The Calorie Counting Crisis

Just about any discussion of health and fitness somehow comes back to calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to make sure that you’re burning as many calories as possible when you workout. Even if you’re not, though, you at least want to make sure that you’re eating enough to fuel your workouts. Getting an accurate idea of your caloric expenditure, then, is a valuable tool towards reaching your fitness goals. The problem is, the amount of calories you burn is highly personal, based on many individualized factors. A basic understanding of these factors, though, can help you to get a better estimate of how many calories you’re really burning.


How Fit Are You?

Your fitness level and body composition have a major impact on your caloric expenditure. While it’s true that the more muscular you are, the more calories you need as a base line, it’s also true that you will burn fewer calories during your actual workout. Anyone who’s ever experienced the excitement of losing a lot of weight very quickly only to feel the frustration as that weight loss slows when you get closer to your goal understands the annoying truth of this statement.

The reason for this can be illustrated by a car. The better maintained a car is, the more efficiently it will use up its fuel. So the better trained your body is, the more efficiently it will use up its calories.


Your Workout

It may seem pretty obvious that your choices in workout design can have a big impact on how many calories you need to get through it, but the number of important details that affect your caloric expenditure can be staggering.

For example, the more muscle fibers that an exercise uses, the more calories it will burn. This means that compound movements that focus on multiple muscle groups are a more powerful weapon in the war on fat. A squat, then, will use up a lot more fuel than a simple bicep curl.

Even on cardio machines, this principle can be applied. The elliptical tends to challenge more muscle groups than the bike or treadmill and will thus boost your caloric expenditure.

Strength training also has the added benefit of the EPOC, or after-burn, wherein your body burns excess calories for as much as 24 hours after your actual workout!

Adjusting your rest periods during your workouts can also go a long way. By keeping your rest period between sets to about 60 seconds, you keep your heart rate elevated which will require more fuel.


More to Think About

The things that can affect your caloric expenditure just seem to multiply when you take your workouts outside, too. The altitude, which affects the density of the air, will change your caloric burn since thinner air requires less energy.

Although you may not even notice it, the wind can work for or against you, as well. Running into the wind can add a spike to the amount of calories you use and a cyclist who drafts can cut their fuel use by almost 40 percent.

The list goes on to include everything from your choice of shoes and clothing to the texture of the ground you’re running on.


Staying Accurate

Fortunately, many exercise machines have built in caloric calculators and portable devices are also available. But some of these machines are more accurate than others and the more personalized you can make it, the better. So take the time to enter your information like age, gender and weight into the computer. Devices that measure your heart rate will have a better idea of your fitness level, too, which will make it more accurate.




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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.