Should I Eat Back The Calories I Burn?



As a health coach, this question always gets raised by my clients.

They wonder if it’s appropriate to “eat back” the calories they supposedly burned during the time they spent exercising.

There is a lot of conflicting advice about this if you search the internet. Experts and professionals seem to have different opinions on this.

I ALWAYS tell my clients to not “eat back” their exercise calories.


Here’s why:

  1. Whether you are using a piece of cardio equipment or food/exercise tracking software/app as your guidance for your calorie burn—IT’S COMPLETELY WRONG! From my own personal experience, both ways of tracking my exercise calorie burn always give me a number that is incredibly HIGHER than what I actually burned. If you want a far more accurate calorie burn number, use a heart rate monitor while you work out. A heart rate monitor tracks your calorie burned based on your heart rate, age, weight, height, and gender. A piece of cardio equipment or food/exercise log comes up with a number that is nowhere near personalized to your body. Got it?
  2. Unless you plan on just maintaining your weight, you shouldn’t consume your exercise calories. My clients are coaching with me because they have weight they want to lose. They aren’t training for marathons because they want to push their physical fitness to that next level. If you’re training for a marathon and don’t have weight you want to lose, eat those calories back for sure.
  3. Along the same lines of marathon training, unless you are working out for longer than 2 hours a day, you do not need to replace any of those calories burned. Allow your body to release that stored fat, not continue to store it.
  4. This is probably the number 1 reason it’s not good to eat back your calories: You are essentially REWARDING yourself with food because you worked out today. What’s wrong with that? EVERYTHING. This contributes to an absolutely unhealthy mindset when it comes to your eating behaviors. It can actually lead to eating disorders, truthfully. Workout because it makes you stronger, more flexible, leaner…. Not so that you can “reward” yourself with ice cream at the end of the night!


This is why it is often better to keep your food and exercise separate. Track them in 2 separate ways. It’s fine to continue to use a food journal online or on your smart phone. But maybe track your workouts in a handwritten journal or on a calendar instead!


Really think about it… the reason you are working out is to get stronger, faster, leaner, healthier…. Not so that you can exercise off the donut you ate in the break room at work this morning. Stop the bad eating psychology in its tracks!


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4 thoughts on “Should I Eat Back The Calories I Burn?

    • Amelia,
      That was you and a couple of others. So, obviously this is a big enough misconception worth writing about. I’m glad to hear that you aren’t eating back your burned calories anymore. 🙂

  1. I just saw your story and it was inspiring feel great for your change,. i read this post and i have a question.

    I ran for 6 hours in a ecoadventure tour, when i get home i was very very hungry and ate like a maniac, carbs everything i found in the kitchen… what should i have to do in this cases, of course not to eat, but what should i have to eat instead all those things…

    • Ricardo,
      This post is mostly directed out normal workouts… not 6 hour events. I’m not certain what an ecoadventure tour is. Is it anything like a marathon? If so, you have to eat back your calorie burn to a certain degree or your body will shut down and cramp up. You should probably be consuming complex carbs in the form of sweet potatoes, rice, gluten-free foods, healthy fats like avocado and salmon, and organic meats. If you’re eating healthfully to begin with, your body will naturally be okay with eating those foods. If I knew what an ecoadventure tour was, I feel like I could help you better.

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