Eating Your Workout Calories

eating your workout caloriesWhen starting a new workout program, this question comes up a lot.  “Should I eat my workout calories?”  Or I get questions about pre/post workout drinks and if those have to count.  So I wanted to clear up some confusion here as these are all super common questions.  Your nutrition is critical to your results, so you really don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

Figuring Out Your Caloric Goal

The first thing you should be doing, is figuring out what you want to accomplish with your new fitness program.  Do you want to lose weight?  Gain muscle?  Maintain your weight?  Everyone comes in with different expectations.  Your nutrition needs to reflect what you want to get out of your program.

The tool that I’ve found to give you the most accurate numbers comes from the P90X Nutrition Guide.  I’ve written on this a few times, but if you’ve missed it, check out this post to calculate your calories.  I’ve used this formula for a good chunk of my fitness journey, and it has worked very well for me.

You’ll see in that formula, that you need to figure in the calories you burn during your workout.  So yes, the calories you burn factor into your total caloric need for the day.  Once you figure out your baseline, or how many calories you should eat to maintain your body weight, then you can alter things from there.  If you want to lose weight, eat at a 500-800 calorie deficit.  If you want to gain weight, eat at a 500-800 calorie surplus.  Also, the calories in any pre/post-workout drink do count!  They’re not freebies just because it’s close to your workout 🙂

Why Am I Gaining Weight?

So you can see that you do need to factor in how many calories you burn during a workout to determine what your caloric goal should be.  But when it comes to that, I see people make two big mistakes that can have a big effect on weight loss/gain.

The first is over-estimating how many calories they burned during a workout.  Without a good heart rate monitor, you’re really just going to be guessing at how many calories you burn.  So some people use tools like myfitnesspal to estimate for them.  The problem is, myfitnesspal WAY overshoots the numbers in my opinion.  I’ll see posts saying people burned over 900 calories in 90 minutes of walking.  That’s ridiculous.  So tools like that can make you think you’re actually burning more than you are, which leads you to calculate a higher caloric need than you should.

The second problem people make is that they either eat more because workouts make them hungry, or they eat more to compensate for working out, without actually calculating how many extra calories they need.  What typically happens is that you end up eating more than you burned.  So you’re actually going to GAIN weight!  Obviously that’s not ideal.  If you just decide to eat more because you’re working out now, I can almost guarantee that you’re going to overeat if you don’t actually track it.

The Solution

I know I say it over and over, but the solution is to track your nutrition.  You need an accurate calculation of how many calories you need, including the calories you burn during your workout, and then calculate a deficit/surplus depending on your goals.  There’s really no way around it.  And if you’re not seeing the results you’d like, then this is a must!


  1. […] last week, I posted a couple articles on the blog that I think are helpful.  The first being about eating your exercise calories.  There are a couple big mistakes that people sometimes make when they start off, so make sure you […]

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