diet fad, but discovering what works for you.
Q: What makes it different, sets it apart?
Lee: We really pay little attention to other apps or the media. Rather we’re fanatically focused on our own users. We listen deeply to user feedback, but we don’t just do what they ask for. Instead we try to understand their real problem, and focus our work on the things that we’ve discovered really matter for losing weight.
We know losing weight is really hard and that tracking is a pain-in-the-neck. So, we really work hard to make our site and our app as easy to use as possible. We know that the easier and faster we can make logging your foods, the more likely you are to stick with it, and consequently, the more likely you are to reach your goals. As a tool maker, it’s our job to help make that process as easy as possible and remove every barrier we can to your success. I can’t really point to anything in particular about ease-of-use; it’s just something we focus on relentlessly and something that the team is just good at.
Q: What are you doing next? How do you see MyFitnessPal evolving?
Lee: Over the past year, we’ve worked hard on expanding the number of platforms on which MyFItnessPal is available. We’ve released apps for Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and iPad. Though they are similar, the interfaces are tailored for each platform. Now that we’re available on most major platforms, we’ll be spending more time on improving our core logging tools. We’ve got a ton of ideas on how we can make calorie counting even faster and easier, so hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot of improvements in that area from us in 2012.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
Lee: If you’d like to keep up to date on the latest happenings on MyFitnessPal, you can like us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/myfitnesspal or follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/myfitnesspal.
Platform: web, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7
This is the 10th post in the “Toolmaker Talks” series. The QS blog features intrepid self-quantifiers and their stories: what did they do? how did they do it? and what have they learned? In Toolmaker Talks we hear from QS enablers, those observing this QS activity and developing self-quantifying tools: what needs have they observed? what tools have they developed in response? and what have they learned from users’ experiences? If you are a “toolmaker” and want to participate in this series, contact Rajiv Mehta at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rob Portil is sixty-six years old and has been overweight twice in his life. He’s been using FitBit for the past four months, and has reached his target weight. In the video below, he describes how he experiences the daily tracking, how his sweetheart experiences it differently, which Four Hour Body workouts he does, and some key eating tricks he learned along the way. (Filmed by the Bay Area QS Show&Tell meetup group.)
Joe Betts-LaCroix had a question. Which of the two exercises he was doing – dodge ball and lindy hop – was giving him a greater intensity workout? He used Fitbit to count his steps for every 5 minutes he performed these two activities. Watch his entertaining video below to see which exercise came out on top. (Filmed at the Bay Area Quantified Self meetup held at Adaptive Path).
Here’s your chance to learn how to live longer, and save money too.
Christine Peterson is hosting the first Personalized Life Extension Conference, October 9-10 at the San Francisco Airport Marriott. She is offering a $100 discount on the $275 registration price to all Quantified Self members who register with the discount code “QS”.
This was the scene two days ago, when the lower floor of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose was opened after hours to an energetic group of Quantified Self enthusiasts and interested spectators.
The first 90 minutes was filled with mingling, enjoying healthy munchies, and gathering around the various devices that people brought to show as part of the theme this time: “Gadgets for Gathering Data.”
Then the talks began – some prepared, some spontaneous, all of them interesting. Here’s a quick recap:
1. Bill Jarrold showed his
hot-off-the-command-line charts for how many UNIX commands he issues by
hour of the day. He found that 3 pm was his peak performance in terms
of number of commands. A second peak at at 10/11 pm
showed him that he was a night-owl. He was surprised to see that by
this measure, his productivity at midnight was as good as his
productivity at 10 am.
using TheBrain. He spends 1-2 hours a day inputting information
into his virtual brain, and has recorded about 65,000 thoughts so far. He felt that the main benefit
this gave him was enhanced recall, which has given him an advantage in
business situations. He said he has become very attached to the
system he uses and doesn’t like to be away from it for more than a few
hours at a time.
Bharat Vasan demonstrated his PulseTracer heart rate monitor, which
betrayed his nervousness at public speaking by flashing a heart rate of 120 bpm on his wrist. He
described how this single measure served as an indicator of the
stressfulness of situations he found himself in, and helped him remember
to take positive actions he might otherwise have forgotten in the heat
of the moment.
DirectLife since last October has increased his activity level,
especially when he sees large gaps in activity from sitting at the
computer, and when he gets little “light show” rewards from the
DirectLife on days when he’s met his target. He was surprised to find that
even these very simple rewards were consistently motivating.
Giving Thanks and Looking Forward
A huge thanks to our sponsors who generously helped make this event possible: Ron Gutman of HealthTap, which is setting up a “Quantified Self Room” at their soon-to-be-opened offices in Palo Alto; the Tech Museum, who is collecting ideas for health exhibits as part of their “participatory museum” philosophy (send ideas for to Alana Conner); and Zeo, the Personal Sleep Coach, who provided healthy food and videorecording.
And last, but very far from least, a standing ovation to Maren Connary for help with setting up, Loren Risker for taking the videos, Andrew Hessel for the picture at the top of this post, and Robin Barooah – for augmenting my memory of the talks and for his meditation tracking app that I have come to love.
long ago I asked somebody I know with deep knowledge of athletes,
athletic training, and performance enhancing drugs to talk to me about
what I suspected was a “dark net” of self-monitoring and
self-experimentation. Athletes track their performance in many ways.
They measure speed, strength, weight, recovery time, and dozens of
other variables. Those who are using performance enhancing drugs must
also have well developed monitoring routines. What can we learn from
My interest was sparked by last week’s news about Alex Rodriguez, the great Yankee third baseman. I haven’t been able to work up much interest in baseball since Barry Bonds broke the season home run record. I watched a few of those home runs from the ballpark and enjoyed them a lot, but the stupidity and mendacity of the steroid scandal that followed more or less ruined the fun. I can see both sides of the pro- and anti-steroid argument. Why shouldn’t we seek peak performance using every technological means at our disposal? And although gladiatorial contests that reward self-mutilation will seem disgusting if you look too closely at the costs (cf., professional football), the risk to self is not necessarily lower in other sports that are shielded from moralism by a nominally more civilized aesthetic (cf., horse racing). Still, there is a difference between a little guy risking his neck careening around a dirt track on a mammalian rocket and a tall, well-built infielder calling down the wrath of an early stroke through injections of testosterone. The difference is that the jockey’s risk is in the open, and the infielder’s risk is in the shadows. What got to me about the steroids scandal was not the steroids, but the lying. Wrapped in layers of righteous accusation and defensive prevarication were the answers that any reasonable observer would want. What are athletes taking? What are the true effects? What are the physiological changes? Some of this is obvious, but some of it is unknowable, at least under current conditions. These professionals are performing experiments on themselves, and the details won’t be known until there is a critical mass of data. With everybody lying as fast as they can, the data will never arrive. In my parochial interest in the increase of knowledge about making better humans, I find this distressing. We have questions. The athletes have answers. But instead, we get this:
Alex Rodriguez: I didn’t think they were steroids. That’s again the part of being
young and stupid. It was over the counter, it was pretty basic. And you
know, it was really amateur hour. I mean, it was two guys, we couldn’t
go outside, we couldn’t ask anyone, we didn’t want to ask anyone. We
went outside team doctors, team trainers. It was two guys doing a very
amateur and very immature thing. We probably didn’t even take it right;
like I said in my statement, we used to do it about two times a month.
I don’t even know if that’s proper. So when this gentleman asked about
how it affected us, I’m not sure if we even did it right to affect us
in the right way. So all these years, I never thought I did anything
that was wrong. Perhaps. But not wrong. But come to figure out that
boli triggered a positive test in ’03.
Reporter: As someone who monitors
everything that they put in their body, how could you not have done
more research or been more conscientious about what you were taking?
Alex Rodriguez: I wish I knew. I was 24. I was 25. I was pretty naïve and pretty young
and initially I was curious because he mentioned it a few times and I
just gave it a try. (See the full transcript here).
Since Alex is unwilling to tell us anything, I took my questions elsewhere.
My source asked to be quoted under a pseudonym, for now. Let’s call him Phineus. Phineus is an experienced, well connected trainer, with wide interests and knowledge. He has access to media, and his research includes both his own direct experience and extensive contacts. He will be talking about these topics under his own name in the future, but he’s not ready to go public yet. I asked him to share just a few things that might be of interest to the broader community of people seeking self-knowledge through numbers.
GW: How do athletes using performance enhancing substances track their regimen?
Athletes generally track performance-enhancing drug cycles, including
anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) with a dosing schedule. For
most people, depending on the drugs, cycles will last from 8 -12 weeks,
between which you allow your endogenous hormone production to restart
In my particular case post-reconstructive surgery, I had a schedule of
3 pages, printed out, one
month on each page, a separate highlighter for each drug to show start
and stop dates and dosages. One of the biggest challenges for
measuring effects is
that very few athletes use a single anabolic steroid in isolation.
Combining drugs is the rule rather than the exception,
because there are synergistic effects that allows you to get the same
effects with lower doses of each. One standard “stack” is dianabol and deca-durabolin,
and oral and injectable, respectively, plus human growth hormone
(HGH). The oral steroid is taken daily, the Deca-Durabolin is injected
once weekly, and the HGH might be injected 2x/daily if a
low-dose/high-frequency dosing protocol is followed to minimize
GW: Do they do this on a spreadsheet?
people will track with paper and pen, simply because the potential
legal side effects of using illegal steroids are so severe. Possession
of a Schedule III controlled substance is punishable by up to seven
years in prison, more if you are using enough that it
could be misinterpreted as intent to distribute. The data tends to
live offline and off of hard disks.
GW: You don’t take all the drugs all at the same time?
Phineus: The more astute self-experimentalists stagger dosing.
From a blood-level standpoint, you might well be “on” all of the drugs
at the same time, but you introduce them — and remove them — one at a
time. This is very important if you want to correctly correlate the
positive effects and side-effects to specific drugs. Understanding the
varied pharmacokinetics and having a written schedule is critical.
Suppose you are
taking a testosterone suspension
daily that reaches peak concentration in 4 hours, an oil-based
testosterone blend like Sustanon 250 that might produce a cumulative
peak at approximately day 25, and Deca-Durabolin, which is injected
weekly and achieves maximal blood-nandrolone levels 48 hours after each
injection. It is prudent and beneficial to know when those peaks will
overlap, both for scheduling training and avoiding other situations
(negotiating a business deal with the testosterone level of a bull
shark is not recommended).
GW: What is the cutting edge, what can people doing other kinds of self-monitoring learn from these athletes?
The biggest mistake people make in self-monitoring is that they do not
get an accurate baseline. This is a subtle point, because once is not
enough. In other words, I am not interested in a single snapshot, but
in the trend. Let’s say you think you are getting a baseline, and you
do a complete metabolic panel* and lipid profile.*^ You have an HDL of
60, you take the anabolic steroids, and four weeks later it is 50.
There you seemingly have evidence that the steroids caused your decrease in
HDL. But if you had done a lipid profile four weeks prior to your
cycle, and then immediately prior, you might have seen 65 for the first
test, then 60 on the second, showing that there was already a downward trend.
That would have helped you avoid misattributing the total decrease to
the effect of the drugs.
GW: What have you learned from your experiences working with doctors?
Even if you find a doctor who will supervise your use of the drugs -
and it is very difficult to find somebody who is both qualified and
willing – a proper pre-use baseline is almost never established.
They seldom look for trending in estradiol, for instance, and often neglect to look at pre-AAS levels of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) or Follicle-Stimulating Hormone
(FSH), which are influenced by a negative-feedback loop. Not looking at
trends is the biggest medical error by far. There is a good chance
your system is somewhat off-kilter before the self-experimentation, so
gather gather more control data earlier, on at least two occasions.
GW: How did you learn this?
Phineus: I’ve been self-tracking through blood tests for at
least six years. Before I used AAS, I had blood tests drawn every 2
months to measure eosinophil levels, among dozens of other variables, and my levels did not fall outside
normal range until the third or fourth tests. But the doctors never
looked at more than one test, they never analyzed them in succession.
They said, normal, normal, normal – oh, you have a problem! It could have been addressed months earlier. You will
also find baseline problems in the case of mood tracking. People using
anabolic steroids don’t track mood much because there is no real
performance benefit to doing so. But if you do, you develop a hyperawareness of emotional states
that you did not have before, and you interpret mood swings that you
had before as new. For that reason, you have to track the variables
before you begin. You should begin self monitoring at least four weeks
GW: How common is this sort of self-experimentation among athletes?
Among athletes that perform in any strength-, speed-, or endurance-dependent sport
at the highest levels, at least 80 percent use “drugs” of some type. I use
this term very broadly, because from a training perspective a drug is a
drug is a drug. The usual distinction between a nutritional supplement
and a drug is not a biological distinction, but a legal distinction.
GW: The ones who get caught using banned drugs always say “I didn’t know what I was taking!”
Pro athletes who claim ignorance are using the only
defense they can. “I thought I was injecting flaxseed oil to get
bigger.” Right. That would be like a NASCAR driver claiming he knows
nothing about fuel or tires. His job requires he know the vehicle, and
being a top professional athlete requires understanding exactly what
you put in your body to get performance out of your organic machine.
It could make the difference between a 7-figure or 8-figure income.
Carl Lewis tested positive for performance enhancers – stimulants – the
same year that Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids and
had his gold medal revoked. How did Carl Lewis then inherit the gold by default?
Lewis had a more developed defense – herbal tea consumption – and the
term “inadvertent use” was used to dismiss the charges. Athletes know
exactly what’s banned — the lists are beaten over their heads ad
nauseum because sports franchises and amateur federations dislike the
labor costs, PR headache, and revenue loss that scandals can produce.
GW: Any last advice you might want to deliver to the broader world of self-trackers and self-experimenters?
Yes, you need to develop an ability to interpret data for yourself. I
have seen legitimate medical doctors in life extension facilities gloss
over serious side effects of the substances they recommend. Remember
that private clinics are in business, and — in this case — drugs are
a profit center. Don’t expect unbiased feedback. For example, aromatase inhibitors
such as Arimidex (anastrozole), often used to minimize the estrogenic
side-effects of AAS, can cause near instantaneous problems with your
lipid profile, particularly related to decreased HDL “good
cholesterol”. To track this, you should have your blood tests
drawn every two weeks. Certain adverse side effects are reversible
following short-term use of AAS.
Testicular atrophy and HTPA disruption
are two typical examples. But
certain side effects are irreversible, and you are the one who has to
determine what risk/benefit ratio is acceptable. There is a reason you
see certain athletes with bigger heads and bigger hands than they had
five years ago, as well as bodybuilders with distended abdomens due to
enlarged visceral organs. In fact, there are two reasons: HGH and,
less common, IGF-1. Guess what: when they stop using these drugs, their heads
are not going to shrink. Do your homework, as you will have to live with the results. Caveat emptor.
*Here is a list of what Private MD Labs, an online lab-test ordering service, provides in their complete metabolic profile for $64.49: A:G ratio; Albumin, serum; Alkaline phosphatase, serum: ALT (SGPT); AST (SGOT); Bilirubin, total; BUN; BUN:creatinine ratio; Calcium, serum; Carbon dioxide, total; Chloride, serum; Creatinine, serum; Globulin, total; Glucose, serum; Potassium, serum; Protein, total, serum; Sodium, serum; Creatine Kinase (CK), total, serum
*^Here’s what the $47.99 lipid profile contains: Cholesterol, total; high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol; low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (calculation); triglycerides; very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol (calculation).