The pros and cons of MyFitnessPal for food tracking
The MyFitnessPal app provides all the nutritional information our clients need to ensure their diets are supporting (instead of detracting from) their health, fitness, and physique goals. However, the app ain’t perfect.
This article is part of a series about food logging. Check out Part 1 (why we should log our food) and Part 2 (how to calculate calories and macros).
MyFitnessPal is simple to use, includes a web version as well as a mobile version, and allows me and my coaching team to easily access our clients’ food logs without them having to send us anything. My review below focuses on its “higher level” functionality as it relates to accurately logging food, rather than addressing the user interface or the technical side of things.
MyFitnessPal: The pros
It’s pretty user-friendly
This app is robust and user-friendly enough that we use it with all our vegan online coaching clients. It has its downsides (as you’ll soon see, and as any app does), but it’s a great tool to figure out where you’re at nutritionally.
It has a big-ass database of foods
It’s got a huge database of almost 14 million food items – including the weird vegan ones most non-vegans have never heard of! You can even scan the barcodes of most food packages and it’ll automatically load those foods into the app. (Note: this is also a "con", as the barcode scanner was recently put behind a paywall!) You can create precise recipes and save them for later use, so you don’t have to input each ingredient separately whenever you eat that food. You can also copy and paste entire meals to previous or future days.
You can use various types of measurements
You don’t need to walk around with a kitchen scale, weighing every ingredient you eat. For my own food logs I use easy measurements like cups, tablespoons, and litres when inputting my foods, which are much easier to eyeball than grams. You have options when it comes to the types of measurements to use, including fluid ounces, weight, tablespoons/cups, and specific serving sizes of foods (e.g. three squares of Lindt dark chocolate, or half a Nugo protein bar).
MyFitnessPal: the cons
Baseline calories are often underestimated
Most often, MyFitnessPal grossly underestimates its users’ calorie requirements. It doesn’t take nearly enough variables into account. For example, it tells me I should be eating 2000 calories per day to maintain my weight, when in fact that number is upwards of 3000. The calorie goal you get from the app doesn’t include exercise, but there’s absolutely no way I’m burning 1000 calories per day working out (see #3 below about accounting for exercise).
Highly inaccurate weight loss or gain predictions
Check out this screenshot. Even though I’ve manually adjusted my daily calorie goal to my actual maintenance level (3000+), not what MyFitnessPal thinks it is (2000), it still uses its original extremely low calorie number to spout BS like this. I’ve weighed 125 pounds for at least 10 years. There’s absolutely no way I’m gonna gain 17.5 pounds in 5 weeks by eating the way I normally do!
I understand that this type of notification could be useful for people trying to shed fat, but if you can’t tell the app to use your much more accurate calorie goal for this calculation, it’ll always be wildly inaccurate. We tell our clients to ignore this screen whenever they see it.
You can’t tell the app to ignore exercise…unless you upgrade
Keep in mind that the calorie goal you get from the app does not account for exercise. The idea is that if you exercise, those are “extra” calories you can consume on top of your baseline. Using my baseline (suggested by the app) of 2000 calories, if I were to expend 300 calories doing some strength training, my total “available” calories for that day would increase to 2300. Unfortunately, estimating calorie expenditure from exercise is likely even more of a guessing game than estimating daily calorie needs. There are countless important variables (e.g. body composition, genetics, current fitness level) that the app doesn’t take into account.
So, we tell our clients to manually enter their daily calorie goal from this calculator, which includes exercise, and then not input their exercise into MyFitnessPal (we use a different app to track workouts and fitness progress).
User-generated food database items
The database of foods within the MyFitnessPal app is largely user-generated. The app puts a green checkmark symbol next to the foods it thinks have complete and accurate nutrition information, but these could still involve inaccuracies. This serves as another reminder that food logging isn’t meant to be 100% exact. In Part 4 of this series, you can take a look at some of my own food logging and see what an active vegan who kicks other people’s asses for a living eats in a day.
Free versus paid version of the app
Starting in 2022, MyFitnessPal put the barcode scanner -- one of the most useful features of the app -- behind a paywall. In our coaching programs we use a different nutrition tracking app (the same app we use to deliver workouts to our clients and communicate with them), but that's not much use if you're not a client of ours. (Wanna join our client team? Apply here!)
Download my free 32-page ebook that shows you how to track your food, calculate calories, and set macro goals on a vegan diet. You’ll even get step-by-step instructions – complete with a printable grocery list – for how to prep a week’s worth of super healthy vegan dinners in 60 minutes or less.