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TOPIC: Why Eating Exercise Calories is so important.

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March 26, 2012 9:35 AM
I often hear people asking why eating your exercise calories is a good thing?
These people think 'That's extra calories burned, so that will speed up my weight loss.'
Well, yes and no.

The thing is, your body needs fuel.
Your metabolism, typically around between 1200 and 1800 calories, are the calories that your body will burn, during the day, every day. Even if you sat around on the sofa, or slept, or were in a coma. You would need this to allow natural processes like hair/nail growth, skin replenishment, organ function, etc to continue.
That's why it's very dangerous to eat anything under 1200 calories!

So, lets take the average 1500 calorie metabolism.
- If you live a sedentary lifestyle (desk job or no exercise), you would probably only burn 300 - 500 calories in a day by moving around. So you need 1800 - 2000 calories to maintain.
A significant amount of the population leads a sedentary lifestyle, so most doctors recommend 2000 calories a day is good.
- If you live a lightly active lifestyle (job involving some walking or some exercise (1/2 days) then you'd burn around 500 - 700 by moving around. So you need 2000 - 2200 to maintain.
- If you are quite active (some manual labour or exercise 3 - 5 days/week) then that's probably 700 - 900. Thus, you need 2200 - 2400 calories to maintain.
- And if you are very active (manual job or exercise 6 - 7 days/week) then you're burning around 1000. So, you need about 2500 calories to maintain.

This is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (or TDEE)

MFP will set your deficit at what you want 0.5/1/1.5/2 lbs/week or -250/-500/-750/-1000 calories below your TDEE.

Simples, right?

Well, ish. Let's take an average scenario:


Meet Jane. She weighs 200lbs, and wants to lose 50lbs.
Jane has a metabolism of 1500. She leads a sedentary lifestyle, so she burns about 2000 calories per day.
Jane wants to lose 1lbs/week

MFP calculates Jane's calorie intake and deducts 500 calories. She will require 1500 calories to lose 1lbs/week.

But Jane decides she will start running.
Jane burns 400 calories when she runs for 30 minutes.
She does not eat back those 400 calories.

Jane is now NETTING 1100 calories.

*NET = Calories Consumed - Calories Burned from Exercise
You're NET should equal your CALORIE GOAL to achieve weightloss.

Because of the extra activity, 400/1500 of the calories consumed have been burnt by Jane. That means the body must function on only 1100 calories per day to allow natural processes like hair/nail growth, skin replenishment, organ function to continue.

THUS, Jane's metabolism drops* to meet her NET calories (1100).
NB* This may take several weeks and will not respond to occasionally high deficits.
Over the same period of time, Jane's body will respond to the huge caloric defecit and try to preserve the body, by burning Jane's muscle rather than her fat. The number on the scale drops, but Jane does not seem to get any skinnier.

Now she burns 1600 calories on sedentary days, and 2000 calories on exercise days.

When Jane has lost 50lbs and returns to normal eating, she can only eat 1600 calories on sedentary days or she will gain weight again.

HOWEVER. If Jane decides to eat back the 400 calories:

She continues to lose 1lbs/week
Her metabolism will increase because (a) she is exercising (which increases the metabolism) and (b) because she is eating 1900 calories (the more calories she eats, the more her metabolism is raised.)
However, her NET calories remain at 1500, so she achieves ideal weightloss.
When Jane reaches her goal of 150lbs, her metabolism will be faster so she is able to eat more than 2000 calories to maintain her weight.


Do you see? But eating back her exercise calories, Jane is able to continue her weightloss without damaging her metabolism for the future.

Exercising and then eating back your calories is just about the best thing you could do for your weightloss. It raises your metabolism, allows you to eat more, and helps to tone/build muscle rather than burn it so you don't get that flabby look of loose skin.

I really hope this helps someone.
Edited by azazelrabbit On March 26, 2012 9:43 AM
March 26, 2012 9:35 AM
I call BS! I want my body to burn muscle rather than fat, thank YOU very much!
March 26, 2012 9:38 AM
I think this could help me avoid plateaus. And MFP calculates it for me. Cool.
March 26, 2012 9:39 AM

I call BS! I want my body to burn muscle rather than fat, thank YOU very much!

Oh, shhhh you heart
March 26, 2012 9:40 AM
March 26, 2012 9:47 AM

I think this could help me avoid plateaus. And MFP calculates it for me. Cool.

Exactly! It'll keep your metabolism up so therefore keep you burning calories!
Edited by azazelrabbit On March 26, 2012 9:50 AM
March 26, 2012 11:39 AM
I'm glad you pointed this out. I know, from experience, that not everyone realizes that their goal calories is how much they should be NETTING, rather than eating. I was eating my daily goal almost every day (couple days I just didn't quite get there), but I was exercising a LOT and burning 1000+ calories per workout. Sometimes as high as 1700 calories. So some days I had negative NET calories.

I was stoked at the time, because I thought for sure that would mean losing weight faster. Then after two weeks when it came time to weigh in, I'd only lost about two pounds. I was confused, and disappointed. I should have lost 4 if I hadn't been working out at all, given what MFP is set up for (lose 2 lbs a week). I saw someone casually mention something along the lines of what you just posted, and I figured I'd try it out, and see what happened. So I ate more calories, and shortened my workouts significantly.

And you know what happened?

I lost 4lbs after only a week! I was amazed. Not only did I get to eat more food, and spend less time on the treadmill, but I actually lost MORE than I thought I would. I was definitely impressed.

So I encourage anyone who's hit a plateau, or anyone that just isn't getting the results you're looking for, to try eating back the calories you burn off while exercising. Aim to get your NET calories to equal your goal calories.
March 26, 2012 11:41 AM
OP is my new best friend.
March 26, 2012 12:51 PM
Thanks Op I needed this!!!
March 27, 2012 12:13 PM
Thanks. Going to try this because I rarely eat back my exercise cals and I feel like I'm stuck.
March 27, 2012 12:18 PM
It is important to understand that exercise calorie estimates are often too high and also that the idea that people can easily put themselves in "starvation mode" has been challenged. Food calorie information, even that provided by the companies, is often too low. Companies are permitted to underestimate the amount of calories by as much as 20%.

People should monitor their food consumption and their exercise and see what's working. If you automatically eat the amount of calories a program says you've "earned" you may be undermining your weight loss efforts.
Edited by mfpcopine On March 27, 2012 12:18 PM
March 27, 2012 12:19 PM
I just started eating my exercise calories back last week. We'll see how it goes...
March 27, 2012 12:20 PM
So if I have my fitbit linked to mfp (and fitbit works the way it is supposed to... actually sending my calories burned to mfp) and I enter into mfp my non-fitbit exercise calories (I take my fitbit off when I do cardio), then all I really have to do is consume the calories that mfp tells me to consume (since all my exercise calories are accounted for in mfp), is that correct? Bingo? Yes?
March 27, 2012 12:26 PM
Thank you so much, OP! I completely did not understand this concept, and you explained it perfectly.flowerforyou
March 27, 2012 12:26 PM
thanks, I needed to see this! I've had a hard time eating back my exercise calories, but this makes sense to me.
March 27, 2012 12:29 PM
I wish EVERYONE understood this!!! We'd see a lot of happier and healthier people of MFP!
drinker drinker drinker drinker
March 27, 2012 1:20 PM
Great advice! I'm taking it!!! thanks :)
March 27, 2012 1:35 PM
Thanks! I've read on this in several places, just confusing that you can eat more and lose weight...hahahahaha
March 27, 2012 1:38 PM
So when I eat back my calories, do I worry so much about the carbs, fat and protein? I seem to have lots of calories left over to use, but had already used up the fat and go over on protein. I'm new so still learning how to figure this out. I just can't seem to get my days worked out to where I am close to all my goals.
March 27, 2012 1:41 PM
If the body's default is to burn muscle rather than fat then it wouldn't store fat to start with. It would store muscle.

Nobody is going to burn off their muscle until they are in the advanced stages of starvation.
March 27, 2012 1:58 PM
replying to subscribe, so that I can read this in my spare time. Thanks for the post :-)
March 27, 2012 2:23 PM
March 27, 2012 2:30 PM
Bump :)
March 27, 2012 4:00 PM
The best explanation I've heard yet...Thanks :)
March 27, 2012 4:13 PM
*Awaits 1200 calories-a-day-brigade rage*

Good explanation :) Perhaps include links to some calculators for people to find their correct BMRs and TDEEs.

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