The average person in America has a 3,600 daily caloric intake. That’s up 24% from 1961. Although high-calorie intake doesn’t necessarily mean an unhealthy diet, it does mean you have to do a lot more to lose weight.
Reducing calorie intake and increasing calories burnt is the only way to lose weight. How many calories should you burn a day to lose weight? That depends on a variety of factors.
In order to understand how calories affect weight loss, we need to dig deeper. This guide will break down the science, the benefits, and the key to losing weight and keeping it off.
Reaching a “Caloric Deficit”
Let’s start with some weight loss science. Don’t worry, you won’t fall into a math-coma, we promise. First off, know that a pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories.
That means the average American is consuming a pound of fat per day. Now, realistically, you’re going to use most of those calories from, well—living. If you’re trying to lose a pound per week, you need to burn roughly 1,000 calories a day or 7,000 a week.
This is under the most optimal conditions. You shouldn’t expect to lose weight faster. This is why most diet supplement claims are not only unrealistic but potentially dangerous. Nobody is losing 10 pounds in two weeks unless they’re starving themselves and shedding water weight.
Losing weight healthily involves creating a caloric deficit without depriving yourself of vital nutrients and exercise. A caloric deficit simply means burning more calories than you’re consuming. Measuring your caloric intake is a lot easier these days, thanks to all the health apps out there.
Using these apps, you can get an accurate look at how many calories you need to burn based on your age, BMI, activity level, and the specific amount of weight you want to lose. The caloric calculator accounts for the default number of calories burned from an idle rate. Then, you can calculate how much exercise is needed to reach a caloric deficit.
How Many Calories Should You Burn a Day to Lose Weight?
If we’re calculating how much exercise is needed to lose weight in a vacuum, the math is simple. Someone who is 160 pounds would need to burn more calories than they consume each day. If they burn 500 calories each day, while maintaining the same caloric intake, they will lose one pound per week.
Determining how much exercise you need to incorporate into your daily life depends on the intensity of the exercise. There’s no one-size-fits-all exercise program. Whatever your favorite celebrity is doing to lose weight may not work for you.
They might have a faster metabolism, a personal chef, or different types of excess body fat. All of these things impact the rate of weight loss on top of the caloric deficit.
Rate of Calories Burned
The American College of Sports Medicine states that burning one pound per week translates to about 350 minutes of moderate cardio. That means you need to do, on average, 70 minutes of cardio per day. While this is not an unrealistic goal to set, meeting your caloric deficit is much easier when you reduce your intake.
For those with less time to exercise, you could try doing HIIT, also known as High-Intensity Interval Training. Increasing the intensity of your workouts increases calories burned by nearly twice as much as moderate-intensity cardio.
Approximately 94% of members of the National Weight Control Registry, a group of more than 10,000 people who have lost significant weight and kept it off, report exercise and diet as their reasons for success.
90% of these individuals exercise 90 minutes every day and burn about 2,000 calories per week to maintain their weight loss.
Which is Better: Cardio or Strength Training?
The short answer to this question is both. The long answer is based on what you want out of your physique. A common misconception for people trying to lose weight is that strength training will bulk you up.
The truth is that strength training will burn fat and replace it with lean muscle. Cardio on its own is not the most efficient way to slim down or burn calories. This is especially true for overweight trainers.
Cardio increases your cardiovascular capacity, providing valuable oxygen to your muscles, building up your endurance.
You need both cardio and strength training to maintain a healthy balance of fitness. Cardio is going to let you exercise longer, while strength training will provide you with the greatest calories burned over time.
You can increase your muscle mass by about three pounds with three months of strength training. This will also result in about four pounds of fat burned and an increase in your metabolic rate by roughly 7%.
How Many Calories Should I Burn to Lose Weight?
Circling back to the question of “how many calories should I burn to lose weight?”, we find that the answer is complex, yet grounded in science. Many diet fads and supplements are clouded in secrecy, compromise, and unfounded claims.
If you ignore the goal of creating a caloric deficit, you won’t see consistent results.
Starving your body to lose weight backfires when your metabolism grinds to a halt. Pushing yourself too hard on the treadmill will also backfire when you plateau or when you cannot put in the hours needed to keep burning those calories. A balanced approach is the only way to lose weight.
Weight Loss is Possible
I was in the same position as you. I was calorie-counting and kept wondering “how many calories should I burn a day to lose weight?”. It felt like an impossible endeavor, but I trusted the science of the calorie deficit and kept my goals in front of me.
If you want to hear from a real person who has lost real weight without needing special equipment, a personal trainer, or strict meal plans, read my story here.