A very common question I get asked a lot is whether or not you should add back calories you burn during exercise.
The answer is a BIG – NO!
If you have contacted me for a plan or are following a specific plan with set calories, these numbers are usually based on your activity level in and outside the gym (and whether you exercise or not).
In other words, your activity level is factored in when determining the amount of calories you’re given to eat each day.
For example, you have a set number of calories you are given (say 1500 calories) and you go on a 3 mile run. On this run you burned 300 calories. If you go and eat 300 calories now, you are ADDING these calories to your overall total, (which would now be 1800 for the day instead of the 1500 you are supposed to eat), thus eating OVER your calculated amount. This can add up to as much as 1/2 – 1 pound a week of extra calories.
You are simply no longer in a calorie deficit if you add back in food from exercise. This is why I tell my clients that a rest day (or 2 or 3) isn’t going to make or break your progress. What’s more important is being CONSISTENT with your total food intake day in and day out.
Yes, exercising is vital for your health and does deduce your calorie intake, thus making the process of losing weight a little faster. But the most important factor in losing weight is being in a calorie deficit. (This is not to say less food is always better but more on that on a separate topic).
So, Should I Eat My Exercise Calories Back?
Whether you’ve put in some extra time in at the gym or that afternoon run has you rethinking your next meal, it’s true that you shouldn’t be overhauling your diet just because you’re running a calorie deficit. There’s more to consider than whether you’re hungry — you’ve got your overall fitness and weight goals weighing in on the decision. And without a plan, you may end up eating more and jeopardizing all that hard work.
When engaging in a new workout regimen, most people actually overestimate the calories that they’re burning and underestimating the calories consumed. This can lead to gaining weight instead of losing it, especially if you take your meals after a hard workout — you’ll be so tempted to eat more! Even if you’re not intending to, all that rigorous activity can really work up your appetite, and it’s all too easy to break your dietary and nutritional constraints when you’re hungry.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s even more important to stick with your diet even if you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in — that’s the point, right? If you eat back all those exercise calories, you could inadvertently end up gaining weight and working against the very change that you’re hoping for.
Wrapping Up: Why Eating Back Calories Is the Wrong Approach
When you eat more calories after exercise, you’re actually slowing your weight loss because you’re not giving the body a chance to shed those pounds before topping up the calories.
Odds are that you’ll end up overestimating the calories you’ve burned and underestimating the calories you need to zero out excess calories for the day, which commonly leads to overeating and doing the exact opposite of your overall fitness and diet goals.
In fact, if you’re running a caloric deficit each day and you’re properly planning your workouts and your meals, you shouldn’t have any caloric deficits.