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Counting Calories Vs. Counting Results

  Feb 5th, 2012


Hi Craig!


I wanted to get your input on something…


I’ve been doing a Zumba class a couple of times a week and someone in the class is using an armband type calorie counter to keep track of the number of calories burned during each workout. Is it reasonable to think that we could be burning as much as 1380 calories in a one hour high impact class?


I know my heart rate is up and it stays up the entire time – it is a FAST moving class – but I think it’s unreasonable to think I am burning that number of calories.


Also, what do you think about this? I’ve been eating around 1300 calories a day (during the week – not so disciplined on the weekends yet). If I consume 1300 calories a day, then go to Zumba that night and burn 1300, is it like I didn’t eat anything at all? Should I be eating more on the days I do Zumba?


I know this may not be your area of expertise (Zumba, I mean), but I’m curious to get your opinions about it.





My Answer:

Hi Shannon!


That is a great couple of questions and I think I can help…


Your being skeptical that your workouts are burning in excess of 1,300 calories is spot on, as even maintaining a high level of intensity for a full hour will only burn about 850 calories (with high level of intensity being defined by your heart rate being maintained at 75% of your maximum heart rate calculation).


However, if your intensity level is extremely high, it is conceivable that you are burning a greater number of calories than 850 per hour – although, I still think 1,300 is much too high of an estimate for any Zumba class.


bodybugg calorie tracker armbandI have never used a calorie tracking armband and cannot personally vouch for their accuracy. But, I do know that even the most reliable armbands (like the Bodybugg) only have a claimed accuracy of around 90%. If you are using a more generic model, it can be safely assumed that the accuracy is probably worse.


I wouldn’t focus too much on the difference between the number of calories you are eating versus the number of calories you are burning. An hour of any kind of cardiovascular activity is more than enough to promote fat loss as long as you are controlling your calories just as you have been doing.


Instead, you should focus on making sure that you are losing weight (or waist size) every week. If you are doing that, you can rest assured that you are maintaining a caloric deficit and that your workouts and nutrition plan are doing their job in terms of enabling you to shed unwanted body fat.


In terms of your calorie intake, I would ask a few questions:


  • Are you feeling abnormally exhausted while doing Zumba or any other exercise?


  • Do you struggle with extreme feelings of hunger?


  • Are you losing weight every week while eating 1,300 calories per day?


If you answered yes to either of the first two questions, it may be a sign that you should be feeding your body with some additional calories on days that you have Zumba class.


Keep in mind that because you will be burning off hundreds of additional calories on days that you do Zumba – both during and after your class – this definitely presents the opportunity to eat a higher number of calories and still shed unwanted body fat.


Your caloric increase on the days that you have Zumba class shouldn’t be anything too significant, but something like an additional 300 calories or so will be just fine.


If you aren’t struggling with lagging energy levels, or extreme hunger, I would say go ahead and stick with your 1,300 calorie per day diet; even on days that you have your Zumba class. That being said, 1,300 is a relatively low caloric allowance already and I wouldn’t recommend going much lower than that until you stop seeing results on the scale or on your waist size each week.


Less is Not Always Better

Many people eat a ridiculously low number of calories thinking that the less they eat the more fat they will lose. However, this isn’t always the case for a couple of reasons:


  • If you are constantly hungry, it will make adhering to your diet for any length of time all but impossible.


  • When the body is placed under what it considers to be an extreme caloric deprivation it will actually enter what is sometimes called “starvation mode” and will resist shedding fat as a way of hording energy to compensate for the extreme lack of calories, which is usually also accompanied by having very little energy as well.


If you think that your current diet of 1,300 calories per day is doable for the long-term, are not noticing a drop in your energy levels and are losing weight (or waist size) every week, then your current diet plan is working just fine and you don’t need to change anything.


On the other hand, if you think that adding a few hundred calories to your diet will make it a more realistic long-term fat loss solution, I would recommend adding 300 calories to your daily caloric allowance on days that you do Zumba and leaving it at 1,300 for all other days.


It is important to understand that it takes time to achieve any kind of significant bodily transformation. It could be a number of weeks, or even several months, before you are satisfied with the progress you will have made. As such, following a nutrition plan that is unrealistic as a long-term solution will only lead to failure and disappointment!


I am not necessarily saying that what you are doing is unrealistic – only you can decide that – I just want you to keep everything in the proper perspective.


Dialing it In On the Weekends

I certainly understand the temptations that come along on the weekends and how easy it is to “cheat” during that time. That being said, try to do your best to follow your diet on the weekends as well.


Not following your diet on the weekends is cheating you out of some serious results!


Two days of eating a high number of calories can completely negate the progress you will have made during the previous five days and you obviously want to avoid that scenario whenever possible. After all, who wants to hit it hard at the gym 3, 4 or 5 nights a week with little or nothing to show for it? I certainly know I don’t!


If you go out to a restaurant on the weekends, pick a meal that is in line with your caloric allowance. In the event that you aren’t confident in your ability to choose a lower-calorie meal option, the restaurant’s website can be a helpful resource, as most restaurants post their nutritional information online.


If you are going to be somewhere that is serving food portions that will be outside of your caloric allowance (like a wedding reception), eat a meal before you go and choose to abstain from eating a meal at the event. Or, if you are going to eat at the event, make sure to limit your portions accordingly.


How you feed your body is a choice that you have to make for yourself each and every day. It is not always easy to make the healthy decision, but you will never regret it afterwards. Not even on the weekends:)


Anyway, I hope my answers have helped you and I am elated to hear about the steps you are taking to lose weight and get fit. 9 out of 10 people in your position would be sitting around complaining about how unhappy they are with their health/appearance, but you are taking the steps to actually do something about it.


If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask as I am here to help.


To Your Muscle Building and Fat Loss Success,

Craig –


A Few Final Thoughts…

It can be really tempting to focus on limiting calories as much as possible in an attempt to rid your body of unwanted fat as quickly as possible – everyone who has been overweight has thought this way at some point or another – myself included. Unfortunately, this is not an effective, viable long-term solution for shedding fat and getting fit.


Stick to a level of calories that you can commit to for your long-term success, get in at least 30 minutes of physical activity (or more) each and every day and monitor your results accordingly.


As long as you are continuing to see results, there is no need to change anything.


Once you stop seeing results, then you will know that it is time to decrease your caloric intake and/or change up your training plan in order to continue progressing toward reaching your goals.



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