If you’ve been around the health and fitness realm for any length of time, you’re familiar with calories. You’re probably also (all too familiar) with the idea that created a caloric deficit is key to weight lose. While controlling your caloric intake is the first line of defense here, exercise is also key. Not only do you immediately burn calories while you’re in the gym, but that awesome muscle you’ve built amps up your metabolism in the long-term – helping keep weight off.
Here’s the problem, people tend to give themselves way too much create when it comes to figuring your caloric expenditure. One study found that, when asked to guess how many calories they burned during a workout, participants greatly overshot – by about 3 or 4 times. In turn, the subjects ate back many more calories than they actually lost.
This is a pretty major issue. Fortunately, there are tons of gadgets and gizmos out that that are built specifically to save you the guesswork. Or, at least, that’ what they claim. In reality, these methods are seldom as accurate as they would like you to believe. So, to give you a better idea of what’s really going in when it comes to your caloric balance, here is an overview of the four most common ways to measure calories burned and a discussion of their accuracy (or lack thereof).
- Lab Equipment – The most accurate why to measure your caloric expenditure also happens to be the most inaccessible – big, expensive, complicated lab gear. Professional athletes (or test subjects) will be familiar with this method that involves an electrocardiogram to measure heart rate and a metabolic cart to figure calories burned based on the rate of gas exchange. As you might have guessed, it’s not exactly a sleek solution. For accuracy, though, it can’t be beat.
- Wearable Monitors – Aided by the rise of the smartwatch, these little devices are becoming more and more common. And, for the most part, research indicates that they are fairly accurate. As a basic rule, the most sensors the device features and the more personal information they ask for, the more accurate they will be. For instance, a device that measures your heart rate will be far more accurate than a simple pedometer. It should also be noted that bands that fit on your upper arm test slightly better than those designed for the wrist – they just don’t look as cool.
- Gym Equipment – Granted, it’s pretty satisfying to actually be able to watch those “calories burned” dial up on your treadmill while you drag yourself through your run. But you shouldn’t trust it. For one thing, these machines generally have very little information about you and so cannot really make any accurate predictions. Instead, they assume certain facts about your biological functions – leaving plenty of room for error. Even those that have heart rate monitors – which is pretty common – don’t always use that information in their formula. Instead, most machines tend to rely on pace. For more fit, experienced exercisers this approach generally overestimates the amount of calories burned.
- Websites – There are tons of websites out there that list how many calories you’ve burned based on the amount of time you’ve spent at any given exercise. Do not trust these. That is all.