Should You Eat Back Your Exercise Calories?


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When you exercise, you burn calories. That’s a pretty well known fact. If you’re trying to lose weight, then you’ll be familiar with this simple exchange: if you use more calories than you eat, then weight loss will swiftly follow. By increasing your exercise, you’re using even more calories, increasing your chances of successful weight loss. It’s fairly basic biological fact.

However, there is one question that anyone who is exercising and trying to lose weight needs to ponder: should you “eat back” your exercise calories?

“What does that mean?” you may be wondering. Well, it’s pretty simple.

If you’ve exercised, then you can input the exercise you have done into a calorie burn calculator. This will show you just how many calories your exercise has burned. Let’s say you’ve done a half hour of situps and toning work, burning around 150 calories (though the amount does vary depending on your weight).

Now, if you follow the weight loss exchange, that means you could technically eat 150 calories and still lose weight. You’re eating back the calories that you’ve burned off through the exercise. A lot of people treat exercise calories as earned calories; i.e. “I’ve jogged for an hour so now I can afford to have a creamy milkshake!”

What’s so wrong with that?

Nothing, in principle. Provided you’re still eating at a calorie deficit for the day — anything beneath 2,000 calories if a deficit for most people — then you can eat back your calories and still lose weight.

However… if you don’t eat back those calories, then you potentially stand to lose even more weight. Your exercise will be even more beneficial.

So it’s bad to eat back your calories?

It’s not as clear cut as that.

The simple fact is that if you have been exercising hard, you’re going to need to eat after exercising. You will have used energy and electrolytes to exercise; if you’ve exercised hard, then it’s important to consult a what to eat after a workout guide to find the right foods to eat to help rebalance your system. Do this in addition to your regular planned meals, using some of the “earned” calories to help replenish what has been lost by exercising. In fact, if you exercise and then don’t eat, you might find yourself feeling unwell.

However, it’s worth questioning whether or not you should eat back all of the calories that you expended. If your focus is on losing weight, then the bigger your calorie deficit, the better.

So… eat back a percentage of the earned calories?

This might be the best choice. It ensures you’re going to get enough nutrients to stave off hunger, while still allowing you to reap a weight loss benefit from the exercise that you’ve done. Allow yourself to eat back 50 percent of the calories you have used while exercising; this ensures you can have a treat, get your body nourished, but still see the benefit the next time you weigh yourself.

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