“How many calories will I burn in this workout?”
We’ve all asked the same ‘calorie burn’ question about a workout. Exercise is a crucial part of overall health, wellness, and happiness. Too often, valuable workouts are reduced to nothing more than a number of calories burned. Next time you are distracted by claims about calories burned, remember these important points:
1. Those statistics are always ESTIMATED and often INFLATED. Many flashy, quick-fix fitness companies publish misleading statistics about how many calories are burned in their workouts. The number of calories you burn depends on your height, weight, muscle mass, and level of fitness and skill (as well as numerous other factors). Because everyone has a different body type, calorie burn estimates are really a “guesstimate” that usually guesses wrong.
2. Most calorie burn estimates are GROSS – literally. Most estimates give you gross calories burned during exercise without subtracting the calories that you would have burned at rest without exercise. If you are using a calorie-restricted meal plan, this will cause you to miscalculate and overestimate the total number of calories allowed. This is one reason why people are reporting weight gain when they use activity trackers that estimate calories burned. What you want to know is the net calories burned (gross calories burned minus resting calorie expenditure), which can be up to 30% lower . . . but most fitness companies don’t publish that number.
3. You can burn MORE calories at rest! Regular exercise increases your resting metabolic rate. If you work out three or more times per week, you will burn significantly more calories at rest than if you were not a regular exerciser. This is very important because resting energy expenditure accounts for 60- 70% of the calories you burn each day.
4. EPOC has an EPIC effect on your body. After an intense workout, you continue to burn calories at a higher rate than normal. This is known as Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). Instead trying to calculate calories burned, spend that time training harder – the payoff will exceed the investment!
5. Not all calories are created equal. According to medical professor Sean Lucan MD, “a calorie’s worth of one food is not the same [as] a calorie’s worth of another.” 1 Counting calories can actually make health problems worse because people think they can eat a certain number of calories of any kind of food. Eating healthy, high-quality foods is a more important focus than counting the number of calories consumed. Here’s Dr. Lucan’s explanation:
As the saying often attributed to the Albert Einstein goes, ‘not everything that can be counted counts’, and advice to count calories, or to try to change calorie balance sheets by intervening on quantities of undifferentiated foods, seems misdirected. . . . Yes, calories count, and calorie balance sheets matter, but net intake or expenditure probably results more from qualitative distinctions in the foods we eat than conscious attempts at quantitative control. New public health initiatives and messages focused on encouraging consumption of whole [and] minimally processed foods would be ideal, especially to counteract industry’s near-exclusive marketing of foods that are highly processed/refined and concentrated sources of the most rapidly absorbable starches and sugars. 2
6. YOU determine how many calories you burn. Whether you are running, lifting weights, kickboxing, or dancing, your results depend on how hard you work. If you put your best effort into a workout, you will get YOUR best results.