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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Burn Calories Effectively (the Healthy Way)

How to Burn Calories Effectively (the Healthy Way)

If you’ve been proactive with your health and are exercising regularly, you will probably look at how to burn calories effectively while still staying healthy.

Fortunately, there are different things you can do with exercise, diet, and lifestyle to burn extra calories.

First, you need to understand calories better.

What Are Calories?

A calorie is the energy content in food, but if we’re getting technical, a calorie is what it takes to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree.

Calories are determined by using calorimeters[1], which are like mini incinerators. They involve a chamber surrounded by water, where freeze-dried powdered food is placed and incinerated. The temperature of the water is then measured, and this is how we determine the energy content of food in kilocalorie form.

Also, this is why it is said that “all foods aren’t created equal.” After all, one handful of lettuce will burn up quickly, leading to a minimal rise in water temperature, while the same portion size of almonds will be much denser, thus leading to higher temperatures. One cup of almonds will have around 530 calories, while one cup of lettuce will have maybe just five.

However, our body doesn’t “incinerate” calories; it digests them. This makes calorie counting far from a perfect science because, not only do you not know exactly how many calories you’re burning each day, but you can’t be sure of the calorie content in food.

The FDA allows labels to be off by as much as 20% in either direction, and most nutritional information comes from databases and not actual calorie measurements. This doesn’t mean calories are insignificant—far from it—but trying to measure things down to the calorie will be next to impossible.

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How Many Calories to Burn a Pound

This is another common question when discussing calories, and the answer varies greatly. This will depend on your lifestyle, body type, gender, BMI, and more.

The old rule was that for every 3,500 calories you burned, one pound was lost. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. The more fat you have on your body, the quicker you will lose weight as your body burns away fat and water. However, when you’re fairly close to your natural body weight, your body resists burning away fat and will begin to burn away muscle.[2]

All of this affects the amount of calories you’ll need to lose a pound. I wish there was an easier answer. However, the good news is that there are lots of things you can do to learn how to burn calories effectively and help your body function better overall.

Below are six tips that will get you started. Try them out and see what works for you.

1. Focus on Real, Whole Foods

When you focus on genuine food, and not things that come out of a package or a box, you make it much easier for your body to process those calories.

Your body is designed to manage calorie intake sufficiently without things getting thrown out of whack. It has been doing this since the beginning of time, and it’s only when we add artificial and processed ingredients to our dirt that things get messy and weight loss gets harder.

Think of your metabolism like a sink, designed to drain water effectively. If we give our body real, whole food, it’s able to process and drain it effectively. However, if we put things such as hair and other gunk in the sink, the drain will get clogged up, leading to flooding.

Hair and gunk have the same effect on the sink as processed food has on our bodies. Processed food does not allow our body to run optimally; instead, it promotes fat accumulation and poor health.

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Learn how to burn calories by focusing on whole foods

    One critical review found that “of 43 studies reviewed, 37 found dietary UPF [ultra-processed foods] exposure associated with at least one adverse health outcome. Among adults, these included overweight, obesity and cardio-metabolic risks; cancer, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases; irritable bowel syndrome, depression and frailty conditions; and all-cause mortality.”[3].

    Do your best to stay away from processed foods, and your body will naturally become better at burning the calories you give it.

    2. Work on Strength Training

    If you’re learning how to burn calories, clearly, physical activity is important, but we will look at specific forms of exercise that are more effective than others.

    Strength training will do a few things. These exercises take a good amount of effort to perform and require a lot of calories to provide energy. They also help us build lean muscle, and the leaner the muscle we have, the better it is for our metabolic rate.

    Muscle requires calories to maintain it, which means that, even at rest, our body is burning calories. Strength training improves insulin sensitivity, thus allowing our body to better handle sugars because they will be processed more effectively, leaving us less likely to end up storing it as body fat[4].

    3. Do High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

    Most people know of HIIT, as it’s one of the best workouts you can do. It also is a great calorie burner and can burn off more calories in a fraction of the time spent doing regular, steady-state cardio.

    HIIT training involves doing an all-out exercise (such as bike sprints or regular sprints) for around 30 seconds, followed by a 90-120-second, slower-paced recovery period. You can do anywhere from 3 to 8 rounds of this, leading to a workout that won’t take you long.

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    HIIT is similar to strength training, as it uses a lot of calories. They are tough workouts, but the good news is that they don’t take as long and burn more calories in less than 30 minutes, compared to an hour of walking on a treadmill. This is why sprinters look leaner than marathon runners.

    Another benefit of HIIT is known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or “EPOC.” This is an “afterburn” effect that allows our body to burn calories long after the workout is done. Our body needs a lot of oxygen to perform a HIIT workout, and it needs to replenish it—this is done by burning calories.

    We can burn calories for up to 24 hours after doing a HIIT workout[5]. The great news is that we do not need to work out every day to get these benefits; just 2-3 times a week can be effective.

    Here’s a beginner guide to HIIT: How To Choose The Best Moves For Your HIIT Workout

    4. Try Tabata Training

    This is HIIT ramped up to the next level. Tabata’s were invented for Olympic athletes as a super intense training method, but it’s one that will also act as an amazing calorie burner.

    Tabata is a four-minute workout, and as bizarre as it may sound, there’s a lot of science behind its design. Tabata follows the same breakdown as a HIIT workout, but here the intense exercise is done for 20 seconds followed by a ten second rest, over 8 rounds, for four-minutes total.

    The great thing about Tabata is that it can be done with a bodyweight exercise such as burpees or mountain climbers, and it can be done anywhere. Check out the video below to learn how to do burpees correctly for a great workout.

    Of course, bodyweight will add to the intensity of the workout, pushing us to our limit. At first, it may not feel like it can, but it is important to persevere, because once at the half-way point, the rest periods will feel insufficient.

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    If you’re really determined to learn how to burn calories, Tabata can be added to the end of a strength training workout and can be done every other day.

    5. Eat Spicy Food

    Here’s one that doesn’t require you to leave the dinner table! Eating spicy foods, such as jalapeno peppers, cayenne, chilis, or a hot sauce, can give your metabolism a boost by up to 8% because they contain a chemical compound called capsaicin[6].

    Eating spicy foods increase our body’s thermogenic output by burning fat to create heat, thus we feel warmer, and our sinuses clear up. Capsaicin can also prevent weight gain; talk about a double whammy!

    If you want additional information about the health benefits of spicy food, check out this article.

    6. Drink Cold Water

    This will not burn the same number of calories a day as a good HIIT session, but since we have to drink water throughout the day, we may as well burn calories while we’re at it.

    Not only does water keep us hydrated and quench our thirst, but drinking it cold can give us a temporary metabolism boost.

    With cold water, our body must warm it up, thus creating a thermogenic effect. It varies quite a bit, but one study showed that drinking 17-ounces of cold water may increase calorie burning by at least 4.5% to up 30 % for 30-40 minutes[7].

    Final Thoughts

    When considering how to burn calories effectively to lose weight, it is important not to forget that our body has this ability built into it.

    We can rely on natural methods to boost calorie burning and improve our health. Not only are these natural methods healthy, but they generally don’t cost much and are easily added into most lifestyles.

    More on How to Burn Calories

    Featured photo credit: Julia Ballew via unsplash.com

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    More by this author

    Adnan Munye

    Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert

    15 Fitness Goals That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life This Year 13 Most Common Muscle Building Mistakes to Avoid How to Lose Water Weight Fast And Naturally When Is the Best Time to Work Out? (Science-Backed Answer) What to Eat After a Workout (Revealed by Professional Trainer)

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    Published on January 14, 2021

    How to Create a Healthy Meal Plan for the Week

    How to Create a Healthy Meal Plan for the Week

    Meal plans are a great way to cut down waste, make shopping for food quicker and easier, and help you to stick to healthy choices. But where do you start? What makes a healthy meal plan for the week, and how do you know what to include?

    Firstly, there is no healthy meal plan that works for everyone. At different stages of your life, you will need different levels of nutrients, but there are some general principles that you can follow, and then adjust as necessary. Here’s how to create a healthy meal plan for the week.

    The Backbone of Your Healthy Meal Plan

    For the vast majority of adults, these practical tips should be the backbone of your meal plan:

    • A range of fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grain carbohydrates (brown rice, brown bread, millet, bulgar wheat, etc)
    • Fermented food such as kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut
    • Unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados, and nuts
    • Two portions of oily fish such as salmon per week (or nuts and seeds if you don’t eat fish)
    • A handful of nuts and seeds a day
    • Aim for 30g of fiber a day
    • Eat a range of beans and pulses (such as chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and lentils)
    • Drink approximately 8 glasses of water a day[1]

    Calorie Counting

    A calorie is the energy required to raise the temperature of 1g water from 14.5 to 15.5°Celsius. This is calculated in a laboratory, by burning the food. However, the food is not “burnt” in our bodies, and people’s metabolism and energy expenditure vary, so it’s a very rough estimate.

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    The absorption and, therefore, how much energy is available for you to use, is also affected by how the food is processed. An example of this is sweetcorn. If you grind it down into a powder and make a tortilla, you will absorb far more calories than if you eat whole sweetcorn kernels. Instead, you will see most of the kernels untouched, in the toilet!

    Another concern with calories is that instead of thinking about nutrient quality, it promotes prioritizing quantity. For example, there is a huge difference in the number of nutrients you could consume in 500 calories of fruit and vegetables, versus 500 calories of ice cream.

    Also the number of calories you need varies according to so many factors, such as age, gender, lifestyle, and activity level, that it is hard to accurately predict exactly how many you need. Instead, I prefer to recommend a general principle of how to balance your plate and a reminder to eat mindfully when you are physically hungry, not because of an emotional trigger.

    How to Balance Your Plate

    When thinking of your healthy meal plan, for each meal your plate should contain approximately:

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    • Fruit and vegetables (1/2 plate)
    • Whole grains (1/4 plate)
    • Lean protein (1/4 plate)
    • A spoon of unsaturated oil

    This will help you when you think of each meal to work out what to include and approximate portion sizes.

    An Example Day

    Breakfast

    • Overnight oats, with chia seeds, quinoa and milk or fortified plant based milk
    • A piece of fruit

    Snack

    • A handful of mixed nuts

    Lunch

    • Grilled tofu with a mixed salad and bulgar wheat
    • A piece of fruit

    Snack

    • Apple slices with nut butter

    Dinner

    • Chicken / tofu / salmon with miso brown rice and spring greens
    • OR vegetable curry, daal, and brown rice
    • OR stuffed aubergine with mixed vegetables and millet or quinoa
    • A piece of fruit

    How to Adjust Your Meal Plan

    There are certain phases when more or less nutrients are needed, so it is important to consider your changing needs.

    When You’re Pregnant

    During your pregnancy, you should limit oily fish to once a week, and only 2 tuna steaks or 4 medium sized cans of tuna per week, because of the risk of pollution.

    You should also avoid the following food groups:

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    • Raw or undercooked eggs
    • Unpasteurized cheese
    • Raw or undercooked meat
    • Pâté
    • Swordfish, shark, and marlin
    • Homemade ice-cream with raw egg
    • Soft-serve ice cream from vans or kiosks
    • Vitamin A supplements
    • Liquorice root
    • Alcohol

    When You’re Breastfeeding

    While you are breastfeeding, your body needs more calcium (1250mg), selenium (70mcg), and iodine (200mcg). Ensure that you include these in your meal plan.

    When Going Through Menopause

    Menopause

    changes your long-term risk of disease, so it is important to focus on items that help support bone and heart health. The framework above already sets out a diet to support long term heart health, but for bone health aim for:

    • 1200mg calcium per day
    • High-quality protein at every meal
    • Foods rich in vitamin K
    • Foods rich in phosphorus
    • Foods rich in magnesium

    Organizing Your Shopping

    Once you have completed your healthy meal plan for the week, you can save the ingredients that you regularly need to an online shopping list, in order to make repeat ordering simpler. Some recipe books also now have a QR code so that you can easily synchronize the ingredients needed with your online shopping.

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    Try to eat seasonal fruit and vegetables where possible, but canned beans, frozen, dried, and freeze dried fruit make great substitutes for fresh, retaining most of the nutrients.

    Final Thoughts

    Creating a healthy meal plan for the week may be daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll become a fun addition to your weekly planning, and one that will ultimately improve your overall lifestyle. Try to use the general feedback above and adapt it to your own specific needs. Enjoy looking for new and exciting recipes to include in your plan!

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    Featured photo credit: Ello via unsplash.com

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