The Real Story on Burning Calories

Friday, May 2, 2014 by Coach Kevin

So you want to lose some weight?  Or you’re craving that Double-Meat Double-Cheese Burger, with a large helping of fries, and you’re planning on “working it off” on your next training session.  Well maybe you can, but before you dig in maybe you should read on!

Research has shown that each pound of body fat contains 3,500 calories of stored fuel.  Or another way you can look at this is that you have to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of body fat.  But wait, that’s not really the whole story: Our muscles have stored fuel reserves (glycogen) that the body uses for fuel before going to its stored fat reserves.

What does all this mean for someone wanting to lose those extra pounds by exercising?    Well first, on average one would have to bike for about 2 hours at moderate effort just to use up the stored glycogen muscle fuel reserves before their body would start to convert stored fat reserves for fuel.  Yes, that’s right, you have to cycle for 2 hours before you even start converting fat for fuel.   

Then what?   Let’s say you worked out for two hours on your bike and now you are ready to burn some fat!  So you jump off your bike and start running.  Everything is working in your favor now!  Except that you’re probably pretty tired after that two-hour bike; but none-the-less you push on with your fat burning crusade.  How many calories does a person burn from running? I decided to find out for myself. I wore a calorie counter last night for my run to get an idea of how many calories I burn while running.  I ran 2 hours at a moderate pace (13 miles), and I burned 1,200 calories. 1,200 calories definitely doesn’t match the 3,500 calories I need to burn to get rid of a pound of fat. To review, after riding a bike for 2 hours and then running for 2 hours, a person could burn 1/3 of a pound of fat. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that if during that 4 hours of exercising I was also drinking a sugary sports drink or eating sports bars/GU, then I’d have to go even longer, as my body would prefer to convert the sugar in my gut from these supplements before burning the fat stores in my body.

What does this tell you?  First, you don’t need any sugary drinks or sports bars or GU unless you are going to work out for 2 hours or more.  Yes, despite what the label on these products say, you don’t need them unless you are planning a 2+ hour workout!  Second, losing weight is a long-term pursuit.  You need to stay focused, be diligent with your training, and be consistent.  Don’t expect after a couple weeks to see huge losses. Our bodies are very efficient at conserving and selectively utilizing calories, which is a good thing when you’re on that long bike ride, but not so good when you gain weight by taking in more calories than you burn.

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