How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight With Exercise?

You probably already know that to lose weight, you have to eat less. But working out is an equally important part of healthy living, whether you do it to lose weight or not.

This brings up a potential roadblock when planning out your meals and when you’re going to head to the gym: If you burn calories while exercising, does that mean you should eat those calories back — as long as you’re still allowing yourself a sufficient deficit?

Here’s how many calories experts say you should aim for with exercise, and a few recommended exercises to help you reach your weight loss goals.

How many calories does exercise burn?

Exercise

Exercise | Source: iStock

How many calories exercise burns depends on the exercise in question. It also depends on your weight.

According to Mayo Clinic, in one hour per exercise, a 160-pound individual can burn:

  • 438 calories hiking
  • 606 calories running
  • 314 calories walking
  • 292 calories cycling

Exercise isn’t just important for weight loss — it’s also essential for long-term overall health. Physical inactivity is often listed as a risk factor for diseases such as obesity and heart disease. But if you want some of your pounds gone, you have to get moving.

How many calories should you eat to lose weight?

There are a lot of reasons “calories in, calories out” doesn’t work for everyone. One possible reason is that people think they can eat more when they work out more — or do so without even realizing it.

In general, experts recommend reducing your average recommended calorie intake by 500 — as long as you don’t eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day. So if you take in about 2,000 calories daily, you should try taking that number down to 1,500.

But how does this work with exercise? Basically, you don’t want to eat fewer calories on days you’re working out or more calories on days you don’t. You want to eat the same number of calories (e.g., 1,500 per day) whether you exercise or not.

It’s not about working out to “earn back” what you burned. To lose weight, you have to eat quality food and burn the calories you’re given.

If you work out for 30 minutes and burn 400 calories, that doesn’t mean you now have 400 “free” calories to spend on whatever food you want. That’s not how calories or weight loss work.

To increase your chances of losing weight, you need to eat fewer high-calorie foods, eat more lower-calorie foods, and burn more calories. You have to feed your body food it can more readily use as fuel — and then use that fuel.

Best exercises for weight loss

Weight lifting

Weight lifting | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

To lose weight with exercise, you want to focus on full-body, higher-intensity workouts to elevate your heart rate and activate as many muscle groups as possible. It’s also important to vary your workouts — not just to avoid boredom, but also to avoid overuse injuries and possibly break through a weight loss plateau.

The best workouts to promote weight loss include:

  • Strength training and circuit training
  • Interval training (interval running, cycling, swimming)
  • Bodyweight exercises to maintain muscle mass and strength

Some popular workouts like yoga and CrossFit don’t force you to exert the energy necessary to burn more calories; they won’t help you lose weight. But they can improve your flexibility and physical performance. And in terms of your long-term health, some movement is absolutely better than none!