• How many calories should you burn during exercise?

    Posted on August 25, 2010 by in Online resources

    I just got asked how many calories you should burn when you exercise on Twitter. The answer is that it depends on several things. “It depends” would fit into 140 characters, but that’s not very helpful. How it depends is probably more like 14000 characters. Hence this blog post.

    I’m going to assume that fat loss is the objective here. (Some might find the word fat a little crude, but I think it’s important to be mentally clear on that you want to lose fat as opposed to muscle. )

    We all know fat loss is all about calories in, calories out. I am also a big advocate of that it does matter where those calories come from and how you burn them, because most people also want to feel good and eat tasty, filling meals as well as be in good shape in addition to losing fat. (Few of us would consider a life in which we eat five candy bars upon waking and nothing else for the rest of the day, then make time to walk slowly for hours for exercise as desirable. But if calories in, calories out were really all that mattered in practice, you could.) But setting that aside for this post – because that’s way too much to cover in one go – I’m just going to focus on the calorie “accounting” – how do you figure out how many calories you should be burning in a workout?

    Before I get too far, I do want to point out to other accuracy sticklers out there that ultimately, all numbers involving calories in or out are estimates of some sort. If you are used to hard sciences or engineering data, this is all pretty fuzzy. Accept it and live with it. It’s just darn tricky to measure something that occurs physically spread out in your body on a cellular level to the same kind of accuracy you can measure the elemental composition of a material, in large part because you always have to measure some indirect marker of metabolism. There is no contraption you can stick into a million cells to directly measure what the Krebs cycle in you is doing. Uncertainties can be as large as 100 calories, so don’t fret about measuring to a fraction of an ounce what you eat or about the variability of energy expended while running with your knees high versus shuffling.  This is a massive time trap that will not help you actually be more accurate. (I have spent months in it.) Call within 100 calories even. Maybe even 200.

    Calories in

    How to estimate calories in I think most people are familiar with – you count calories to find out your daily caloric intake. Yes, yes, I know, you’ve heard it a million times. I wasn’t excited about it at all, because I thought it seemed overly restrictive and obsessive. And who wants to be obsessive? While there certainly are people who go there (see accuracy note above as an antidote), you don’t automatically have to. The truth is, you can’t really know how you’re doing in the calorie deficit department if you haven’t actually counted all your calories, estimated your base metabolism, and how much you burn in exercise. If you don’t know either one (or neither!) of calories in or calories out, you don’t really know if you can expect to lose weight. Walking around expecting to lose weight when in reality you have no reason to do so is probably the definition of weight-loss frustration. Remember, self-torture isn’t a weight-loss tonic. Being uncomfortable is not a sure sign that your diet/exercise program is working. Track the numbers, and even with the 100-calorie uncertainty you’re going to know if you’re closer to 1500 or 2000 calories a day. You don’t have to do it, as long as you don’t mind not knowing if you can expect to lose weight or not.

    If you want to get in control of your weight loss, find a way to count the calories. There are sites for it, like FitDay, DailyPlate or SparkPeople, and apps like Lose It! or FatSecret. Figure out what works for you so you have a number to work with.

    Calories out

    Now, for the calories out part, assuming you’re not just measuring it with a Bodybugg. There’s two sub-parts to figuring this out without having to log how much time you spend doing what every hour of every day. (Some advocate that approach, I just don’t think anyone is going to do that in addition to counting calories.)  Let’s break it down.

    How many calories does it take to stay alive with minimum movement?

    There are many ways to calculate this answer, called the resting metabolic rate (RMR). I’ve picked the easiest and the most accurate here and I’ll leave it to you to pick the one you like best. (You may also have heard of basal metabolic rate or BMR – RMR is basically BMR + tiny movements allowed. BMR is measured when people pretty much don’t move at all. I think RMR is measured under conditions that are more like what you actually do when you are resting. Take note, super-dieters – going below this number is starving yourself to death, even if you don’t exercise at all.)

    The easiest: Multiply your weight by 10. (Or add a zero to the end, same effect.) So if you weigh 176 pounds, you need about 1760 calories to just survive with minimal movement.  One kilo is 2.2 lbs – so if you weigh 80 kg, your weight in pounds is 80kg *2.2lbs/kg = 176 lbs. (Source: The P90X nutrition guide)

    The most accurate: If you know your fat percentage, you can calculate your lean body mass and then use the Cunningham formula. If you measure body weight in pounds, you’ll have to convert it to kilograms. (It’s only fair – kilogram users have to convert to pounds using the easy method above. Or use a calculator.)  The Cunningham formula is

    RMR = 500 +  (22*LBM), where LBM is lean body mass in kilos.

    Example: My body fat percentage is 22.6 right now and my weight is about 145 lb.  One pound is 0.45 kg, so my weight in kilos is 145*0.45 = 65.25 kg.  22.6% of that is fat and the rest is lean body mass. If 22.6% of me is fat, then 100% – 22.6% = 77.4% of me is lean body mass. In kilos, that would be 65.25 kg * 0.774 = 50.5 kg.

    So now I’m ready to apply the formula.

    RMR = 500 + (22*50.5) = 500 + 1,111 = 1,611 calories

    You have to admit, slapping on a zero on your weight in pounds is pretty darn easy. But why is the Cunningham formula the most accurate? Because it works with the lean body mass, which is what burns most of your calories. There are formulas that just use your weight, but fat and muscle burn different amounts of energy at rest – so your body composition matters. The more athletic you are, the bigger the difference between the formulas that use only weight and the ones that use lean body mass. (There is a ‘sister’ equation for BMR that also uses LBM called the Katch-McArdle equation.) So if you’re doing to bother with an equation, why not get it as right as you possibly can?

    I’ve actually had my RMR measured a few months ago, after round 1 of P90X. It was 1610 (within 100 calories) calories/day when I weighed 150 lb and was 25% body fat (i. e. 50.6 kg lean body mass). The P90X nutrition guide method gives 1500 for my RMR at that weight. The Cunningham formula gives an RMR of 1,614 calories. Both are consistent with the measured 1610 plus/minus 100. (In other words, the measurement says my RMR is between 1510 and 1710 calories/day.) But look – a month into round 2, I’ve lost fat but virtually no muscle. So the P90X nutrition guide method would peg me at 1450 cal/day rather than the 1611 cal/day (that is still consistent with the measurement) that the Cunningham formula gives. So as your body fat creeps lower, the super-simple method is going to come in too low. 150 cal/day is a snack’s worth – enough to be the difference between me going hungry or being satisfied.

    How much energy do you burn beyond that?

    If you’re a construction worker, you clearly burn more calories than someone like me, who mostly sits at a desk or is just walking around doing her job. However, I haven’t seen any formulas for calculating how many calories it takes to do your job other than if it’s a desk job. Perhaps that is because few construction workers find themselves trying to lose fat. Anyhow, just like in the last section, I’m going to present two ways of calculating this – one easy, one more complicated but potentially more accurate. (I say potentially, because by common sense it should be, but unlike the equations above I’m not aware it’s been proven.)

    The easy way: Multiply your RMR by an activity factor from the table below, from a 1996 paper from McArdle et al. (Haven’t found a complete reference, so I don’t know from what journal.)

    Activity Factor Category Definition
    1.2 Sedentary Little or no exercise and desk job
    1.375 Lightly Active Light exercise or sports 1-3 days a week
    1.55 Moderately Active Moderate exercise or sports 3-5 days a week
    1.725 Very Active Hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week
    1.9 Extremely Active Hard daily exercise or sports and physical job

    Example: My hybrid P90X-half marathon training program has me exercising 6 days a week, pointing to very active. But what about my intensity? I exercise what feels like pretty hard – heart rate 150 or above, which is 97%+ of my theoretically estimated max. (Although either my heart rate monitor measures high or the formula doesn’t apply to me – I’ve seen it measured at 165, which is more than the formula would predict.) I’ll go with very active.
    My RMR was 1611 cal/day. I picked an activity factor of 1.725. That gives a total calorie burn of 2,779 calories/day.

    The potential problem here is that how many calories you burn depends on not just how intensely you exercise, it depends on how big you are – how much mass you have to move around while you exercise. These numbers must assume some body mass, and you have no idea of how close yours is to that of the study’s subjects.

    The potentially more accurate way: Use the McArdle table activity factor for sedentary individuals to account for your job, running errands, and watching TV. Then, find out how much your exercise burns, and start adding it all up. But don’t forget that calorie numbers often are gross, meaning that they consist of both what it would have taken you to just power your organs while sitting still as well as the part that’s directly due to the exercise. If you want to go this route, you need net calorie burns – not gross. You already figured out how much just living and going to work takes – if you just add gross calorie burns to this, you are counting some calories burned twice! For everything that isn’t running, the best solution I’ve found is to look up the calorie burn and subtract off what you burn just sitting or resting. (There are many other calculators, and judging their accuracy can be a little difficult sometimes.) To find out what you’d have burned just sitting, take your RMR and divide it by how long you exercised.

    Example: My RMR was 1611 cal/day. With an activity factor of 1.2, I will burn up 1,933 calories if I don’t exercise at all. But I do! So let’s add yesterday’s 5-mile run. For net calorie burn, it’s 0.63*145 per mile (where 145 is my weight in lb), so 0.63*145*5 =  457 total for my run. Adding that to the 1933 I already have, that comes to 2390 for my total calorie burn for the day.

    If it had been a P90X day, I would have entered my weight into an activity calculator and looked up the numbers for 50 minutes of vigorous weight lifting, which according to this calculator is 334 calories. There are 1440 minutes in a day; so I burn 1611/1440 cal/minute, which is 1.12 calories a minute. 1.12 calories a minute times 50 minutes is 56 calories. So, since the 56 calories for resting were already counted as part of the 1,933 calories I burn before exercise, I only burned 334 – 56 = 278 calories extra. (That seems a little low, and I wonder how close P90X is to whatever they mean by vigorous weightlifting. But you see how the math works.)

    I don’t have a measurement of calorie burn during exercise to do a definite reality check with here, but I believe the 2390 number over the 2779 number. I eat about 1800-1900 calories a day. If I truly needed close to 2800 calories/day, I’d be running a 1000-calorie deficit. Shouldn’t I be, you know, hungry or something? And losing weight at a whirling, nearly dangerous, rate?

    While I am losing fat, I lost 2.5 inches from my waist in a month and 2.4 points of body fat, which apparently was about 5 lbs of fat total. If you run the numbers, that works out to be an average daily deficit of ~650 calories. If I add 650 to 1800, I get 2450 – only 60 calories off calculation number 2, so close enough for me to call even. (remember the 100-calorie rule.) I think what may have happened with that table is that the study was only done on men. That’s not uncommon, and the results for men don’t always apply for women, but are reported as if they do until someone proves otherwise.

    So how many calories should you burn during exercise?

    Alright, now that you know your calories in and your calories out, you can start playing with the numbers to see what you think you can do. I’m sure you know that 3500 calories is equivalent to a pound of fat.

    If you work out 6 days a week

    When you start knocking that out over 7 days (I know, I know – but we’re approximating anyway, remember? Close enough but simpler than calculating deficits for each day separately), you get the following deficit-fat loss relationships (assuming you are also maintaining your muscle mass and only losing fat):

    Fat loss/week Fat loss/month Deficit
    0.2 lb 0.8 lb 100 cal
    0.4 lb 1.6 lb 200 cal
    0.6 lb 2.3 lb 300 cal
    0.8 lb 3.1 lb 400 cal
    1.0 lb 3.9 lb 500 cal
    1.2 lb 4.7 lb 600 cal
    1.4 lb 5.4 lb 700 cal
    1.6 lb 6.2 lb 800 cal
    1.8 lb 7.0 lb 900 cal
    1.9 lb 7.8 lb 1000 cal

    (You shouldn’t be trying to run more than a ~1000-cal deficit.)

    Now we’re getting to the actual answer to the question, believe it or not! So since you know your calories in (I’m going to leave diet changes out of this to keep the focus on how you know if you’re exercising enough), look athow many calories you burn staying alive and going to work compared to your daily caloric intake. (The same? Is one smaller than the other? What’s the difference?) Then look at how fast you’d like to lose weight and see what kind of an average daily deficit that’s going to take (assuming you exercise 6-7 days a week). How many calories you should burn during exercise is however many it takes to get your daily calorie burn the deficit’s worth above your daily calorie intake. Tadah!

    Ok, maybe that was clear as mud. Let’s three examples.

    Example: How many calories should I be burning to meet my fat loss goals? Well, let’s see. My goal is actually in terms of body fat percentage, but I’ll try to cut down on confusion by not showing how I made it a ‘lose X pounds’ goal under the assumption that I won’t gain or lose muscle mass. (Even though I’d like to get more!)

    I eat about 1800-1900 calories a day. Without exercise, I burn 1,933 cal/day just powering my organs, eating, sleeping, and working. So I eat roughly what I burn in a day, and my amount of fat will stay the same if I don’t exercise.

    If my lean body mass were to stay the same, I’d need to lose 8.1 lbs to meet my goal. Since my daily calorie intake and burn are nearly the same, I just need to exercise away whatever number of calories I want to get under by each day. If I wanted to burn it off in 90 days, I’d need to exercise off about 400 calories a day (8.1lb/3 mo = 2.7 lb/mo; from the table, the closest value is 400 cal with about 3.1 lb/mo.)

    Example 2: Slightly more complicated case. Karla wants to lose 15 lb in 90 days. She eats about 2200 calories a day, and burns about 2400 calories a day without exercise. In this case, even without exercise she has a 200-cal deficit. However, to make her goal, she’s going to have to create a 700-calorie deficit – 500 calories more than just her diet provides. So for Karla to lose the 15 lb in three months, her exercise sessions are going to have to burn 500 calories a day. (700-200=500)

    Example 3: Another more complicated case. Dave wants to lose 5 lb in two months. He also eats about 2200 calories a day, but only burns 1900 calories without exercise. This means he eats 300 calories more than he burns already! For him to meet his goal, he’s going to have to create a 300-calorie deficit. But because he eats 300 calories more than he burns without any exercise, his workouts have to burn both the extra 300 calories he eats and another 300 to make the 300-calorie deficit! So Dave’s workouts should burn 600 calories a session. (If I were Dave, this math would motivate me to take another look at my diet. 600 calories per session is going to be tough.)

    No way I’m working out six times a week. What about me?

    Instead of worrying about daily numbers, look at a week at a time. Here’s that table again, but with weekly calorie deficits instead:

    Fat loss/week Fat loss/month Deficit
    0.2 lb 0.8 lb 700 cal
    0.4 lb 1.6 lb 1400 cal
    0.6 lb 2.3 lb 2100 cal
    0.8 lb 3.1 lb 2800 cal
    1.0 lb 3.9 lb 3500 cal
    1.2 lb 4.7 lb 4200 cal
    1.4 lb 5.4 lb 4900 cal
    1.6 lb 6.2 lb 5600 cal
    1.8 lb 7.0 lb 6300 cal
    1.9 lb 7.8 lb 7000 cal

    Add up your weekly calorie intake and your weekly calorie burn if you didn’t exercise, then compare those numbers. Figure out how you’re going to get to the weekly calorie deficit you need to be at to meet your goal. (Note: you may be about to find that you’re asking the impossible. If so, this will tell you what you can expect within what you’re willing to do.)

    Example: Jane works out three times a week and wants to lose 5 lb in a month. That means she needs to create a roughly 4200 calorie deficit per week. She eats about 2,000 calories a day and burns about 1,800 calories a day living and working. Her daily excess is 200 calories, which adds up to 1400 calories in a week. To first get rid of the extra 1,400 calories she eats and then create the 4200 calorie deficit she needs, she will need to exercise off 1,400+4,200 calories, which is 5,600. Since she has three days to do it in, each workout would need to burn 5,600/3 = 1,867 calories a session. That’s probably impossible, unless she is an elite athlete with time to train all day – but only for three days. Jane just isn’t going to lose the 5 lb in a month.

    A reachable number with an intense hour a day is around 400 calories for most normal-weight women. Let’s work it the other way around. 400 calories, three times a week is 400*3 = 1200 calories. That’s still less than the 1400 extra calories she eats a week. Jane is probably going to have to deal with her diet in addition to worrying about how many calories to burn when she exercises. If she can come out about even before exercise, though, she could create a 1200 calorie/week deficit. That’s pretty close to the 1400 calories that would give a 1.2-lb fat loss a month.  At her current exercise rate, Jane can lose the 5 lb but is going to have to wait about 4-5 months. (Note that Jane will lose the weight so slowly, watching the scale like a hawk is probably only going to drive her nuts.)
    If that isn’t fast enough for her, she has two options to really speed things up: add more exercise days or start creating a deficit even before she considered exercise. Doing both will be fastest, of course.

    I realize that all this might seem impossibly complicated if you’re not used to crunching numbers all the time. If the last time you had to do this was 10 years ago, understandably it’s more effort than if you can reach out a hand and get the scientific graphing calculator (because you use it all the time) like scientists and engineers. I think anyone can do it if they want to, but I’m realistic. You may not want to.

    If you don’t want to run the numbers, I’m happy to do it for you. If you can get me your daily calorie count, your weight (ideally your body fat percentage too),  and your fat loss goal, I can run the numbers for you. Just drop me a line at teresa at fityoginirunner.com.

26 Responses so far.

  1. Hilary says:

    I need help with calculating the numbers .i eat about 1500 calories per day i weigh 150 pounds and my fat loss goal is 40, pls & thanks

  2. FitYoginiRunner says:


    Since I don’t know your height but we’re around the same weight, I can’t help but wonder if you really can have 40 lb of fat to lose! I know that wasn’t your question, but unless you are much shorter than me (I’m 5’6″), you probably don’t. As a woman, you need a minimum of 10% body fat for sheer survival, so your lean body mass would have to be 99 lbs or below for you to survive losing 40 lbs of fat. For you to not just barely survive, but be relatively healthy, your lean body mass would have to be around 88 lbs or so for you to have 40 lbs of fat to lose.

    Assuming you are much shorter than me and that you are not setting out on a suicide mission and work out six times a week you are currently eating about what your RMR is, using the simplest but somewhat less accurate method. That means even without exercising, you’re running a small deficit of about 300 calories a day. That means you can boost your weight loss with relatively high calorie deficits without killing yourself during the workout. (Which, I might note, isn’t a great idea anyway since killing yourself rarely inspires you to keep it up long-term.)

    Let’s look at some numbers. I don’t know your fitness level, so I’ll give you some alternatives.

    200 calories a workout is definitely achievable with a shorter 20-30 minute run or a lower-intensity 20-30 minute gym or DVD workout. You burn about a calorie a minute just existing and walking around, so you actually only burn off around 200-25 calories = 175 calories that you wouldn’t have burned otherwise. But added to the 300-calorie deficit your diet already gave you, you’d run a 475 calorie-a-day deficit total. At that rate, you’d lose about 3.7 lbs/month. If you could keep that deficit up, it’d take you about 11 months to lose the weight.

    40 lbs is enough to force you to re-calculate this after a while, though, so re-visit your weightloss plan every few months. As you change, your plan needs changing too! You may need to adjust how much you eat and you may be able to burn more calories with exercise as you get even fitter. Not to mention things won’t go perfectly. Some life event will mess with your plan and you’ll have to take a little break before you can get back to your food and exercise routine.

    If you are a little fitter and can work out for an hour at moderate or high intensity, you could burn closer to 300 or 400 or maybe even 500 calories a workout. Here are the numbers rundowns for those possibilities:

    300 calories a workout: Net calorie burn is about 240/workout, total calorie deficit is about 540 cal/day. That brings you in at about 4.2 lbs lost a month, and it would take you roughly ten months to lose the weight at that rate.

    400 calories a workout: Net calorie burn is about 340 calories/workout, total calorie deficit is about 640 calories/day. That brings you in at about 5 lbs lost a month, and it would take you about eight months to lose the weight at that rate.

    500 calories a workout: Net calorie burn is about 440 calories/workout, total calorie deficit is about 740 calories/day. That brings you in at about 5.8 lbs lost a month, and it would take you about 7 months to lose the weight.

    Don’t get too attached to the “it will take you x months to lose the weight” numbers, though – this isn’t an exact science. It just gives you an idea of what you can expect in the best case where everything goes off without a hitch for a given exercise level, so you can adjust your expectations. Nothing ever goes off without a hitch, so cut yourself some slack when something comes up and just keep trucking. You’re looking at closer to a year rather than 6 months in any case – so settle in for the long haul.

    I hope this was helpful – if you still have questions, let me know!


  3. Mi says:

    Teresa! Awesome page! and very detailed.
    I am 25 5’2 approx 167 and bodyfat is around 36%
    My goal is to be between 120-135lbs (more lean bodymass, I’m scared of the skinny-fat syndrome)
    I am in pretty good cardio shape and I REALLY enjoy jogging and HIIT. I have spent between 30mins-2hours in the gym.
    My job is mostly sitting.

    Can you help me establish a ballpark time-line based on:
    how many Calories to eat
    how many Calories to burn
    how many times I should exercise/week (I don’t mind burning more calories and going to the gym less if possible)
    How long roughly it would take to lose
    How many lbs to shoot for each month

    I’m not afraid of A LOT of hard work.
    I want to lose as fast as possible and safely.

    BTW: My current nutrition is: Polo-Pescatarian only.900MG Omega3, Brown-Rice-Protein Powder, Veggies,almondberverage, 1-2 fruit servings and Bread/rice and Enusre. (Which I eat because I have a medical reason “IBS” since I tend not to hold my vitamins and minerals well with that disease and can’t stomach vitamins)…Basically I eat a relatively simple and cleanish diet.

    Thanks for your advice.

  4. Mi says:

    p.s. I also lift weights and do circuits in the gym

    • FitYoginiRunner says:

      Hi, Mi!

      Glad you found this useful. Sorry it took me two weeks to get back to you – the last two weeks have been pretty crazy at work for me!

      Anyway, taking the information you gave me, it looks like you could reach your goal weight safely in six months to a year if you work out an hour a day six days a week (I used three cardio days and three weightlifting or circuit days, all ended up around 500 calories a workout) and eating three meals of 400 calories a day, two snacks of 200 calories, and a recovery drink for your workout (another 200 calories). That rate would put you at about a pound a week and a little under 4 pounds a month.

      If you build muscle three days a week for an hour, you’re definitely going to avoid being skinny fat.

      You definitely shouldn’t drop below 1560 calories a day, that’s your starvation limit. In theory, you might be able to cut back on food even more to lose weight faster, but I think you’re better off starting here and seeing how you feel for a while. You shouldn’t be hungry. And working out a hour a day is quite a bit already. If you wanted to add more exercise, you could add a jog on at least some days. (Easy! And short, 20-30 minutes!) But it’s hard to get a bigger deficit than this without doing some things you might not be willing to keep up long-term food-wise.

      Have you considered Shakeology instead of the Ensure for the supplementation?

  5. k.s. says:

    Hello! This is a great breakdown, and I’ve been trying to crunch the numbers myself using it — so if you don’t mind, I’d love it if you’d calculate them too so I can ensure I’m on the right track!

    I currently weigh 135 lbs, at a height of 5’5. I’m 27, and based on my measurements my bodyfat is about 35%. It’s pretty clear that my metabolism is slowing as I near thirty, so I’m trying to re-learn what to eat and how much to exercise accordingly.

    I’ve been carefully tracking my caloric intake, and am coming out at an average of 1824 calories per day. I’m hesitant to drop below this, as I’m a graduate student with hypoglycemic tendencies, so I don’t want to starve my brain! I’m trying to lower the percentage of fats in my diet, though most of my current fat intake is good stuff (olive oil, avocados, nuts). But any thoughts you have on diet would be very welcome!

    I’ve got the P90X Cardio & Plyometrics, and am embarking on a plan where I alternate between them 5 days/week. I can get through both of them well if I put in a good effort. I’m a beginning runner, can’t go more than two miles at this point but would like to scale that up, slowly.

    I’m the maid of honor in a June wedding, and in my dreams I’d be ten pounds lighter by that time. However, judging by the numbers I’ve crunched, this would require something like 575 calories to be burned every day in exercise between now and then, and that just does not sound wise.

    Thank you so much in advance!

    • FitYoginiRunner says:

      Hi K. S.!

      Assuming you burn about 320 calories per workout (if you have a heart rate monitor that will measure calories, you’d know better if that’s about right), and assuming you drop your food down to about 1600 calories (three 400-calories meals, two 100-calorie snacks, one 200-calorie recovery drink), you’d be down about 5 lbs of fat in three months. When you’re normal weight like you are, 10 lbs is a lot.

      Now, you said you were reluctant to drop below your current food intake, which 1600 would be. Your personal starvation limit is at 1370 calories, so that’s definitely too little. You burn around 1600 calories a day just going about your life without any exercise – that’s why I picked that target. To see a bigger fat loss, working the problem from both ends is always faster. If you cover your pre-exercise calories needs with food, and let the exercise create the deficit, you’ve got some sort of balance between making sure you eat enough and creating a deficit. But – some trial and error is in order here. If you are consistently hungry when you eat 1600 calories, then you should accept slower weight loss and eat more.

      When it comes to the hypoglycemia, you are better off worrying about blood sugar levels being steady rather than the total amount of calories. Since only the carbohydrate calories that you eat do anything for your blood sugar directly, I think you can probably eat fewer calories if you make sure to eat regularly, eat slow (complex) carbohydrates, and avoid short carbohydrates other than as an emergency measure for when your blood sugar slips too low if you miss a snack or a meal. Also, have that recovery drink after the workouts. The sugar in it is for your muscles to make new glycogen out of, but it coming in fast reassures your brain everything’s fine, no need to panic. I bounce back mentally much better with it than without.

      I live off my brain too, and my experience is that you need to feed both your brain and your stomach regularly and with a “slow-burning” energy supply above all. Short carbs get your blood sugar going on a counterproductive and unpleasant rollercoaster. If you’re going to eat them, make sure something else will slow down the release of glucose into the blood stream – fiber, protein, fat, preferably fiber and protein. Provided that you eat complex carbohydrates throughout the day – and make sure you eat those snacks on time – your brain should have a nice, steady supply of glucose coming in.

      My advice on the fats is less is better. The calorie counts run away from you so fast on fat you maybe don’t even notice eating. Save the fats for utterly unavoidable things like salmon and avocados and that one dish that just won’t work right without it. Do you know what the percentage of fats in your diet is now?

      For long-term weight loss, I’d suggest you get into weights and resistance training as well. How did you end up with just the Cardio and Plyometrics DVDs?

      • k.s. says:

        Thanks for this advice. Do you have a good online reference for which foods constitute “short” vs “slow” carbs?

        Your advice that 10lbs might be overshooting it is well-taken. I think I’m picturing myself as I was five years ago, when I wasn’t fit at all but just by virtue of being 22 was skinny as hell. In reality, I don’t know that I actually care what weight or size I am; the real interest is in feeling & looking fit, and not carrying excess fat around. A loss of five pounds would be just fine; and even if the scale doesn’t register a difference but the fat turns into muscle, that sounds great too.

        I aim to make fats about 30% of my diet, but I too often exceed that goal. I’ll take your advice about cutting them out in more places.

        And you’re right about P90X — I got the DVDs from a friend, but I’ve been researching the complete system and it looks like a good one. I think I’ll start out on the full course!

        • FitYoginiRunner says:

          Hello again!

          For both more information about the impact of different carbs on blood sugar and classifications of foods based on how quickly they get your blood sugar to rise, check out glycemicindex.com. The “classic” short carbs are anything sweet that isn’t an artificial sweetener other than fruits (table sugar, brown sugar, honey, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup…) and white flour and anything made with it, and especially anything made with both. The “classic” long carbs are the carbs in vegetables, 100% whole-wheat bread and pasta, and beans.

          I’m very glad to hear that you’re not that focused on a weight goal per se and really after a feeling and a look. A lot of people get so focused on a weight that they don’t notice their body is becoming leaner and more muscular (as weird as that sounds!) and really, no one can tell what you weigh anyway. It’s leanness that makes you look good like you already know. Not to mention one can definitely become unhealthily obsessed with the scale!

          You made the right choice to start out on the full P90X – also because that way, you get the nutrition guide. If you follow it – and I’m happy to help you do so – you will hit 20% of your calories from fat! I’ll send you an email about that.

          Good luck!

  6. Mike says:

    Hey great article. I could use your help with calculating some calories!!!

    I am 25, male, 162 lbs, and 6 feet tall.

    I am on an eternal quest to find out how many calories that I am burning daily. I am a pretty intense runner, but that’s really the only physical activity that I do. Anyways, here are the details.

    I run 12.3 miles per day at a 6.2 mph pace. I do this 6 times a week. I figured that since I do this 6 days a week than my activity level is either very or extremely active.

    What I can;t figure out has to do with the activity level, when I multiply that into my bmr, does that take into account the calories that I have burned on my run? I am just trying to figure out how many calories that I burn total throughout the day, I’d really appreciate your help. Thanks

    • FitYoginiRunner says:

      Hey Mike!

      So I did this in two parts: First, I just used your height and weight to calculate roughly how many calories you burn before you consider the exercise, assuming your job isn’t a big calorie burner. Second, I estimated how many calories your run burns net.

      For the first part, if you don’t know your body fat percentage, I just took your weight and multiplied by 10 to get 1620 for your resting metabolic rate (RMR). To add a sedentary job, I used the activity factor of 1.2 to get 1944 calories/day before considering the run. (So that would also be your caloric burn on your rest day.) I also went ahead and divided 1944 by the number of minutes in a day so I know how many calories you’d have burned anyway when I factor in the run. (You run for approximately 119 minutes a day, which at a rate of 1.4 calories/minute makes 167 of the exercise calories “burned” moot because you’d have burned them sitting on the couch too.)

      For the second part, I used the best formula for calorie burn when running I’ve found (you can find it at http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-304-311-8402-0,00.html) to again using your weight calculate your gross calorie burn per mile. The formula for gross calorie burn is just 0.75*your weight per mile, so for you that’s 1494 calories gross. Subtracting the 167 calories you would have burned anyway leaves you with 1334 calories from the run.

      So, on your running days, you burn 1944+1334 = 3278 calories a day.

      Hope that helps!


      • Mike says:

        Thanks for getting back to me Teresa! I appreciate it. I am, however, still wondering about my activity level. Outside of my running I do light weight training (3 sets of 7 rep bench press and 3 sets of 20 rep bar curls) 3 times per week as well as 40 push ups and 40 sit ups each night. Would that still be considered sedentary? If so than what more specifically would I need to do to be considered “lightly active”?

        • FitYoginiRunner says:

          Hey Mike!

          The really direct answer to your question is that I don’t know, because the guidelines for the activity levels are so vague and are based on frequency and time of activity but not independently. The best information I have found is what’s above in the table, as unspecific is that unfortunately is.

          The other part of the answer is that I don’t think it’s a question worth really dwelling on. It is more accurate to measure or estimate how much eat workout burns for you personally right now than to deal with the activity factors. As I go through above, I don’t buy the results I get using just the activity factors. I think you’re trying to get too specific with an approach that just isn’t that precise, and that’s just going to make you very frustrated. If you are willing to get very specific and precise with numbers, do it with your personal calorie burns. That’s why I only use the 1.2 for sedentary to account for errands and such. Living, really, without any exercise. It introduces uncertainty but frankly, unless you wear a FitBit or a BodyBugg, you have to do something there and that’s the only way I’ve seen it done. Do you have a Garmin that measures calories? Since writing this post, I got one, and that’s HUGELY helpful for the calorie counts. Estimates are after all just estimates. It may not be true for you. It may, it may not, you don’t know, that’s what makes it an estimate. The nice part about estimates is the price – free. Especially if you’re just beginning a fitness journey, you may not really want to spend the money on a calorie burn measuring device when you might have just dropped a bunch of money on exercise-related things already.

          Perhaps a FitBit or a BodyBugg is something for you to consider. If you really truly want to know everything about your calorie burn…. measure it. Can’t beat measurement!

          • Mike says:

            I appreciate all of your knowledge!! It really is helping me a lot. Sorry but I have one one last question for you. My Garmin watch is telling me that I am burning more calories that when I do the calculations on the link that you showed me. It wouldn’t really bother me if the difference wasn’t so big (my watch says I’m burning about 250 more calories that the formula that you said). Which is the best one to trust? Thanks again!!!

          • FitYoginiRunner says:

            Trust the Garmin. You’re measuring because it’s better than an estimate. (The estimates are for population averages, after all – lots of people had to be both over and under the average!) Now, does that mean your Garmin is 100% right? Probably not, but nothing is. Work with the Garmin numbers and see how things go. A little trial and error is part of the process of nailing down your personal numbers too, but 250 Calories higher than the number estimate is definitely worth paying attention to!

  7. Maria says:

    Hiya. Thanks for all the useful info. I got a little bit lost somewhere in the middle, but I shall read it again and concentrate a little harder, but bearing in mind that it stillmay not stick, I wonder if you would be good enough to help (grovel). :)
    I am 5’6″, 138lbs and I eat approx (-)1500 cals per day. I am trying to lose a final 4lbs and it’s not shifting even though I’ve dropped my starchy carb intake down to almost nothing. I’ve been experimenting with length vs intensity of workouts and it would be nice to have a rough calorie guideline to work around.
    Thank you very much in advance. Best wishes. M

    • FitYoginiRunner says:

      Maria – feel free to ask for help with the numbers! I’ve got a spreadsheet and everything, it’s really easy for me to help.

      We’re about the same height and weight, so that makes it additionally easy.

      Just eating low-starchy-carb isn’t going to make you lose weight, by the way. Low-carb diets can be beneficial for people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, but the most comprehensive metastudies of types of diets show that all diets are equally “good”. Also, studies of diets are usually done on obese people, and you are pretty far from obese. What gets obese patients to lose weight in the short term is not at all the behaviors that get normal weight people ripped or otherwise really low body fat.

      My opinion is that when you’re looking at a final four pounds, you’re better off focusing on long-term health than weight. One, the uncertainty in common household scales is about a pound, a quarter of the change you’re trying to measure. Two, I’ve seen literal overnight changes in weight of three pounds. Three, you are not overweight, and so have no pressing reason to lose these four pounds fast. You can easily take it slow and focus on being healthier not to lose four pounds, but to enjoy the rest of your life in good health! Be the kind of senior that climbs sand dunes and goes hiking if they want. Focus more on nutrition content of your diet than the calories – 1500 is about as low as you should go anyway.

      What experimentation with the workouts have you done?

  8. Nettie says:

    Hi, I hope you can help me calculate what amount of calories I should be eating on a daily basis to maintain my weight and perhaps even lose a few more lbs.

    I am a 48 year old 5’4 female and weigh 133lbs. I have always tried to stay within 1200-1300 daily calorie intake. Not sure this is enough. I have a desk job so I sit most of the day. I work out 4 – 5 times a week. My cardio days I burn 250 – 300 calories, my weight lifting days I burn 400 – 500. My goal is to develop more lean muscle and get my body fat to a lean level. How many calories based on my exercise program should I be eating every day? Any help is appreciated. Thank you.

    • FitYoginiRunner says:

      Nettie, you are right, 1200-1300 is too low. That’s about at or a little below your caloric needs before any exercise, so you’re not fueling your workouts properly!

      1600 is a good number to shoot for. I’ll send you a PDF of the spreadsheet so you can look over the menu structure suggestion as well as how much weight you could expect to loose over time at 1600 calories.

  9. Kim says:

    Hi! I need some help/advice. I am 39 (almost 40) 5’6″ 146 lbs. I started watching my foods and exercising (kayaking, hiking swimming, walking/jog and horse back riding) 6 days a week for at lead 30 mins to 2 hours a day. I have gone from 200 lbs last Dec to the 146 now in Oct. but I am standing still now on weight lost. Would like to lose 10 more at most. I have been keeping track of calorie intake and I average about 1200-1400 a day. What do I need to change to finish these last 10 pounds? Thanks for your help.

  10. Megan says:

    This website is so useful!! I have been trying to lose 15 poundsin the last year! I haven’t had much luck. I was vegetarian and got down to 113 lbs. I’m not 145 and 5 foot 4. Depressing huh? My bmi is 26%. Once I started eating meat again I was gaining 5 pounds at a time. I would LOVE to reach 125-130. I was wondering what my deficit would be to lose 10 lbs a month? I’ve been working out twice a day. Each time burning 400. I’m eating around 1200 calories a day.

    What do you think?

  11. sarah says:

    hello! im 5’2 18 years old and weigh about 129.im trying to get to 110. i do intervals 4 times a week for about 30mins.i eat around 900 calories a day.is burning around 250 calories during a workout enough to burn a pound a week?

  12. VK says:


    Fantastic article. Thanks for posting this detailed explanation. I was hoping you would help me with my numbers. I was borderline obese according to my BMI and that was the wake up call for me to be more healthier. It has only been 2 months since I started watching what I eat and exercising.

    I am 5ft 6″. currently 149 pounds. I have been exercising 7 days a week. 1 hour and 40 minutes on alternate days. Currently I am eating about 1350 calories but some of my calorie intake could be wrong as it is home made food and I use cup measure not weight. In this two months I have lost 6 pounds and am happy with the way things are going. I have also started 15 mins of strength training on alternate days and will increase it slowly.

    Thanks for your help in giving me my numbers.


  13. hilton says:

    hi there
    I workout 5 days a week , im 168m tall and 63kg . I burn about 300 calories per workout . I do an hour of weights training and 30mins on the exicisebike .how many kg’s can i loss in 2 months ?
    Thank you