Exercise vs. Nutrition

I played with some numbers to see how many calories I can realistically burn in one hour of exercise versus how much “damage” I can do in one hour of eating. These are real life examples of what I’ve done.

Player 1: Exercise

One of my favorite pieces of equipment for doing “cardio” exercise is the upper-lower body cross trainer.

Realistically, I do a combination of things, but I’ll use this for our example. I go by the “calories per hour” display reading to see what pace I’m going at. I’m sure the amount is grossly overestimated but I use it anyway. The thing people don’t realize is the reason it asks for your weight at the beginning is to estimate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Your BMR is the amount of calories you’d burn at rest anyway if you weren’t exercising. So the reading you get on-screen is not calories on top of your BMR, it’s calories total. Something to keep in mind.

I’m about 6 foot tall (with shoes), 150 pounds, and pretty well-trained. Going at a vigorous pace (enough to make me feel slightly uncomfortable the whole time) I can burn about 900 calories in one hour on this machine. This is also assuming I use the upper body segment the whole time. I usually get bored after 20 minutes; so 1 hour is pushing it for me.

Result: Exercise = 900 calories burned/hour

Player 2: Eating

Hopefully this won't become your new nickname

This was not a whole day of eating; but ON TOP of my daily intake. It was realistically done within one hour (the only things slowing it down were travel time, waiting, and paying). No names are hidden to protect anybody. This was a true life protocol.

1 Len & Larry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie = 280 calories

1 Kookie Karma Holistic Chocolate Chip = 180 calories

1/2 pound Jimbo’s Mac & Cheese = 375 calories

Cold Stone “Love it” Sinless Sans Fat Sweet Cream (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups + M&M’s mix-ins) = 580 calories

Burger King Small Fries = 220 calories

Burker King Jr. Whopper = 370 calories

Fresh & Easy Mac & Cheese (3 servings) = 750 calories

Fresh & Easy Dark Chocolate Pudding = 140 calories

Fresh & Easy Sweet Green Iced Tea = 20 calories

1 cup OJ = 70 calories

Result: Eating = close to 3000 calories consumed/hour

I can eat over 3 times the amount of calories than I can ever expend in one hour. This was not painful to do, either; I enjoy food a lot :). What it shows you is how food is an efficient fuel source, especially the calorie-dense sources available.

You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. And if you’re trying to lose weight solely through exercise without controlling your caloric intake, you will be royally frustrated.

2 responses to “Exercise vs. Nutrition

  1. So, if my recommended caloric intake a day is about 1500, and I did 1 hour of cardio (lets pretend its 900 calories), how much of the leftover calories are “okay” calories? Like, how many calories do I need to keep my body functioning normally and healthy?

    I was always confused by how many calories I need to function (walk, think, talk, do normal daily things) and how many I should be aiming to burn off.

    BTW Not trying to lose weight, just not gain 🙂


  2. Michelle,

    I recommend the Cunningham formula for estimating BMR, which is based on lean body mass:

    BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM), where LBM is the lean body mass in kg.

    For example, my lean body mass (or ideal bodyweight) is about 130 lb.

    1 lb = .454 kg

    130 lb. x .454 = 59.02 kg.

    So, my BMR = 370 + (21.6 x 59.02) = 1645 calories if I don’t do anything.

    If you want to simplify, you can use your bodyweight x 10 to get a rough estimate.

    Here’s the trick:
    BMR / 24 hours a day = Calories burned per hour.

    Using my example:
    1645 calories burned / 24 hours = 69 calories burned per hour.

    So if the machine says I burned 900 calories in one hour, it’s really just a little over 800.

    I don’t mean to make this sound so mathematical; but the bottom line is if you’re accurately tracking calories, you can compare the previous day’s amount to your morning weight to see if you’re maintaining (not gaining).

    Also, for every amount OVER your daily requirement, you need to spend an equal amount UNDER your daily requirement. This is the only way to prevent unwanted weight gain.


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