I Burned 1000 Active Calories Per Day for a Month, and This Is What Happened
A lesson in calories in, calories out
One frequently asked question I see on the internet is: How can I burn 1000 calories a day? The truth is, there are millions of activities that can help you burn 1000 calories a day. But I think there are more important questions to ask first. Like: Is burning 1000 calories a day sustainable? Or is it a one-way ticket to Binge Town and Injury City? Is setting such a goal helpful or counterproductive to reaching your health and fitness goals?
Ever the self-experimenter, I challenged myself to burn 1000 active calories a day for the entire month of April to find out.
What are “Active” Calories?
When I refer to active calories, I’m talking about the calories burned from physical activity, not from the calories I burn just by being alive.
These base calories are known as your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. Even the most sedentary person has a basal metabolic rate of about 1200 calories a day.
A person’s Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE is their BMR plus their active calorie burn.
For example, my BMR is roughly 1400 lbs, so by burning 1000 active calories, my TDEE equals 2400 calories per day.
In a nutshell, my strategy involves a lot of low-impact, low-intensity activity throughout the day. I walk 3–4 km every day, and I pedal for 3–4 hours using an under-desk elliptical.
I also do 30–40 minute, high-intensity strength training five days a week which gives my daily average a nice boost.
After 30 days on this schedule here are my results.
1. I Ate More
My appetite picked up as soon as I jacked up the physical activity. I have heard of people whose hunger cues go off the rails when they do a lot of physical activity and ravenously eat everything in front of them, but I did not experience this.
I was hungrier, but it wasn’t uncontrollable. I was still easily able to stick to my regime of three meals a day and a 16-hour intermittent fasting schedule.
I believe this is because I spread physical activity throughout the day rather than trying to burn the calories all at once.
I listened to my body and gave it the fuel it needed during this time, and my daily caloric intake went from 1700–1800 calories a day to 2300–2400 calories a day.
Those extra calories were mostly protein or plants. My most frequently consumed foods were Greek yogurts, tuna, chicken, eggs, seeds, kiwis, red peppers, apples, and nuts.
But I didn’t shy away from carbs, saving most of them for my evening meal as recovery after my late-afternoon workouts.
I also allowed myself a small treat in the evenings. (Gotta have a little fun, right?)
2. My Weight Didn’t Change at All
I did not take on this challenge to lose weight. At 115 lbs, I’d already lost all the weight I needed to lose. My goal was (and still is) to optimize nutrition and improve body composition.
I was still 115 lbs at the end of 30 days. Because I was eating as much as I was burning, I neither gained nor lost a single pound that month.
These results come back to the validity of calories in, calories out. You can burn thousands of calories a day, but you won’t lose a pound unless you consume fewer calories than you consume.
That’s not to say a calorie is a calorie when it comes to overall health. The quality of calories matters a ton because what you put into your body affects hormones, energy levels, and even your metabolism.
That’s why I made sure most of my extra calories contained whole foods, protein, and plant nutrients instead of loading up on donuts and cake. (As fun as that might have been!)
3. I Got Stronger and Noticed More Muscle Definition
Yes, this was in large part because I was doing those hard strength-training sessions five days a week, but here’s the thing: I’d already been training that often for months, but my strength was stagnating before this experiment.
I used 5 and 8 lb dumbbells for most exercises in the past. But by the end of April, I’d moved up to 10s and 15s. I could also do ten proper military pushups when I was struggling to do five a month earlier.
I think this is because I wasn’t eating enough protein to support muscle growth. And honestly, it’s hard to get enough protein when your entire calorie budget is only 1700–1800 calories per day.
Increasing my overall calorie intake with the extra calorie burn helped me fuel my workouts better.
Near the end of April, I took a gander at my back and was delighted to notice a lot more definition. Again, credit this change to my workouts that are now adequately fueled by protein and healthy carbs.
I also noticed more definition in my quads, arms, and abs.
Experiment Summary and Final Thoughts
But based on my experiment, burning 1000 calories a day is sustainable if you do it right. In 30 days, I did not burn out, injure anything, or binge eat.
I credit this to low-impact, low-intensity physical activity throughout the day and keeping the more vigorous workouts to 30–40 minutes a day.
It’s also important to fuel yourself properly. The more you exercise, the more you’ll need to eat to compensate.
Even though my 30-day experiment is long over, I am still burning around 1000 active calories per day on average because I’ve enjoyed being able to eat more and fuel my workouts better.
That said, aiming for 1000 calories a day is a bit arbitrary. You can still lose weight by burning less.
I also don’t recommend burning 1000 calories a day to create large calorie deficits. It’s more sustainable to stick to 200–500 calorie deficits.
For example, I first reached my goal weight consuming 1700–1800 calories a day and burning around 500–600 active calories a day or 2000 total calories.
So don’t get hung up on burning 1000 active calories if that is too extreme for you. As long as you are moving enough and eating the right amount of the right foods, you can still reach your fitness goals.
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Originally published in In Fitness And In Health on Medium.