Q:I have been tracking my food and exercise and am not sure if I should eat the extra calories it says I burned during exercise. Thoughts?
Whether or not to eat your exercise calories is a tricky equation, and the answer is based on your individual situation. In general, the answer is usually NO. If you are a casual exerciser, going to the gym 4-5 days per week for 45 minutes or less, let exercise be the “icing on the cake” for your weight loss. One of the main goals of exercise is to burn calories. If you are just eating those calories right back, you have not had as much impact.
Now, if you struggle with extreme hunger after your exercise, it is important to have a snack ready for on the way home so you do not end up thwarting your exercise/weight loss efforts by overeating. After workout snacks should include a low glycemic carbohydrate like an apple (not a processed carb like a granola bar) and a small amount of protein like a teaspoon of almond butter or a cheese stick. This should be enough to tide you over until the next meal but should not negate all of the calories that you burned during your workout.
If you are an athlete who is training for a race or other sporting event while trying to lose weight, the rules are a little different. If you are training to run a marathon while trying to lose weight, you should SPLIT your exercise calories. That means that you should eat 1/3 to 1/2 of the calories burned during your workout but not all of them. That keeps your body at a deficit but does not take it into “starvation mode” with too much exercise and too few calories.
Also remember that calorie burn is an ESTIMATE. It is just a mathematical formula and can be off by hundreds of calories. The fitter you become, the less calories you burn during exercise as your body becomes more efficient. These formulas do not account for how fit your heart is or your personal fat/muscle ratio. Just another reason not to rely on them to calculate how many calories you should eat after exercising.
So remember, if you are a moderate exerciser, do not eat your exercise calories when trying to lose weight. If you are training for a major event, eat only 1/3 to 1/2 of the calories burned to keep your weight going in the right direction.