QUESTION: I calculated that I need to eat 2000 calories a day to lose weight, but what about the calories I burn during my workouts? Should I be eating back those calories?
For example, if I burn 500 calories during my workout today, does that mean I can eat 2500 calories instead of 2000 and basically eat back the 500 calories I burned?
My diet tracking app (MyFitnessPal) makes it seem this way, but I just want to be sure.
ANSWER: Ah yes, the “should I eat back the calories burned during exercise” question.
Don’t take this personally, but I hate this question.
Why is this, you ask? You’ll see in a second.
There are 4 important things you need to know…
1. Your App Is Wrong
Most of the diet, workout, and progress tracking apps out there are fine for helping you track a few basic things each day.
But for damn near everything else? They suck.
In fact, I’ve previously pointed out problems with MyFitnessPal specifically, like how they frequently recommend that women should eat 1200 calories a day even though that’s WAY lower than most women will ever need to eat.
But MyFitnessPal isn’t the only app getting things wrong. There are dozens of similar apps that are problematic for similar reasons.
- Telling tons of women to eat 1200 calories a day.
- Emphasizing the meaningless day-to-day body weight fluctuations that only stress you out and cause you to misinterpret what’s actually happening.
- Making you focus on getting to a specific “goal weight,” which is often detrimental to actually reaching your goal.
- Letting inaccurate user-generated nutrition info into the public database.
- Telling you to eat back tons of calories that you probably should NOT be eating back.
The list goes on and on and on (and on), and you’d be surprised at how often these apps do more harm than good as a result.
One day, someone is going to build something significantly better, that’s designed significantly smarter.
And by “one day,” I mean today.
And by “someone,” I mean me.
More details coming soon. 😉
But let’s get back to the question…
2. Your Activity Level May Already Be Factored Into Your Calorie Intake
When you calculated how many calories you need to eat per day, I bet that whatever calculator you used for this purpose asked you about your activity level.
You know… are you sedentary, lightly active, moderately active, etc.
Or do you have 1 workout per week, 2-3 workouts per week, 4-5 workouts per week, etc.
Whatever it was, virtually every calorie calculator in existence will take your activity level into account in some way.
Do you know what that means?
It means the calories you’re burning during your regularly scheduled workouts each week are typically ALREADY factored into the calorie intake you calculated.
By eating them back, you’re essentially factoring in those calories a second time.
Now I’m not sure if MyFitnessPal or whatever diet app you happen to use does things this way (I’d certainly hope not), but if it does, that’s a big problem.
And if it doesn’t? That’s still a problem, but for a whole other reason…
3. “Calories Burned” Is Overestimated
There’s something else you need to know about the calories you’re burning and thinking about “eating back.”
And that is, it’s probably being overestimated.
This includes the number you’re getting from your fancy smart watch, smart bracelet, smart necklace, smart earrings, smart sunglasses, smart nose ring, smart whatever-the-hell device you’re wearing on your body to accurately track how many calories you’re burning.
The reality is that it’s NOT accurately tracking how many calories you’re burning (sources here, here, here, and here).
It’s just giving you an estimate for how many calories you’re burning, and it turns out that this estimate is high in the majority of cases.
The same goes for the cardio equipment you’re using that tells you how much you’re burning, or the calorie calculator you found on some website, or the app you’re using to track your diet or workout.
It’s all just giving you estimates, and research and real-world experience has shown us that these estimates are high.
So if you “eat back” these calories, or even just assume you can eat more one day because of how much you supposedly burned during your workout (which happens all the time [source])… chances are pretty good that you’re going to end up eating more calories than you should be.
For example, you might eat back 500 calories when you really only burned 300.
And if this happens regularly, as it typically does, it can easily cancel out your entire caloric deficit and prevent fat loss from happening (details here: Why Am I Not Losing Weight?).
Hell, it could potentially even put you into a caloric surplus and cause you to gain fat.
4. Focus On What’s Actually Happening
So what should you do about all of this?
It’s really, really simple.
Be consistent with your diet and your workout for a while (4+ weeks), and focus entirely on what’s actually happening with your progress in the real world.
If the amount you’re eating and the amount you’re burning are coming together to produce the results you want, awesome!
Keep eating and burning those amounts.
If it’s not… then adjust accordingly until it is.
That’s really all there is to it.
You can still feel free to use an app or wear your favorite device to help you come up with some estimated starting points.
That’s totally fine.
But you need to remember that your app could be telling you to do things you shouldn’t be doing, and the device you’re wearing probably isn’t very accurate when it comes to how much you’re burning.
In the end, the only truly accurate way to know if you need to eat more, eat less, burn more, or burn less is by looking at your own progress or lack thereof.
Everything else is just an estimate that could potentially be inaccurate enough to prevent you from making any progress at all.
If you liked this article, you’ll also like:
- Why Am I Not Losing Weight?
- The Starvation Mode Myth
- The 1200-Calorie Diet Myth
- Superior Fat Loss (This is my fat loss program, which is designed to let you lose fat without losing muscle, feeling hungry all the time, giving up the foods you love, doing tons of cardio, or struggling with any of the problems that make losing fat hard and confusing.)
110 thoughts on “Should You Eat Back The Calories Burned From Exercise?”
This answered a confusing question that I’ve had for a while and I guess it just comes down to definitions. You’re not really ‘eating back’ the calories as opposed to ‘maintaining the deficit’ in the right range.
I do have a question though….
Let’s say that someone does it the right way, as described above, but every couple of days, has a ‘large deficit day’ (say 35%). Would this help to prevent the negative consequences of going way out of range habitually but still give a little more boost to the loss? I understand it’s not staying on a consistent goal, per se, but physiologically speaking, could it help to give a little kickstart every so often?
That’s the kind of thing that will vary quite a bit from one person to the next.
I mean, for one person that one day of a significantly larger deficit will just help push fat loss progress along a little bit faster, and seeing it/knowing it will be satisfying and motivating. It would only be a positive thing.
For someone else, that one day of trying to put themselves into a significantly larger deficit will lead to short term issues with hunger that can set off a domino effect of problems which can very easily sabotage their long term progress.
For a third person, going into that significantly larger deficit and seeing fat loss happen a little bit faster as a result will turn into “hmmm, what if I do this more often?” which can turn into “hmmm, what if I make the deficit even bigger?” which can turn into “hmmm, what if I make the deficit even bigger than that?” which can turn into an eating disorder, if it hasn’t already.
So again, it depends on the person.
So, could a greater caloric deficit than planned on some days cause muscle destruction/catabolism instead of fat loss? Is this separate from any eating disorder or rather a part of it?
Thanks for all the wonderful information that you have here on your site(s)! I have just started taking note of my caloric intake and expenditure and will send you an email soon describing my progress. 🙂
There’s no super specific answer to this one. It’s basically just that the larger the deficit is, the higher the potential risk is for muscle loss.
And looking forward to your progress!
Your the greatest Jay, I know you probably here that alot, but its true man…. you always hit the nail on the head with your articles. For years my friends and I struggled to find out why we weren’t gaining enough muscle, and how when we ate a ton of food ” as listed in bodybuilder routines” we’d end up looking more fat than in shape. The calorie deficit is the only proper way to lose fat. I have tried starving myself and running alot just to end up drained and trashing the workout. Proper calorie intake with a good workout = goals complete !! Thanks for the article Jay.
Glad to hear it dude! Thanks for the feedback.
This somewhat solves my confusion on calorie cycling, after reading your calorie cycling article i always wondered that when you eat more calories on your training days and less on your rest days, making the net calorie intake for the week on your goal. Great till then, but you also slightly contradict yourself because in earlier article you mentioned that one should avoid going beyond your daily calorie goal for optimal muscle growth. For eg.
My calorie maintenance level is 2000 and to gain muscle i should have to take 2250 cals based on your recommended calculations. Great, but if i do calorie cycling then from what I understand i should take 2500 cals on training days & 2000 cals on rest days. Now thats going above and below the level you recommend for optimal growth.
So i was hoping you throw some more light on it. Thanks
First, while I have vaguely mentioned calorie cycling from time to time, I’ve never written an article about it (or really provided any specific details about it) so I’m not sure what you’re referring to.
Second, calorie cycling is a completely different and unrelated topic to what is being discussed in this article.
Oops , i meant in one of the articles or comments, cant recollect.
As i was reading this article i just remembered that so put in a quick comment. Will be careful next time.
Anyways love your articles, words simply cannot express how you have changed my life.
Thanks for everything.
Glad to hear it!
How about when I have a daily maintenance level of 3000 calories a day and I work out 4-5 days a week to gain muscle? How much should I be eating to gain weight in muscle BUT lower my fat percentage?? Or is that more a question about WHAT should I eat instead of how much?
With a few rare exceptions, you’re NOT going to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. Read this one.
So the solution would be eat more calories, but keep the fat percentages in your food as low as possible?
Huh? Dietary fat intake has nothing to do with this.
Yet another amazing(ly disturbing) article, Jay! For the more meticulous of us, I was wondering how should a person approach counting exercise calories in relation to defaul amount of calories burned. So, if a person burns 400 calories exercising in an hour, should he deduct the amount that would have been burned in the same amount of time of not exercising?
I would answer a question like this by reminding you that the biggest key to fat loss is consistently eating a certain amount/consistently burning a certain amount, and closely monitoring what happens.
Are you losing fat at the rate that you should be? If so, keep input and output exactly where you have them.
If not, adjust input and/or output in whatever way you prefer until you are.
Above all else, this is what matters most. And really this one statement is the answer to like 90% of all fat loss questions.
Thanks, but how about “eating back calories” from doing cardio while bulking up? What do you recommend?
Very good question. In this case the key is still ensuring that same total net surplus is intact, however thinking of it as “eating back the calories burned” actually makes sense from this perspective.
Point, blank AND the period, an awesome article! You clearly stated exactly what I needed to come to terms with for myself in my personal fitness journey. Not just in regards to the deficit itself, but also the school of thought surrounding it. I’ve tried many different approaches to diet and exercise and the ones that worked, regardless of the ‘terms’ involved, all had the same common denominator…a caloric deficit. I am a female who uses MyFitness Pal and one of the things that it does is build any calories that I burn back into my ‘calories remaining’ total for the day. Anyone who uses that or a similar approach to tracking calories is given the idea that if you burn it, you should ‘eat it back’. I personally don’t like that and I tend to disregard a calorie count that I have ‘earned’ from exercise. Mainly because my mindset is that I am going for a deficit that is at LEAST a certain amount daily and any addition to that is welcome and will only positively affect my end goal. I also don’t want to put myself in a position where I use exercise as an EXCUSE to eat more. I’d like to see fat loss sooner rather than later =) …again, GREAT article Jay!
Glad you liked it!
And you bring up some good points there, especially the one about people burning some calories through additional exercise and using it as an excuse to eat more. Because it many cases, people greatly overestimate calories burned (AND underestimate calories consumed). So with a mindset of “eating back” those calories, you end up with a common scenario where a person burns 300 calories and but “eats back” 1000.
Hi, and thanks for this article. The “eat back calories” idea comes from using calorie trackers such as My Fitness Pal, where after adding food and exercise at the day, it gives your net calories for the day, and suggests you eat more if you are below the goal amount.
My question is, isn’t your TDEE obtained by calculating calories burned on a daily basis, including how much exercise you do? So exercise cals shouldn’t be deducted, they are already included in your TDEE, you just need to eat at 20% less than this number.
Would love your feed back on this- cheers!
Another good point. Technically speaking most people calculated their TDEE with their exercise activity taken into account. So in that regard, you’re right.
Then again, some don’t include exercise in that calculation. “Activity level” for them is just typical daily activity, basically everything except exercise thus making exercise extra calories burned in addition to their TDEE.
And if exercise activity was factored in to that initial TDEE calculation, this would assume that their exercise activity remained exactly the same from that point on AND that the TDEE calculation is actually accurate.
Which is why in the end, this is all mostly insignificant distracting nonsense. All anyone truly needs to do is monitor progress. Is weight consistently being lost at an ideal rate? If so, great. If not, decrease calorie intake, increase calorie output, or do a little bit of both.
Hi there! Love your articles so much! I was just wondering about the calculator on the site and started looking through comments to find one that addressed this topic. I understand that monitoring your weight is key to really figuring out daily caloric intake for fat loss, but I’m just worried that calculations for a ‘lightly active’ person could be too high for me. My question, how does one know how to accurately choose the activity level that pertains to their lifestyle. The difference between ‘sedentary’ and ‘lightly active’ is something like 350 calories. Maybe lightly active is more accurate for me, seeing as a don’t sit on my ass aaallll day, just part of it. When I follow calorie calculations for a sedentary lifestyle (1200 cals for me,) I feel pretty sick by the end of the day… starving. I may just stick with the higher calorie count for lightly active peoples, and hope that I don’t gain weight over the next few weeks. I wish there was a more accurate and faster way to really figure it out. Well, I think I know what you are going to say, which is to try it and see. I agree. I guess I’m sort of reaching out for encouragement in this endeavor. Also, can you comment on the activity levels? What do they pertain to, etc.? Sorry about the long ass post, and thank you for soooo much! You really know your stuff and it’s awesome!
The activity level you pick honestly doesn’t matter all that much. Just take your best guess or go with a number somewhere in between.
Remember, this calculator exists to give you an estimated starting point. The key step is to then consistently consume this amount of calories and monitor what happens as a result. Is your body doing what you want it to do at the rate it should be? If so, awesome. The estimate was accurate. But if not… adjust up or down until it is. That’s what truly matters here.
Ok I am starting to understand this more little by little. Going back on what Shan was talking about…if with with all my usual exercise (burning 400 a day) my calculated TDEE was around 2000, plus a 20% deficit my goal calories for the day would be 1600, which I already achieve by doing my regular exercise. So then i should be losing fat. Once I reach my goal weight, and Ive pre-calculated it (TDEE) to still be around 2000.Do I simply eat 2400 for my weight to stay the same? I can’t imagine how many questions (especially repetitive ones) you get per day so I’d like to thankyou in advance for you response!
Cheers to fitness and being healthy!
If 2000 is your TDEE, that’s your current maintenance level. Anything above that will cause weight gain, and anything below it will cause weight loss. Regardless, your current maintenance level is going to be different than what your maintenance level is when you reach your goal weight. You’ll have to recalculate (or really, increase calories slightly and experiment) at that point.
Jay, I’ve literally been wanting to send you a private message asking you about this – it’s like you know what we need to hear. I’m so glad I stumbled onto your website and you 🙂 I searched “Busting through a plateau” and found you; thank you for providing this service!
Just another layer to this question – when I completed my Mifflin St. Joeur information on your website and stated that I work out moderately (Cardio & Strength no less than 5 days/wk), my activity level changed things up. For me, my maintenance level is 2350 with the moderate activity level, so my deficit number is 1880…is it wiser to leave my activity level out of the equation and just go from my maintenance level at sedentary? I have lost 80lbs over the last two years and I have 50lbs to go, so there is still a significant amount of fat loss needed. BTW, I tried to be a dumbass & go down to 1,600 “to speed things up” after finding you 3 weeks ago, and all I got was HANGry, so it’s best for all that I get to eat 😉 Thanks for this information!
Like I’ve told a couple of people already in the comments of this post… this is the ultimate answer to every single question remotely similar to yours:
Be consistent with your diet and activity, and consistently monitor your progress (body weight, measurements, mirror, pictures, etc.).
Then ask yourself, are things moving in the direction you want them to move at an acceptable yet realistic rate (and with the least amount of torture involved)?
If your answer is yes, cool. Keep doing what you’re doing.
If your answer is no, then either start eating a little less, burning a little more, or some combination of the two.
Calculators and maintenance levels and estimations for calories burned and exact deficit amounts are all well and good, but above all else THIS is the key step and for many people the only thing they truly need to give a crap about when it comes to losing fat.
Hi Jay, thanks for the article great info yet again.Just a comment though all this technical working out on how much to eat to replace calories burnt during what ever exercise you are doing,Isn’t it just calorie in calorie out + or – depending on musical gain or fat loss and watching your weight depending on what you are wanting to achieve.
Strictly in terms of causing fat loss? Yup, it’s just calories in vs calories out and ensuring you end up in a deficit.
Thanks Jay, thought so !!.
I suppose lifting weights is crucial in a caloric deficit so one does not lose muscle and all calories come from fat right? Because the goal isn’t weight loss but it is fat loss. Can intense exercise increase the rate you burn the calories though? Does intense cardio like HIIT offer anything towards weight loss other than calorie burn?
Also, damn you Jay! Thanks to you I now have sore back muscles 2 days after my back workouts form lifting even less weight. Before, I lifted more weight, and felt nothing after. Now all of a sudden I have to actually deal with soreness and get results because I now focus on better form? Come on man!
Correct, weight training in a deficit is key to preserving muscle.
HIIT, steady state, high intensity, moderate intensity, low intensity… it all burns calories which means they all potentially aid fat loss. The higher the intensity is, like HIIT, the more EPOC there will be (aka “after burn”)… though it’s much less significant than people like to make it out to be, usually to sell products built around HIIT being amazing compared to steady state cardio.
Ha, and congrats on the back soreness!
But what keeps me awake at night pondering is although the calories burned are the same, where are those calories coming from and how can we target fat tissue only?
We can burn calories from carbs of the previous meal, stored glycogen, muscle or fat and maybe from somewhere else. We could jog, sprint, MMA, yoga, power lift, body build, jump rope or breakdance all at various heart rate intensity. We can even do no exercise and simply just do a 20% calorie reduction. There must be a way to determine which method will use the fat for fuel most efficiently so those 500 calories. are going to be burning fat mainly.
As far as your body knows, a deficit is a deficit. All it sees is a need to burn some other fuel source (fat, muscle or both) for energy… it doesn’t really care what specifically caused this need to exist. It just knows it’s there and responds accordingly.
The key however is to do everything possible to – at that point – convince your body that muscle NEEDS to stay and fat is all it should burn. How do you do this? This one is the best place to start.
Thanks for the link. Really reminds me how important weight lifting is in a caloric deficit to lose fat.
But what I was wondering is although a deficit is a deficit, can we target what the body uses for fuel in that deficit? For example, 500 calorie deficit with just diet, vs 500 calorie deficit with only exercise, the body takes 500 calories from somewhere in the body to burn for fuel since it isn’t coming from food or drink. Will the body use the exact same source for that fuel, depending on what method you use to create that deficit? Is there any science demonstrating this?
So what you are saying is wearing my Ab Ripper 2000 belt while doing lots of bicep curls in the squat rack eating 9 times a day to stoke my metabolic fire, while listening to Law of Attraction affirmations in my Beats By Dre headphones at my gym isn’t the key to weight loss?
Nope, nothing I’ve ever seen showing that – with all else being equal (weight training and sufficient protein especially) – the method of creating the deficit (diet vs cardio) matters in that regard. Same shit, different ways of making it happen. Pick the one you hate the least.
I find that I can’t eat low calorie enough to create the deficit I need so I have to exercise to make the 300 + calorie deficit.
Obviously I was joking in the last bit about the Ab Ripper 2000 Belt. I don’t want you to think I am insane.
Still wonder if science will ever figure out how we can specifically target fat to be burned rather than muscle or glycogen to maximize fat loss in that calorie deficit. Such as burning 300 calories in a steady state cardio as opposed to jumping rope, sprinting, swimming, burpees, etc. A way to make those calories burned from fuel specifically come from fat. That was the whole “target heart rate zone” for fat loss craze was trying to come up with. Of course, weight lifting can minimize muscle loss.
Well science/experience did figure out that heavy weight training + high protein – stupidly large deficits = pretty good for burning fat and not muscle.
Love the article Jay.
I’m not an expert, but I occasionally am asked for advice by friends and family.
I prefer to answer no do not eat back what you burned because people love to overestimate the calories burned by exercise and end up eating hell of a lot more than they burned.
Yup, exactly right. The overestimation aspect is sometimes a HUGE problem.
Awesome article, really good and funny!
This made me think of a question, maybe a question you have already heard.
Assume i am doing the muscle building routine, 3x week.
If i want to be as accurate as possible, how do i know the calories burned in my workouts?
Im in a calorie deficit and would like to stick to that ideal 20%, no more.
Does it really make a difference if I dont count those calories in the diet plan? Just wondering…
Like I’ve told a few people who have asked similar questions, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is your progress. Is fat being lost at the ideal/realistic rate it should be? If so, cool. Keep doing what you’re doing. If it’s not, adjust (eat less, burn more, or do a little of both) until it is.
What’s the difference between RMR and BMR ? Many sites say it’s dangerous to have a deficit below the RMR lol Also are you still constantly updating your research and looking for newest research on things or do you not have the time to research and update info like you did years ago? Thanks man
BMR is a more strict version of RMR, and I only sometimes barely remember which is which.
And yes, I am constantly and obsessively looking at new research. Always have been, always will be.
Hi Jay :),
I know this has nothing to do with the article but I was hoping to get some advice. Over the summer I want to train with my friend because he wants to lose weight and maybe pack on some muscle. I was just wondering if it is better for him to lose the body fat first and then build muscle because there is less chance of him losing muscle that way? He has never weightlifted before so he can easily gain some noob gains. I just fear if he builds muscle first there is a higher chance of him losing it if he loses weight too fast. Or am I wrong? Would it be better to build muscle and lose weight since he is only starting and he’ll gain muscle either way? Thanks in advance 🙂
Read this one and this one.
Thank you very much. You have some amazing advice. I think I’ll get him to loose the weight first. Thanks again 😀
I know this is the wrong place to ask this, but i need a clear defenition of what light activity means. Im confused as to weather i am sedetary or not. I work seven hours a day at a coffe shop preparing food on my feet. Please help!
It honestly doesn’t matter at all. Take your best guess.
The key step is eating a certain amount of calories consistently, monitoring progress over the next 2-3 weeks, and if needed, adjusting accordingly.
Hi Jay, I’m not sure if this is the best post for this question but the way I see it is, if the worry is mainly mental health and a little muscle depletion if you drop the calorie deficit to way under 20%, someone with a strong will and mental health may be able to cope with the byproducts of continued stupid calorie deficit.
Or am I sailing too close to the wind.
A deficit larger than 20% could certainly be used (and in the case of people who are obese it might be doctor-recommended).
But the bigger it gets beyond that point, the more problematic it will be not the non-obese.
You seem to know my story. I have a BMI of 30, so bordering on obese. Thanks for the info, I’ll play it safe.
First independant Web site i’ve visited on this subjuct that is not full of shit.
Glad to hear it dude!
firstly, I would like to give a big thank you, because I find that this site is the answer to almost every question that pops in my head. Your articles are really on-point, everything is thoroughly explained and fun to read!
After reading this post a few times I have come up with something that has been bothering me. I’m on a 1500calorie diet and my macros are 130g protein/130gcarbs/50g fats (35%35%30%ratio). Let’s say, on a given day, I play a really active day – weight lifting, hiking, bicycling (which is quite often), and I know I will NEED to eat more I if don’t want to put myself in too big of a deficit for that day, and I really really really don’t like to be hungry. What happens with my macros? Do I just predict the calories I will burn and make a same macro ratio meal plan for that day or what? (I make a meal plan for one day in advance, depending on what foods I have at home and try to hit my macros the best I can). That means I will be eating more protein/fat/carbs that I’m supposed to eat on my diet on a daily basis.(Also, is there such thing like too much fat/carbs/protein as long as you are in a deficit?) Or do I just leave the daily plan as it is and then eat anything (messing up my macros) in addition to it untill not hungry? The problem is that I still want to maintain a deificit, but like someone said earlier, it’s really hard to estimate calories burned.
I hope I made myself clear. Thank you in advance!
As long as your protein is at sufficient levels (which it should already be), and fat is at sufficient levels (which it should already be), then if you’re in a situation where you burn more and want to therefore eat more to keep the deficit at a certain size, then you could really get those extra calories from whatever combination of protein/fat/carbs you want.
In most cases though, the average person would probably just get them all from carbs since protein/fat are already sufficient and carbs are yummy.
Good work on creating a fitness / health website that is not full of ‘Bro Science’.
Why do some people say the low carb diet is best for weight loss? I’ve seen a lot of videos on how to lose fat and a lot of people say cut out your carbs like bread,rice,etc. does this really make a difference even though you’re in a calorie deficit?
Have you read this one yet?
Ok makes a lot more sense now thank you! But why do so many fitness gurus on youtube cut out most of their carbs and deplete themselves while dieting?
The same reason people do all kinds of stupid/pointless/useless/unnecessary stuff with their diet and training… they just don’t know any better.
Thanks for posting this, I’ve been wondering about this for a while. One question, does it matter what time of day Jane works out? If she works out every other day, early in the morning before she eats all of her daily calories would she still “eat back” her calories on the days she works out? Thanks.
Nope, the time of day wouldn’t change anything. The calorie totals for the day would need to be the same regardless of when they are eaten or burned.
Q) “should I eat back the calories I burned during exercise?”
A) “In this case, she’d simply eat 2500 calories that day”
Nope, that misses the main point of the article.
Which is that this isn’t a question that should even be asked in the first place.
Shamefully, I came across this page when I Google’d, whether I should be ‘eating back my calories burned’. Love the honest and clear answer. Thank you!
You’re welcome, glad you liked it!
Thank you for posting this, even if you think this is a strange question that shouldn’t be asked. I often find myself wondering if not feeling like I know I should be eating more calories in order to see the results I’ve been looking for. Let’s say my maintenance is 2400cals. Based on numerous calorie calculators this number is either up or slightly down. I weigh 144lbs at 5 feet 6in. But for me first thing in the morning I do before breakfast and starting my day is 1hr on the elliptical machine we have in our home. I usually catch up on my studying doing this by reading a book while on it. But regardless of this fact I’m usually soaked in sweat by the end of the 60mins. I do this always 6days per week and most weeks 7days every week just because I enjoy how I feel and it helps start my day off just right.
Then I hit the shower and have breakfast. This is usually in the form of a shake mixed with mixed berries. A few hours later I’m out the door and at the gym where I hit the weights doing 1 body part per day. This is done 6x per week as I split leg day into 2 days. After about 30-45mins of weight training depending on the muscles being worked. I then finish off with an additional 30mins of cardio.
All that being explained and said if I were to figure out total calories needed for me to lose fat weight based on my bmr and then multiplying that by my activity level it usually brings me in to eat around the 2400cal mark to stay the weight I am, but to lose weight at the recommended 500cal deficit then I’d be eating 1900 cals. I started this doing a 50%carbs, 30%protein and 20%fat ratio. The first few weeks I lost 4lbs felt motivated then I started to get really super hungry and have since lost no more weight. After reading this I’m wondering if by calculating your daily activity level into these equations is it possible that they’re that far off that I would be eating not enough food based on my activity level? Or should someone like me just figure out maintenance based on just my weight and not including my activity level, then calculate how many calories I’d be burning in the run of a day and either subtract or add in calories based on that?
For instance if say to stay at a weight of 144lbs my maintenance would be 2400 cals, but my morning 60mins says I burn 800cals based on the machine stats. Then I’m not sure what 30-45mins of weight training would even burn, then to top off with an additional 30mins of cardio on a machine at the gym which usually gives me a reading based on my weight of 465cals for the 30mins. Just the cardio alone would be 1265cals burned if these machines are correct. And this would be done for sure 6x per week. So would I then take 2400-1265=1135cals. But in order to lose weight I need to be at 1900cal intake for the day, so I would then make sure to add an additional 765cals into my macros for the day? That to me feels like a lot of extra eating and possibly a bit to much food for a womans stomach to intake wouldn’t you say? Or just continue with the activity level eating at 1900 cals because that’s the number based on my activity level I would need to eat to lose weight? Do this make sense I hope so because I realise it’s a long post, but if this is the reason I’m seeing stalled weight loss despite my best efforts then I want to be able to address it right now. Adding that many extra calories right away would likely lead to a fast weight gain as well wouldn’t you think or would my body be thanking me instantly? Thank you for your time and all your hard work, trust me you’re changing and saving people’s mental and physical states 🙂
Here’s all you truly need to know. Keep your calorie intake and your activity level consistent for a few weeks, and monitor progress (body weight, measurements, etc.).
Are things moving in the right direction? If so, continue to keep everything consistent. If not, slightly increase activity, slightly decrease calorie intake, or do some combination of the two.
That’s honestly as complicated as it needs to be. 😉
Thanks for the helpful info! I am tracking cals and looks like I am about on target for the 20 percent. Just started, so the most important thing I just learned from you is to make sure there is consistent progress, and if not, make adjustments. Now the question. So weight training helps to retain muscle while losing fat. Where to start for a beginner? I found the Nerd fitness guy and did the body weight circuit for a beginner-basically push-ups (had to do those on my knees) plank, squats, lunges, rows. Love to hear your input.
My weight training guide will cover all of the basics, and my beginner routine is a damn fine beginner routine. 😉
Thanks, I’ll take a look at those!
I’d like to use this info to help my 15 year old son. He is 5 feet 10 and weighs 140. He runs cross country and is always hungry. He eats tons of food healthy and not. He wants muscle for basketball, but I don’t think that will happen while he is running.
Running burns calories, so it mostly means he will need to eat additional calories to compensate.
Oh my, how to fill him up? We’ll work on it!
I have the same problem with my son…he’s 12 and 6’0 tall. We use protein shakes and lot! LOL!
You actually explained that so incredibly well I’m going to stop searching for the answer….so THANK YOU! Yes, this is VERY confusing to me, because I’ve just been told that I’m “crashing my metabolism” because I’m trying to only eat 1200 calories/day and still work out 5 x’s a week. No, I’m not looking for some miracle. I’m just really confused. Thanks again!
Awesome to hear it Julie!
Got the answer I was looking for, great article!
Glad to hear it!
Thank-you for this article – I had a disagreement about this topic this morning at bootcamp, and now realize that the two of us were coming from different perspectives on weight loss.
Great writing style, specifically that you use multiple scenarios to encompass many cases.
Thanks! Glad it helped.
Wow, this was great. I have really been wanting a no nonsense way of thinking of this every since I started My Fitness Pal for tracking (was diagnosed as pre-diabetic and was told to lose 10% of my current weight at the time. Thanks so much for the realistic example. Has really clarified my thinking on this matter.
You’re welcome, glad it helped.
I am really enjoying your articles! I have in the last month started the 10 detox diet, added some light exercise, and started monitoring my calories. I am hypothyroid (Hashimoto’s) and was looking for something to help jumpstart me safely. (Also to see if I have internal “allergies” or “sensitivities” as we hypo’s usually do. I lost about 7 pounds in the 10 days. Then transitioned into a calorie plan and lost another 4. I am right on with my calories. I measure EVERYTHING. lol, and I use my fitbit as a resource. But when I go to bed around 9-10pm I am in my goal zone, or slightly over to count for the calories burned when I am sleeping.Then when I wake up I check my fitbit in the morning and it shows I am under. Sometimes by like 200 or more calories compared to when I went to sleep. Any suggestions? I really want to stay within my deficit so I can continue to loose. But I don’t want to stuff myself either before bed. With my current plan I am eating well and feeling full throughout the day. Thanks for all your articles!
Never had a Fitbit so I’m honestly not too sure how that all works. But really, all you need to do is monitor your fat loss progress (scale, measurements, pictures, etc.) and adjust as needed to make things move in the right direction.
Also, check out the progress of an AWR reader with Hashimoto’s. And check out the comments too, she answers a bunch of questions.
I’m in an argument with my wife that I had hoped this article might answer, but I’m not certain it did.
I run 4 days a week and work out two but have a desk job. When I use the calorie maintenance calculator, I get 1904 for sedentary and 2698 for very active.
I say I should either have an intake of 1904 + exercise calories burned or an average of 2698. Both are acceptable ways to estimate.
My wife says I should have an intake of 2698 + exercise calories burned.
Which is it?
Read this one.
Great article – thanks for explaining that.
I am currently trying to lose weight and have done the calculations so am working on a 1200 cal a day diet. Some days that feels easy and some days like today, I was hungry…so I view it like a points system. I went out for a long brisk walk and ‘earned’ an additional 200 calories, so ate 1400 today (but burned 200). That was much more achievable and also, I like the mindset that says if I want to treat myself, I have to earn it first.
Thanks for the advice!
Glad it helped!
If I do your fat loss + muscle maintenance workout routine, will I burn off substantial calories to let myself keep eating at maintenance, or do I still need to eat less to create a caloric deficit? In other words, how many calories would I burn if I did the fat loss + muscle maintenance routine outlined in your ebook?
That routine is not designed for calorie burning (although it is still intense physical activity, so calories will definitely be burned… just not TONS), so chances are your diet (and/or cardio) will have to take care of the deficit.
I’m a little confused. So I restrict my calorie intake at 1200 per day but mon/wed/fri I burn around 700 calories at the gym . So are you saying on these days I should be eating 1900 calories? Sorry I just want to get this right.
If 1200 calories per day is the number you need to end up at, then you would need to eat/exercise in whatever manner is needed to make that happen. So if you burn 700 more calories on one day than you typically do, then eating 1900 calories that day would put you at the 1200 you were aiming for.
The only time this wouldn’t happen is when those 700 burned calories are already a part of the maintenance level you calculated.
Great article Jay. I apologize if you have already answered this question elsewhere, but I was wondering if glycogen stores from liver and muscle need to be depleted before the body decides to start tapping into fat stores, or whether it just grabs the energy it needs from both glycogen and fat stores equally or indiscriminately.
Obviously, it would be preferable to convince the body to take the required energy predominantly from fat stores exclusively. Wouldn’t a low-carb diet be beneficial in this regard insofar as it leads to less glycogen storage?
Related to this issue, I have read that low intensity cardio (e.g., brisk walking) primarily taps into fat stores whereas higher intensity starts tapping into glycogen, but I don’t know if there is any real science to back this up. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
Good questions that will need full article(s) to properly cover. 🙂
Thanks for the helpful info, Jay, and I also really appreciate how awesome you are at getting back to people who leave comments. That’s really cool. I did have a question on maintenance calories. If I am 175 lb and I calculated maintenance to be 2500 cals, is that 2500 cals on days I workout or rest, or would that include all exercise for the week (kind of like an average maintenance for the week? What I am asking is, what does it really mean that 2500 cals is my maintenance. I work out 4x a week, so is 2500 cals my AVERAGE number of cals burned per day, with my 4x per week workout split? I can’t imagine that it stays consistent from day-to-day.
I guess it makes sense that it’s an average, but I just wanted to know your thoughts. Here is what I’m thinking as a simplified example:
Monday: Rest, so energy burn is 2300
Tuesday: Workout, energy burn is 2700
Wednesday: Workout energy burn is 2700
Thursday: Rest, energy burn is 2300
Friday: Workout, energy burn is 2700
Sat: Rest energy burn is 2300
Sunday: Light cardio, energy burn is 2500
So it all comes out as a 2500 maintenance. Would you say this is an accurate description of what it really means to have a maintenance of 2500?
It’s typically easier to just think of it as an average starting point, which you should then put into action, give a couple of weeks, monitor what happens, and then (if needed) make whatever adjustments are needed.
I am unbelievably excited to find this website. I have spent the morning reading all your articles. After having two babies in two years I am ready to get back into it! I had tough pregnancies that did not allow for much activity. I have about 35 pounds to go and for the first time I feel like I can get somewhere losing the pounds and gaining back the muscle. Great articles.
Awesome! Glad the site has been helpful.
Hi there! I read through all the previous comments and your responses so you may tell me the same thing, “Keep your calorie intake and your activity level consistent for a few weeks, and monitor progress.” However, as someone who overthinks everything, I just want to be super sure 🙂
Mondays and Thursdays I burn about 450-600 calories through HITT and Barre.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays I burn about 200-300 calories through weight training.
Fridays I burn 350-500 calories through Spin.
Saturday and Sunday I do not workout, only housework.
So Monday-Friday, I should disregard the daily differences in the amount of calories burned through exercise, and eat my daily maintenance level of calories (2061). Saturday and Sunday since I do not exercise, I should eat 20% (412 calories) less than my daily maintenance level of calories?
Yup… “Keep your calorie intake and your activity level consistent for a few weeks, and monitor progress.” 😉
It’s really the best answer to every question like this. Do something, monitor progress, adjust as needed to ensure a deficit exists. No need to make it more complicated than that.
Thank you for this article! I found this article because I am trying to help my mom find an answer to her situation. She is a marathon runner and runs an average of 20 miles a week and consumes about 1200 calories on average. Losing weight for her is difficult. Is she storing fat because she is consuming too little? Or what is your advice? Thank you in advance.
That’s a myth. Details here.
So is this 500 extra calories like a set value? Like if I were to do cardio on one of my off days. Like let’s say I eat less calories on my off days and a bit more on training days (From a muscle building point of view, still being in a surplus through the entire week). Is it ok to eat the same surplus amount, that I consume during training days, on the rest day where I decided to do cardio or should I just add 500 calories? Thanks.
The 500 calories used in the example in this article was just a completely random example number.
Okay, but how much should I eat extra to compensate then?Should I eat the same like I would on training days?
If you burned X calories, it means you should eat X calories more to balance it out.
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