Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fit Tip of the Day: The Most Accurate Way to Calculate Calories Burned From Workouts

Struggling to lose those extra pounds and can't figure out why? It may be due to miscalculating the calories burned during your workouts. Here are the top five reasons you are getting it wrong, and how to more efficiently calculate calories to help you reach your weight loss goals. 

    Reason #1: Your Cardio Equipment Doesn't Know You    

This is where I have noticed the biggest failure in recording calories burned. Cardio equipment - treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, etc. - are going off of some vague factors when calculating the number of calories you've worked off. For those of us who like to create our own cardio circuits (i.e. simply hitting the "Quick Start" button and manually increasing speed, incline, or resistance), the equipment assumes you are 150 lb and returns its value based on that weight. If you weight more than that, you are burning more calories, and if you weigh less, you are burning fewer calories. Of course  there are options to enter in more information about yourself - height, weight, gender, and age. The problem is, the numbers are still inaccurate because the machine does not know your muscle to fat ratio, stride efficiency, or bone structure. Because no two bodies are the same, it is impossible to get an exact calculation and the resulting calculation of calories burned can vary from 15% to 20%. 

More reasons and helpful calculations after the jump!

   Reason #2: Those Workout Classes and/or DVDs Are Exaggerating   

We've all seen the claim somewhere - the new Latin dance class that claims you'll torch 800 calories an hour, or that MMA Kickboxing class that promises you'll melt away a pound of fat in one session. But before you head to your favorite Mexican Food joint to celebrate post work-out (haven't we all used the phrase, well I just worked out so one enchilada smothered in cheese and sour cream is ok? no? just me?), you may want to re-evaluate the amount of calories you've just burned. Whenever a workout DVD or class tells you the number of calories you could burn in an hour, they are estimating the maximum amount a fit individual would burn while putting in 120% effort for the entire session. It's natural to need to take breaks for water or recovery- the workouts are designed to push you - especially if you are trying something new or getting back in shape. A great example are the Insanity Workouts which are a fantastic set of routines that combine cardio, strength training, and plyometrics for maximum results. The drills are pretty extreme and last 30-60 minutes long. Depending on gender, height, fitness level, and effort, you could burn anything in a range of 200-1000 calories. You'll find pretty varied claims on message boards and blogs, so just dont take anything you read to literally - remember, every body is different. 

   Reason #3: Calorie Counter Apps Are Deceiving   

For the same reasons mentioned above (different body types, incorrect assumptions, etc.) those Apps that you are using aren't efficient, either. Additionally, most calorie tracker Apps (i.e. The Daily Plate, My Fitness Pal) allow users to upload information on food or workouts which are often miscalculated or overestimated. A lot of the workouts listed are vague and could vary greatly according to the effort you put in - i.e. basketball, dancing, or rowing. A good general calculator to use to factor in your weight is this Calorie Burn Calculator by Health Status. Use this as a starting point, then adjust the workout time on your App for a more accurate record. 

Example for 125lb person running 5MPH for 30 minutes:
Calorie Burn Calculator: 240 calories burned
Fitness App: 290 calories burned
Adjust the amount of time on your fitness app to 24 minutes for a total of 232 calories burned*

*Round down, and err on the side of caution, as this still does not factor in gender or body type. 

And yet, this is still not 100% accurate! Here's why...

   Reason #4: You Aren't Factoring In Your Basal Metabolic Rate   
This is, in my opinion, the most common mistake made when calculating overall calories burned. When adding up your total calories burned per day, most don't realize that this already has the calories you are burning just by being alive factored in. So, if you are getting really technical about it, let's say you burn 400 calories in an hour of working out(rounding down to make sure you arent estimating). Any now lets say your BMR allows you to naturally burn 1440 calories a day, or 60 calories an hour. What you are actually burning is 340 calories (from your workout) + 60 calories (from your BMR). Though this might sound really nit-picky, if you think of it in terms of losing weight, it could slow your projected progress. Here's some more math to demonstrate. 

Goal: Lose 10 lbs or 35,000 calories

So, let's say a 125 lb woman wanted to burn this off by running 5 mph for an hour each day, on a diet of 1200 calories per day. 

The Incorrect Way - How Most of Us Calculate
+1200 calories (consumed) - 1440 (BMR burned) - 232 (workout burned) = 474 total burned
35000 cal total divided by 474 burned per day is approximately 74 days to lose 10 lbs

But this is wrong because it is counting the calories burned by your BMR twice!

The Correct Way - Factoring in Your BMI 
+1200 calories (consumed) - 1440 (BMR burned) - 172 (workout burned NOT including calories already burned by BMR) = 412 total burned
35000 cal total divided by 412 burned per day is approximately 85 days to lose 10 lbs

Ok, granted, this is a bit obsessive because you're talking about a week and a half difference - but you can imagine how this adds up over time. 


In conclusion:

The BEST way to record your workouts is to use a heart rate monitor that will record your heart rate and translate this to calories burned. 

If you don't want to fork over the cash, use the calories burned calculator I posted above and round down to be sure you aren't over projecting the amount you've burned. 

Don't forget to factor in your BMI!

Feel free to leave a comment if you'd like help creating your own calories burned tracker, and I can help you make magic happen in excel. Good luck with your fitness goals!


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  4. Hi! Can you help me calculate mine? :)

  5. You have a point here! Calculating burnt calories to estimate and know what would be the next step of every workouts. :)

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. TDEE Calculator app can be used to easily calculate calorie intake for various purposes. You can use it if you want to lose weight or maintain your weight. Although the calculation is easy, it does not contain other parameters for example your daily activity level and your age. For further information you can install this app.

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  10. why women not control on weight or no burn calories?
    Calories Burned in a Day

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