The central theses
- Eating back the calories you burn while exercising is unnecessary and usually only slows down weight loss.
- Most of the methods people use to calculate how many calories they burn during exercise overestimate their actual calorie consumption, which can result in people eating more than they should.
- Read on to learn why "eating back" the calories you burn from exercise is unnecessary and even counterproductive, and what to do instead.
When looking to lose weight, one of the most helpful things you can do is keep track of your caloric intake.
This will improve your awareness of how much to eat, where to save, and how to budget your calories to eat your favorite foods while losing weight.
Many people go one step further and start tracking their calorie consumption ("burn") with the help of an activity tracker such as FitBit, Apple Watch or Jawbone.
However, if you've used one of these trackers, you've probably noticed that some days you burn a lot more calories than others. A hike, a bike ride or a jog can add several hundred calories to your calorie consumption. If you put this information in an app like MyFitnessPal, you will see:
In this case, the person has set a daily calorie budget of 2,000 calories and has already eaten and tracked all of those calories. But they also went on a bike ride that burned 327 calories, which begs the question. . . should you "eat back" those ~ 300 calories?
Even if you don't use an activity tracker, you probably asked yourself the same thing: if you burn more calories in a given day, should you eat more to make up for it?
The short answer is no, you probably shouldn't eat back the calories you burned during exercise.
If you want to know why this is the case, and want to learn a better way of managing your caloric intake that doesn't depend on activity trackers, or constantly balancing your daily calorie budget that way, read on.
Why you shouldn't eat back the calories you burn while exercising
The first problem with eating back the calories you burned while exercising is simple: if it is your goal lose weightThis will decrease your calorie deficit and slow down your weight loss.
By now you may have heard that if you don't eat back the calories you burn from exercise, you will find yourself falling into an inordinate calorie deficit. For example, if your normal diet puts you in a 500 calorie deficit and you burn 250 more calories from exercise, that means a 50% increase in your deficit (and the rate of weight loss).
That is a big one though relative The increase in calorie expenditure compared to your normal deficit is still small absolutely increase. That said, burning a few hundred more calories in a day won't have any negative effects on your metabolism or health, and you may not even feel any hungrier as usual.
Basically, burning a few hundred more calories won't cause any problems unless you're already on the cutting edge of the low calorie diet.
Read: "Metabolic Damage" and "Starvation Mode" exposed by science
The second problem with eating back the calories you burned while exercising is when you are Set your calorie goal Right (as explained in a moment), you should already have considered the calories you burn from exercising. That means you're already getting credit for the calories you burn while exercising. So you don't need to increase your caloric intake to make up for this.
After all, most people don't know how to accurately estimate how many calories they will burn while exercising. And if you overestimate that number, you are eating more than you should.
The popularity of fitness trackers is partly to blame.
Although these tools give people the illusion of precise accuracy, in reality they only give you a rough estimate of the number of calories you will burn from formal exercise and other activities.
In addition, most fitness trackers work best estimate the average number of calories you burn during a specific activity, such as Gobut not good for measuring much else.
Lots of these devices are away by 50% or more (a fitness tracker might say you burned 300 calories during your walk when you burned only 200 calories). research also shows that most smartphone fitness tracking apps are no better and often vary by 30 to 50%.
Exercise machines that purport to measure your calorie consumption are usually the least accurate of all. For example a study The study conducted by researchers at the University of California's Human Performance Center at San Francisco found that on average, this is the case. . .
- Stationary bicycles overestimated by 7%.
- Stair climbers overestimated by 12%.
- Treadmills overestimated by 13%.
- Elliptical trainer overestimated by 42% (ooph).
Fitness trackers that use your heart rate to estimate your calorie expenditure tend to more accurate than the others we've discussed, but the most accurate ones require you to wear a bulky strap around your chest (the wrist-based heart rate monitors tend to be less accurate).
The most accurate and practical way to calculate the number of calories you will burn while exercising is to use what is known as the Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) system. While this system works well, it is still not 100% accurate and is a hassle to use on a daily basis.
Learn more about the MET system and other methods of tracking your caloric intake in this article:
Read: How Many Calories Do You Really Burn Each Day?
For all of these reasons, eating back the calories you burn during exercise is usually not a good idea. If you want to lose weight, you are just slowing down your progress. If you correctly calculate your calorie needs, it is not necessary. And even if it made sense to cut back on the calories you burn while exercising, you are likely to overestimate the number and overeat as a result.
Summary: Eating back the calories you burn while exercising is unnecessary and counterproductive as it only slows weight loss and is difficult to do accurately.
What to do instead of counting calories every day
Instead, what should you do if you shouldn't take back the calories from your workout?
Part of the problem with this idea is that it assumes that you should carefully micromanage your caloric intake and expenditure on a daily basis. You burn a little more and eat a little more on Wednesday, you burn a little less and eat a little less on Thursday, and so on.
While this approach can work, it is also tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone.
You inevitably waste time debating what to eat, figuring out how much to eat based on your activity level, and you make mistakes like forgetting to log each calorie, incorrectly logging more or less than you actually ate, or, as you learned above, overestimating how many calories you burned from exercising.
Read: How Many Calories Should You Eat (Using a Calculator)
All of which is why I don't recommend tracking calories "on the fly" this way. It's just not a viable long-term solution.
A better approach that pretty much every bodybuilding trainer, researcher, and athlete I know uses is to roughly estimate how many calories you burn on average each day from all sources (including exercise). This number is known as yours Total daily energy consumption (TDEE).
With that number, you then set a calorie goal slightly lower if you want to lose weight. more if you want to gain weight and about the same if you want to keep your weight off.
And once you have your calorie goal, you can make a real one Meal plan this ensures that you can get your calories and take Macro goals Eat the foods you like. Then losing weight becomes a simple process where you stick to your eating plan every day, adjusting your average caloric intake as needed based on how your body reacts.
This system works well even if your energy consumption fluctuates widely from day to day. For example when you are having fun vigorous cardio trainingYou can burn 1,000 or more calories from exercising several days a week and only a few hundred other days.
As long as you work out your TDEE accurately, you won't necessarily have to eat more on the days you exercise and less on the days you don't exercise. You can eat roughly the same amount each day with equally good results. (That said, there is nothing wrong with it Bike your caloric intake based on your activity levels, if you want to take the effort – it's just not necessary).
If you want to learn more about how to accurately gauge your TDEE and create effective fat loss meal plans, check out this article:
Read: The definitive guide to effective meal planning
And if you don't feel comfortable creating your own menu, we're happy to help.
If you're pretty flexible about what types of foods you enjoy eating, then you should check out our meal cutting templates Men and Women. When you buy one of these plans, you get 10 pre-made meal plans with shopping lists so you never get bored with your diet.
Click the links below to learn more:
⇨ Men’s menus
⇨ Meal Cutting Plans for Women
If you have more specific nutritional needs or desires, you will Take a look at our 100% individual meal plan service. When you purchase this plan, you will fill out a questionnaire with your fitness goals, food preferences, and anything else you will need to help create your plan. Then one of Legion's diet trainers uses this information to create a customized meal plan that perfectly fits your goals, preferences and lifestyle.
Summary: Instead of tracking your calorie intake and expenditure each day, it is better to estimate your average daily calorie consumption and then create a nutrition plan based on that number to lose, gain or maintain your weight.
The bottom line on eating back exercise calories
Once you learn the calculus from Energy balance It is logical to assume that you should adjust the amount of food you eat based on how much you burn each day.
That means, at first glance, it makes sense to "eat back" the calories you burn from exercise.
In reality, however, this is a tedious, time-consuming process that often only slows down weight loss.
What's more, if you calculate your calorie goal correctly (as explained in this article) the calories burned during exercise are already included in your daily calorie goal.
Instead of tracking your calorie intake and expenditure every day, it is better to estimate your average daily calorie consumption and then create a nutrition plan based on that number to lose, gain or maintain your weight.
When you do this, you can control yours Body composition without the headache of counting calories every day.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter or wherever you want to hang out online! 🙂
What do you think of eating calories again? Do you have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific references
- L. R. Keytel, J. H. Goedecke, T. D. Noakes, H. Hiiloskorpi, R. Laukkanen, L. van der Merwe & E. V. Lambert (2005). Prediction of energy consumption through heart rate monitoring during submaximal exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23 (3), 289-297. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640410470001730089
- UCSF. (n.d.). UCSF Human Performance Center on Good Morning America | UC San Francisco. Retrieved November 9, 2020 from https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2010/02/3569/ucsf-human-performance-center-featured-good-morning-america
- K. Konharn, W. Eungpinichpong, K. Promdee, P. Sangpara, S. Nongharnpitak, W. Malila & J. Karawa (2016). Validity and reliability of smartphone applications for assessing walking and running in normal weight and overweight / obese young adults. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 13 (12), 1333-1340. https://doi.org/10.1123/jpah.2015-0544
- Cruz, J., Brooks, D. & Marques, A. (2017). Accuracy of the step counts of the piezoelectric pedometer and accelerometer. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 57 (4), 426–433. https://doi.org/10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06177-X
- M. P. Wallen, S. R. Gomersall, S. E. Keating, U. Wisløff & J. S. Coombes (2016). Heart Rate Monitor Accuracy: Impact On Weight Management. PLoS ONE, 11 (5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154420
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