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Four phone apps to kick off your New Year's resolutions

Here are a few apps to help you kick-start your season

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So: New Year, new you! Whether you want to lose weight, get fitter, win races or simply change your lifestyle here are a few apps to help you kick-start your season.

My Fitness Pal

The idea of calorie counting is nothing new but who wants to go keeping a diary laboriously by hand when you can scan in everything you eat with your phone’s built in camera? My Fitness Pal uses a quick questionnaire to give you a suggested daily calorie intake. Everything you eat goes into the daily diary.

Many items can simply be scanned into the phone (using the camera as a bar code scanner), entered by hand or you can search a database to add foods. It doesn’t only count calories though, the app also catalogues your carbohydrate, fibre, protein, fat (saturated, trans etc) and mineral intake to give you more of a balanced understanding of what you are actually consuming.

This app is fantastic for teaching you the importance of what you put in your mouth. You would be amazed at how crucial portion control is. After using this I weigh my muesli, pasta etc daily and I am a lot more aware of what goes on my plate. Lighter you means less mass to haul around on your bike. Not much point having a super light weight bike if you can’t match it.

Exercise can be traded off against calories burned with a whole host of activities to choose from. Rock climbing is even listed with an associated calorie burn per hour. Incidentally this can either be estimated by the app or input manually if you use a heart rate monitor when training.

The first thing to realize is that low calorie foods do not equal the best foods to eat, so it is not an exact science. But, on the flip side you will quickly see that certain brands or types of food stuffs are better than others and, most importantly, how portion control can make a huge difference.

As someone with a sweet tooth, this has been invaluable to me in learning how much I can and should eat of something. Seriously, 2-3 chocolates are often as much as a big bowl of pasta!

Cost: Free from the Apple app store and the Android marketplace.

Garmin Fit

Many of you may be using a Garmin fitness product for training such as the Edge series of bike computers. These are excellent tools, but you can now have most of the features on your phone. This app essentially uses GPS in the same way as the bike units to work out your speed, distance etc and plots it on a map. Finish the run/ride or whatever activity and the app automatically updates your Garmin Connect account with all the data.

If your weapon of choice is an iPhone you can get an Ant+ adapter that plugs into the base of the phone, allowing it to work with your heart rate monitor.

So why would you buy a Garmin product in the first place if you can just use your phone? The drawback is a very quick battery drain due to the GPS signal and, of course, do you want to put your phone on the handle bars?

This app is particularly useful for those who like to exercise on their lunch break and don’t necessarily have the time or location to get out for a ride. Of course you may not want to bring your steed and/or gizmos with you to work. You can run, walk, hike, bike or whatever with this app and it is quick and easy to use. The auto hook-up to Garmin Connect is great and anything that gets you out of the chair and exercising is, too. Of course it works really well on the bike too and would be a great intro into what a Garmin can do for anyone thinking about getting one.

Cost: $1.00, available from the Apple App store and from the Android marketplace.

Strava

Take your rides and activities a step further with Strava. An online resource for training, it holds a database of times for rides and climbs, allowing you to compete against yourself, your friends or the greater riding diaspora as it compares data to king/queen of the mountains awards, personal bests and more. It is also handy for learning about new trails.

You can upload from most devices including Garmin devices. The app can also be used for recording data just like the Garmin Fit app, again great for the lunchtime athlete.

However the real bonus of this package is for assessing progress and competing with your friends. It notifies you when your friends set new records and if you are competitive it will have you riding more and harder. The community is the real key to this one.

Available from the Apple App Store and the Android marketplace for free.

Instant Heart Rate

This clever, award winning app is based on the heart rate monitors used by hospitals and emergency rooms and gives you an accurate heart rate within 10 seconds. You place your finger over the camera lens and it uses the light from the flash to track colour changes in the light that passes through your finger. Sounds crazy but bizarrely it works!

Great for when you want a resting heart rate or are out on the trail and want to get a quick snapshot of where you are intensity wise. Just be careful if your phone has a case as it could be throwing off the beam from the flash. Also, certain phones work better than others.

The basic version is free from the Apple app store and the Android marketplace but there is a more advanced option with more features that you can upgrade to for a dollar.


Ben combines work as a qualified mountain bike guide with reviewing and rating products for Singletrack.com as well as Outsider magazine and Spoke.ie and is also working on a PhD in tourism and entrepreneurship.  With 20 years of mountain biking behind him, Ben remembers the Girven Flexstem, U-brakes and the first time he saw a suspension fork with a 1-inch piece of elastomer in it. He has ridden bikes on four continents and has covered events as diverse as the 2007 mountain bike world championships, the Giro D’Italia and the Single Speed World Champs and lives in Dublin, Ireland.  He is happiest riding technical singletrack and was an early adopter of the 29er… for a European. Find him on Twitter: #spoketweets. Check out all of Ben’s stories.

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