I'm often asked by readers and my clients about how many calories they should eat in a day and how many calories they should burn. I often recommend food tracking apps as a way to help my clients hold themselves accountable to what they are putting in their bodies but I stress to them that these tools are just guidelines. This is the same when it comes to calorie counters on fitness tracking apps, smart phones and watches and cardio equipment. Anything that asks you for parameters, such as sex, age, height and weight, will be a better judge of how many calories you just expended, but just like food tracking apps, these numbers are far from accurate.

A perfect example of this comes from my workout today.  I’m a bit injured right now so I am unable to do my usual, high intensity workouts and I’ve been forced to spend my time walking on the treadmill, using the elliptical and the stair master. This morning I was on the stair master and I was working pretty hard.  I know all the things to do on a stair master to help make it as tough of a workout as possible. I don’t hold onto the handles, I keep the resistance high and I take big, strong steps. At the end of my 20 minutes I was curious to see how many calories the machine told me I burned and it said 325 calories. In 20 minutes!!! As if!!!! I am no exercise physiologist but I know enough to know that there is NO WAY 20 minutes on a stair master can burn over 300 calories.

So what is the best way for us to make sure we are eating just enough and burning just enough? Forget the numbers and use a little bit of common sense. When it comes to food, be realistic with yourself about what you are putting into your body as even things that may seem healthy can be riddled with hidden calories. A client of mine likes to tell me about her healthy choices she makes when she goes to the food court at lunch.  However, once I tell her why even the “steamed vegetables” there taste so good (oil, oil and more oil) she is a bit keener to pack her own lunch or make a healthier, on the go, food choice. Just eat less bad food. Eat it less often and when you do eat it, eat less of it.

As for calorie burning I have a pretty simple rule for it. This rule stems from the fact that, on average, to briskly walk or jog 1 mile it takes roughly 100 calories, which if you are someone who jogs 1 or 2 times a week will equate to about 10 minutes of work. 10 minutes of hard, heavy breathing work where you are counting down the seconds until it is over. Not 3 minutes on a stair master. Make sense?

In your next workout, if you are breathing heavy, sweating and hating every second of it (like a deadly spin class) you are burning some serious calories. How many? I couldn’t tell you. But enough that if you are trying to lose weight you will lose it. And remember this is all relative. If you are new to working out and you are on the treadmill walking at a pace that makes you sweat, breath heavy and count down the seconds until it is over, you are working just as hard as me, who is running so fast I look like I might fall off the treadmill.

All exercise is good exercise, even low intensity exercise, but just be real about the results you are trying to achieve. If you want real results you have to do real work. Stop focusing on how many calories you burn in a class or a workout and start focusing on how hard you are pushing yourself. 

If you are having any struggles seeing results in your own workouts, or you need help with anything smuttyfitness, email me at [email protected]

Attached: Matthew McConaughey goes for a run in Malibu on June 13, 2018.