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Caffeine Tracking on iOS

Steps, weight, calories, water consumption… if there’s an easy way of recording fitness or nutrition data to visualize patterns and trends that could affect my health and well being, I am probably interested. With the iOS Health app, many of these things have never been so accessible to record and view. By simply opening the app, you can immediately be taken to a dashboard containing the data most important to you, and with the various time periods from which to choose, you can easily monitor and notice the impact of your habits on your health, thereby helping you to identify where you may want to make improvements to your lifestyle.

One aspect of nutrition that I have been monitoring for a while now is caffeine consumption. I had a habit of drinking a cup of coffee several times a day, and I eventually realized that this was something I should probably tone down. Once I settled into a new routine, I eventually became accustomed to having a lesser amount throughout the day. One thing that helped me to achieve this goal was to actively track how much caffeine I was having. However, I had to do some experimenting before I finally arrived at my perfect method of collecting this data. What I settled on was a “script” that I made in the Workflow app. I had issues with everything else that I tried.

UP Coffee

The first app that I tried was UP Coffee by Jawbone. I admit that I did like this app at the beginning. All you have to do is remember to open the app and select how much coffee you consumed, and the app will generate a graph of the caffeine in your body. The great thing about this graph is that it factors in the half-life of caffeine in your bloodstream, and displays an approximation of the amount still in your body for hours after you consumed it. The graph also indicates a corresponding wakefulness on the graph, so that you can see that if you have a cup of coffee at 8 PM, your caffeine level and alertness will spike and probably not be down to a reasonable level for sleep for a few hours. While this way of visualizing my caffeine consumption was useful, I eventually felt that the app was not fully fleshed out and it annoyed me. All I wanted was to track my caffeine, but it insisted on also giving me trivia facts and insights about coffee and caffeine that I could not disable. I could view my caffeine intake a day at a time, but I don’t believe there was a way to zoom out and show consumption on longer time scales, which is a great benefit to tracking your progress when trying to change a habit. It also said that it needed to collect data about my habits for several days to generate a “caffeine persona,” but when the meter had filled up to something like 116 out of 10 days (I don’t remember the numbers) and extended right off the side of the page without it actually doing anything different, I figured it was past time to move on to something that was better designed. I also got the impression that this app was meant as a gateway into Jawbone’s ecosystem, noticeable by the tab pointing you towards UP sleep integration (presumably requiring one of Jawbone’s physical UP bands).

Coffee Tracker and Caffeine Zone 2

Having become frustrated by Jawbone’s offering, I went back to the AppStore to look for something else. I considered trying Coffee Tracker, though it’s interface looks almost exactly like the UP one. I’m not sure who copied who, but that is not coincidence. I also considered purchasing Caffeine Zone 2, though I felt the app seemed rather sparse and doesn’t appear to be updated regularly. Based on the iTunes preview, it seems that there are some good ideas in here, though I’d like to see the design updated to be more fresh and welcoming, and not just the basic iOS tables, forms, and buttons.

Manual Addition to iOS Health

The final method of caffeine tracking that I tried, before finding my eventual solution, was to manually make an entry in the iOS Health app. This is easy enough to do, and provides a very nice graph of my data over time. You can view your data over the course of a day (neat if you actually include the accurate time of consumption in your record), by week, month (my preferred view) or year. As well, each time scale shows a dotted line to represent the average over that time. To actually add the data, you have to go into the Health app, tap on the Caffeine graph (assuming that you have added it to your dashboard already. Otherwise, it’s under the Health Data tab), and then select “Add Data Point.” Then you can tap in the time, date, and amount of caffeine in milligrams that you consumed. Like I said, this is pretty easy to do. The only catch is figuring out how much caffeine you had! If you had a can of pop, odds are that you can figure out how much you had from the nutrition label on the side of the can. But what about for a cup of coffee? I had to look this up. From what I can tell, a single scoop of coffee beans (I grind my own) corresponds to about 100 mg of caffeine. So from that, you should be able to figure out how much you consumed! Furthermore, I found that a single espresso shot is about 75 mg and a double is 150 mg, so it’s good to know those numbers as well. If you can remember these numbers, then this method of manual entry into the Health app works just fine. However, after doing this a few times, you will quickly wish that there was a faster way of inputting this data into your Health app. Fortunately, there is. And this is my ultimate caffeine tracking “workflow.”

Automatic Addition to iOS Health via Workflow

The key to my perfect caffeine tracking solution lies in the app called Workflow. It is a paid app in the AppStore, selling for a few dollars (check your local AppStore for the correct price in your currency!). Because caffeine tracking is important to me, a few dollars is a completely justifiable cost, especially considering how well designed it is, its enormous utility, and its on-going support and development. However, when you really dig into it and understand just what this app is capable of doing, you will quickly find that they could sell this app for much more money, and it would still be a worthwhile investment. (I was first introduced to this wonderful app by Federico Viticci of Macstories, and if you are interested in one of the most in-depth reviews out there, I highly recommend reading his original review of Workflow, and his subsequent updates.) Anyways, in the Workflow app, you can create little “programs” that run when you tell them to, and I have created my perfect workflow that automatically adds one of several preset amounts of caffeine to my iOS Health app, depending on the coffee drink that I have chosen.

With my coffee workflow, now all I have to do after I’ve had a cup is go into the Workflow app and run my created workflow. I get prompted at various steps in the program to provide some quick answers to my pre-made questions, and then it automatically creates the entry in my Health app. Then I can just open the Health app and be presented with a beautiful caffeine graph without having to dig around into the details of adding new data points. Workflow does it all automatically.

Here is a link to my coffee workflow. I call it “Anytime Coffee” for reasons that I will get to later. Basically, here is what it does:

  1. Sets an amount of caffeine per scoop of coffee beans. As I said, I grind my own. See below for how I arrived at this number.
  2. Offers me a choice from three of my most common coffee drinks, along with an option for some of my less frequently consumed drinks. Each of these options has a predefined amount of caffeine that I have set. I also have a “custom” setting, for those days where I vary the amount of beans that I use, and I can tell it how many scoops I used (decimals or multiples!).
  3. It takes my selection, and prompts me for the time and date that I had it, with the default set to the current time (though this can be changed to whatever time and date you prefer).
  4. It gives me a brief summary of the info that I’ve provided, and prompts for me to cancel or have it go ahead and log it to my Health app.

You probably will want to customize the coffee drinks more to your regular routine. For example, Tim Horton’s is a favourite place of mine to get a coffee, so I have a couple of their drinks easily accessible for me, right in the first set of options it gives me. If you don’t go to Tim Horton’s, but rather visit McDonald’s or Starbucks for your coffee, just make the change to your workflow. My Tim Horton’s info I found on their website, so if you want to change the options to something more relevant to you, be sure to check their sources to find the right caffeine data to include!

Tips for an Even More Awesome Caffeine Tracker!

I also have a slightly modified workflow that I call “Morning Coffee.” Since I typically have the same coffee every morning at the same time (thank you, 9–5 job!), this workflow removes the extraneous options. It simply logs my usual coffee at the predefined time of 9 AM. It then also removes the final prompt to go ahead or cancel. With this workflow, I can log my caffeine even quicker, as I have removed all of the choices that are built in to my original “Anytime Coffee” workflow. I just run the workflow, and it logs the caffeine, with no further interaction from me required! If you have a typical routine that you do, this slight modification makes the original workflow even more convenient!

Now that you know about how perfect these caffeine workflows can be, here are some awesome tips to make them even more convenient.

  1. If you have an iPhone 6S with 3D Touch as I do, then a great idea is to set your coffee workflow as one of the 3D Touch shortcuts in the Workflow app. That way, all you have to do is Force Press the app icon to get the 3D Touch menu, then tap on your workflow, and it will begin to run directly from your home screen.
  2. In the Workflow app settings, you can also choose to have selected workflows available to you from the Notification Center as Today widgets. (You also have to customize your Notification Center to show Workflow, of course. Just pull down from the top of the screen to open it, then scroll to the bottom and tap the Edit button. Then tap the plus to add Workflow.) Especially useful for my Morning Coffee workflow, which requires no interaction, if you set that one to be a Today widget, it will show up in Notification Center and you can run it without it even needing to open the Workflow app! Just press the workflow icon, and it will zoom through the steps. (Because the Anytime Coffee requires interaction, it takes you into the app.)
  3. If you find that when you use these workflows to log your caffeine, you always leave the app immediately afterwards to do something else, a final customization step that you can apply to the workflow is to add the “Exit Workflow” step at the very end. Without this step, the workflow will execute and will leave you at the end when it completes. You can then run it again or do something else in the app. But automating the exit from the app if you rarely do anything at this point is yet another way that Workflow will make you appreciate it even more. (Note: I am having mixed results with this option since I wrote this. This seems to exit the app altogether if you run the workflow from the Notification Center or the 3D Touch menu, though if you run the workflow from within the app itself, it will only take you back to the app’s home screen. However, this result hasn’t been consistent and I’m not sure why. I suspect it has something to do with the workflow requiring user interaction. “Morning Coffee” doesn’t require this, and exits immediately. “Anytime Coffee” does require input, and goes back to the main screen at the end. Not sure if this is by design or a bug.)

Note About my Caffeine Amounts

Since I grind my own coffee beans, I need to know two things to figure out how much caffeine I’m getting: the amount of beans that I use, and the amount of caffeine per amount of coffee beans. My typical cup of coffee uses one scoop of Arabica beans, equivalent to about 8 grams. The caffeine per gram of coffee bean varies depending on the brand, roast type, etc, but i assume a caffeine content of 1.4% for the stuff I use. Therefore, this works out to 112 mg, so I say 100 mg from a single scoop of coffee beans for simplicity. Similar thinking led me to the caffeine amounts in my other options. Disclaimer: don’t take any of my preset values as medically or scientifically accurate!

Google apparently also has a handy caffeine calculator. Just search for “caffeine content of coffee” and you will get a calculator right there in the search results.

Wrap-up

I may be completely wrong in how I’ve determined the caffeine content of my coffee, but that’s not the point of this article. The beauty of my workflow to track caffeine content is that I can make a simple change to the numbers, and the workflow will use those new values to do exactly what I want it to do. It won’t necessarily go back and change previously entered data either, but I don’t think that my numbers are so incorrect that I’d want to go and change my historical records anyways. The iOS health app gives me a beautiful graph that, if nothing else, shows the trends in my caffeine consumption, even if the numbers themselves aren’t scientifically precise, and that is enough to monitor, change, and maintain habits. Plus, the simplicity and convenience afforded by using the Workflow app to enter this data make this my ultimate caffeine tracking method for iOS.