How many calories are we actually burning?

We spend calories on breathing, maintaining temperature, digestion, intellectual activity, physical activity, recovery after it, and on many imperceptible processes occurring in our body (calorizer). No one can accurately determine their energy costs. Calorie consumption tables, exercise equipment, gadgets and mobile applications give only approximate, and sometimes even overestimated figures.


Why shouldn’t you trust the simulators?

Most people when exercising on cardiovascular equipment are guided by the indicators of the simulator, which calculates the estimated energy expenditure based on heart rate, weight, height, age and gender. Some people completely forget to set all these parameters, offering the simulator to guess for itself. But even if you have entered all the data, you will get very average figures. The simulator does not take into account the fitness level of the practitioner, the ratio of muscle mass to fat, body temperature and respiratory rate, which have a much greater effect on calorie consumption than the above parameters. The simulator does not take into account the ratio of humidity and air temperature, which contribute to energy consumption.

People with different parameters or in different climates will burn different amounts of calories. Even people with the same parameters, but with different levels of fitness, will burn different amounts of energy. The one for whom it is harder always spends more. The harder you are, the higher your heart rate and the faster you breathe, the more energy you will use up.

Actual calorie consumption during exercise

During strength training, the costs are 7-9 kcal per minute. Here you need to take into account the type of exercise, the number of approaches, repetitions, the duration of the classes. When bending the arms for biceps, several times less energy is spent than during pull-ups, and swinging legs is not equivalent to squats. The more intense the workout, the more energy is consumed. Hence the obligatory basic exercises in training programs.

According to research, during aerobics, the average person burns 5-10 kcal per minute at a heart rate of 120-150 beats. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) burns about 10 kcal / min, which is twice as much as low-intensity cardio – 5 kcal / min. If the duration of HIIT is shorter, the calorie expenditure will equalize.


It is a mistake to think of exercise as a way to burn more calories. Its task is to improve the level of physical fitness and create optimal conditions for burning fat or growing muscle mass. Strength training, cardio, and HIIT have different benefits for the body.

Burning calories after exercise

Recovering from sports activities also takes energy. This process is called the metabolic response or the EPOC effect. On the Internet, you can read that during recovery, the metabolic rate increases by 25% or more, but real research shows that after strength training and HIIT, the effect of EPOC is 14% of calories burned, and after low-intensity cardio – 7%.


Recovery time depends on the intensity of your workout. After cardio, you recover for several tens of minutes, when recovery from strength lasts hours. These data are also averaged, but the principle remains – the more intense the workout, the more calories you will burn later.

Calorie expenditure during digestion

Digestion of food requires energy, and its expenditure is called the Thermal Effect of Food (TPE). Our body metabolizes proteins, fats and carbohydrates in different ways. By assimilating protein, we spend 20-30% of the calorie content of the portion eaten. Digestion of carbohydrates requires 5-10% of the calorie content of a serving, and the expenditure on digesting fats is 0-3%. But do not delude yourself, since the body of each person is individual, therefore the range between the estimated costs for TEP is so wide.


Calorie expenditure on mental activity

There is a myth that the brain is the main consumer of calories, that sugar improves mental abilities, and intellectual work is harder than physical work. Recent studies have shown that the cost of mental activity of the average person is 0,25 kcal per minute, and with intense intellectual activity, they can rise up to 1%. Thus, in five minutes of mental activity, you can burn 1,25 kcal, and in an hour – only 15 kcal.


Energy consumption during non-training activity

It is almost impossible to calculate the real energy consumption when performing everyday activities. They also depend on weight, gender, age, fitness, climate, heart rate and respiration. Only approximate simplified estimates can be used here. However, increasing the level of non-training activity requires attention, since in conditions of a diet, the body tends to reduce excessive mobility – to rest more and spend fewer calories on performing routine activities, making them more efficient.

How to spend more calories?

We may not be able to accurately calculate the calories burned, but we can increase their consumption. Obviously, you have to train hard. Strength training must be built on the basis of basic exercises, adequately select the working weight and range of repetitions (calorizator). Combining low-intensity and high-intensity cardio will provide additional benefits. Remember that cardio training should increase your heart rate and breathing, otherwise energy consumption during and after training will be negligible.


The diet should focus on protein, eating a serving with each meal. Yes, fats and carbs are tastier, but getting enough protein in your diet will help you strengthen your muscles and increase your calorie expenditure.

Now you know that mental activity does not make a significant contribution to burning calories, so you can safely lower the importance of sugar in your life and pay more attention to the mobility in everyday life, which we used to underestimate. It is not necessary to count non-training activity, but it is necessary to move.

Calorie consumption tables, apps and gadgets are a good guideline for assessing daily activity, but they are not accurate, so you should not get attached to these numbers. Just demand more of yourself and strive to do more than you did yesterday.

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