This review compares the nutrient-tracking apps MyFitnessPal, by Under Armor, and MyPlate, by Livestrong. While both offer the ability to track your weight, activity level, and several other parameters, this review focuses on their nutrient-tracking ability. I’m reviewing the free versions of the apps: both have paid versions that offer more intricate tracking and reporting. In the end, they’re both top-notch, and your choice will depend on your priorities.
About a year ago, I moved from Washington, DC, to Kigali, Rwanda to work for a year. In Washington I had a long walking and Metro (subway) commute. According to my Fitbit, I walked about 12,000 steps a day as part of my daily routine. Here in Kigali, my commute is a seven-minute walk to the office. This, combined with my wife’s excellent home cooking, had the waistband of my pants growing tighter and tighter. With my return home in sight I decided to start tracking my food intake, as I also ramped up my gym and walking habits. I’ve used the MyPlate web site in the past, but their new iPad app looked even better, and I started tracking my food intake with it. A few weeks later I read this excellent post from Jim Dalrymple of Loop Insights, one of my very favorite Apple-focused bloggers. If you haven’t read his inspirational post about using the Apple Watch and the MyFitnessPal (aka MFP) app to lose over 40 lbs, I highly recommend it. I decided to give MFP a try based on his good experience. There are pros and cons to both apps, so read more below to help decide which is for you.
On both apps setup is very simple: enter your height, weight, gender, goal weight, daily activity level, and how many pounds per week you want to lose. The app then generates a goal weight for you. The apps also generate nutrient goals (e.g., how many grams of protein you should have) automatically.
The worst part of tracking your diet is entering every morsel that you put in your mouth. Nothing can make it completely effortless, but both apps help by having a huge database of every restaurant and grocery-store food you can imagine, and by remembering what you eat frequently so you don’t have to search for the same thing over and over again. In both apps, you first tap on the meal you want to track: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks. Doing so brings up an entry panel where you can scroll your list of frequently eaten foods and pick one, or search for a new food. The apps are about equal in terms of searching and finding the right food. Items from most fast-food restaurants are included in both, as well as packaged and fresh foods of every kind. I’ve even searched for what I thought were relatively obscure foods like Ethiopian njera or shiro wat, and found a dozen choices for each.
When picking frequently eaten foods, MFP holds the slight edge, as it remembers your portion size, where MyPlate always presents the stock portion size that you may have to adjust. For example, I frequently eat Cheerios with ½-cup of soy milk. Even though the stock portion size in both apps is one cup, MFP remembers that last time I only used ½ cup, so presents me with that portion so I can just tap the check mark and be done. MyPlate makes me change “1C” to “1/2 serving” every time. This is a small complaint, but remember we’re trying to make the process as painless as possible.
Verdict: MFP, by a nose
Daily nutrient reporting
At the end of the day both apps let you assess your intake of calories, the three macro-nutrients (fat, protein, and carbs) and some micro-nutrients. If you’re interested in the most detail possible, MFP has the edge again. If you’re interested in a quick, easy-to-read, at-a-glance summary, MyPlate is better.
MyPlate presents large, colorful graphs that let you track several nutrients across a week, and 1, 3, 6, or 12 months. You can track calories (the one I always look at), but also macronutrients, sodium, cholesterol, sugars, and dietary fiber. I find MyPlate’s colorful graphs more visually compelling (including those damned red bars when I go over my calorie goals), but that could be a personal preference.
What MyPlate won’t show you in the free version is a daily average over these same periods. For example, it would be useful to me to know my average daily calorie count in June as compared to August. This isn’t a big deal for me as I pull calorie data into Apple’s iPhone Health App which does show daily averages, but it’s a two-step process, which is less convenient.
MFP shows all the same info, including daily intake averages, over whatever time period you chose. As with daily reporting, MFP offers more nutrients to track over time, but honestly I don’t use them. If you want the most fine-grained tracking, and in-app daily averaging, MFP wins here.
Verdict: MFP, for in-app daily averages and detailed reporting
Connection to HealthKit
I’m using Apple’s HealthKit as the hub of my fitness tracking. I feed activity info from the iPhone, nutrition info from these two apps, and am shopping for a better way to get my cycling data into HealthKit as well (If you have a recommendation, please let us know in the comments below.) I also manually enter some info, keeping HealthKit as the hub. This is where MFP fails badly. Setting up MyPlate in Apple’s Health App couldn’t have been easier, and the data transfer to Health Kit is seamless and almost immediate. Connecting MFP, by contrast. was an exercise in frustration. After deleting MyPlate to ensure I wasn’t getting double data, I searched for a while on the MFP forums to find the instructions for connecting to Health Kit. I followed the many, many arcane steps, and finally got them connected. But then the data stopped transferring and I got the dreaded “no data” message from the Health app. I asked for help on the MFP forums, sent email, and even tweeted a plea for help. I got several referrals to the original instructions. I got a Twitter response that referred me to the same email address from which I never received any help. In the end I gave up and went back to MyPlate. But! If this connection to Health Kit isn’t important to you, please disregard this entire section.
Verdict: MyPlate (MFP failed completely)
These are both polished, easy-to-use apps that will help you get important information about your nutrition. I, and many others, find this information invaluable in trying to eat healthy and lose weight. Both sync seamlessly with their web and iPhone apps. If you want connectivity to Apple’s Health Kit, use MyPlate. If you don’t, take your pick based on the info above. Happily you won’t go wrong with either app. Me? I don’t have a scale here, but am down one belt-notch and all my clothes fit again. If I keep it up I might just fit into my 1997 motorcycle leathers by the time I hit the US. MyFitnessPal and MyPlate are both free in the app store.