While exercise plays an important role, when looking to change body composition diet is by far the largest factor. Your total caloric output for the day is called the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). At the end of the day, you will lose weight if you eat less than your body’s TDEE and gain weight if you eat more than your TDEE.
The easiest way to ensure we are in a caloric deficit is to simply lower caloric intake. This equation also shows there are a couple things we can do to increase our TDEE instead of simply cutting calories.
We see that the digestive process of food has a caloric burning effect. Digestion of protein results in a higher thermic effect than fats and carbs. Studies show that 20-30% of calories consumed from protein sources are used up in the digestive process. This is another reason, in addition to preventing catabolism, protein intake should be high while in a deficit. However, the thermic effect of food is directly related to how much you consume so it’s not an ideal situation to try and increase the calories burned through digestion when on a cut. Instead just make sure at least 30% of your calories are from protein to maximize this effect. You can also marginally increase the TEF by eating more fiber and using spices such as cayenne, ginger, and cinnamon among others.
RMR is largely dictated by things we cannot control such as sex, age, and ethnicity. However body composition also plays a large role in RMR, and if you have more muscle, your body must work harder to deliver oxygen and nutrients to those muscle fibers. This means you burn more calories at rest and during physical activity.
Regular exercise not only boosts your TDEE through the increased physical activity, but there are hormonal effects that occur that boost your RMR by increasing the calories spent on performing routine cellular and enzymatic processes. You can increase RMR through proper supplementation with compounds such as forskolin, green tea catechins, synephrine, and caffeine. Sheer Strength Thermogenic contains all of these ingredients and is a great addition to your supplement stack if you are looking to lose body fat.
Physical activity is obviously the component of TDEE that we have the most direct control over. Harvard performed an extensive study to find out exactly how many calories were burned for an assortment of activities.
Here are some of their average results for dozens of individuals weighing 185lbs and performing 30 minutes of different activities:
|Low intensity weightlifting||133|
|Low impact aerobics||244|
|High intensity weightlifting||266|
|High impact aerobics||311|
|Boxing (sparring or mitts)||400|
|Rock climbing wall||488|
|Running 8 min mile pace||555|
As you can see there is a wide variance of calories burned depending on the activity. Lets look at some of the more interesting results.
First notice how relatively few calories are burned during resistance training compared to the aerobic activities, only 133 during an easier workout and just 266 during an intense 30 minute session.
So does this mean we should take the emphasis off of weights and focus on more aerobic activities if we are trying to lose weight?
Absolutely not! For people looking to lose weight this is often a fatal mistake. First of all if you don’t perform resistance training at least 3x a week while in a caloric deficit you will lose muscle. Remember that RMR makes up the majority of TDEE and losing muscle lowers your metabolism dramatically. This means you burn less calories at rest and during all physical activity.
Something worth noting is that research shows that the more calories you expend, the more calories you consume. Our bodies always want to be in a state of homeostasis so if you are burning a ton of calories through your workouts you’re likely going to experience food cravings that make it more difficult to stay on your diet. Since resistance training is not as calorically demanding but has these indirect boosts on your metabolism you may end up in a larger caloric deficit than if you substituted high impact aerobics.
Another interesting find is that leisure activities can burn more calories than actual workouts. Gardening for example burns 200 calories which is more than water aerobics. So maybe skip that aqua zumba class and tend to your garden instead.
Part of what makes it so hard to get to low bodyfat levels is the mental aspect. When depleted it can be very hard to get motivated to do sprints or traditional cardio. But if it’s an activity you actually enjoy you will be more than likely to follow through with it, and for a longer duration. When you perform activities you enjoy often times the perceived rate of exertion is lower. Racquetball is one of the highest calorie burning activities listed but many people don’t think of it as on par as high impact aerobics even though racquetball actually burns more calories.
One might think that in order to burn a large amount of calories one needs to jump around and perform high impact exercises. While it’s true that these activities such as jump roping and sprinting are some of the best calorie burning exercises notice how certain low impact movements also rank very high. Many people experience pain during high impact exercise and use it as an excuse to get out of cardio but low impact activities can be just as effective.
Knees can’t handle the pounding that comes with running?
Well you can bike for just as good results. Even the often scoffed at elliptical can be a great tool if you experience pain or mobility issues. Swimming laps is easy on the joints and burns just as many calories as jumping rope. The key is to find what works for you in order to be consistent.
These figures are for the duration of the activity. There’s something called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption which enables you to burn calories for hours after your workout. This is because you have created an oxygen deficit during the workout and your body compensates by having an increased rate of oxygen intake for many hours after leading to an elevated metabolism and more calories being burned than if no workout had been performed. The type and duration of exercise will dictate the level of EPOC achieved. One well known study showed that after 45 minutes of vigorous cycling participants had 14 hours of EPOC which accounted for 190 additional calories being burned.
High intensity and longer duration exercise has a more pronounced effect on EPOC. But when consuming a caloric deficit it is not optimal to perform long bouts of intense exercise due to risk of muscle catabolism. One way to get the benefits of EPOC is through resistance training. As mentioned earlier training with weights preserves lean muscle when trying to shed fat, but it also can promote an even higher EPOC than cardio activities. Another study on epoc shows that circuit training with weights produced a more acute response than using the treadmill. However, lifting heavy weight with as short rest as needed to maintain intensity tends to elicit greater EPOC than when using lighter weights. In particular using compound movements in a reciprocal manner appears to be most effective. This is done by performing supersets of opposing muscle groups with short rest.
If you are looking to maximize calories burned while maintaining muscle follow this protocol:
Remember, physical activity cannot make up for a bad diet. Its much easier to avoid the burgers and fries altogether than have to burn off that extra 900 calories through hours of arduous cardio. But if you eat sensibly and follow these guidelines you will burn enough calories to shed the body fat while sparing your lean muscle.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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