Why Focusing On The ‘Calories Burned’ Number Isn’t The Best Approach

That one number isn't an accurate representative of how many calories you can now take in—and here's what you actually need to consider.

Here’s how paying attention to the “calories burned” on your fitness tracker can actually cause you to overeat…

It’s long-run Saturday and you logged 12 miles in 2 hours. Your fitness tracker says you burned 1,200 calories. However, women typically burn less, closer to 85 calories per mile, says Nashville, Tenn.–based sports dietitian Mari-Etta Parrish. So in reality, you burned about 1,020.

Do the Math

From that number, subtract:

  • Pre-run snack (banana and peanut butter): 200 calories
  • Mid-run fuel: 150 calories per hour (recommended) x 2 hours = 300 calories
  • Calories you would have burned sitting on the couch if you didn’t run: 130
  • Post-run smoothie: 250 calories

Total: 140. That’s the excess you’re working with—about a glass of wine or a couple of squares of dark chocolate to add to your usual daily calorie intake.

When to Weigh

If you are going to weigh yourself, as long as you see the scale for what it is—a tool to measure pounds lost or gained (not your self worth)—it can help you figure out if you’re eating too much. For runners doing long runs on the weekends, you’ll likely gain a bit of water weight from the sodium in sports drinks and gels. So don’t be alarmed when the scale is up on Sunday and Monday. Parrish recommends waiting until Wednesday for a weekly weigh-in.