How Many Calories Do I Need to Burn to Lose One Pound?

A woman running near the Teton mountains in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Jordan Siemens/The Image Bank/Getty Images

You may wonder how many calories you have to burn with running or other forms of exercise to lose weight. A pound of fat contains about 3500 calories.

To lose a pound, the common advice is that you have to burn 3500 more calories than you eat. To lose a pound in a week, you need to burn an additional 500 calories per day more than you eat each day or eat fewer calories than your body burns each day.

Running to Lose Weight

Running can help you lose weight, but it's not a magic bullet. A safe, healthy weight loss rate is about one to two pounds per week. If your weight loss is faster than that, you may be losing muscle mass in addition to fat. To burn 500 calories in a day by running, you would need to average about 5 miles per day, since the average runner burns about 100 calories per mile.

However, that varies by your weight and speed. Heavier runners and faster runners burn more calories per mile, lighter runners and slower runners burn fewer. In addition, some newer research by the National Institutes of Health says that the calculations don't account for how your metabolism changes when you are trying to lose weight. You may need even more of a calorie deficit to see weight loss as your efforts progress.

If you don't have the time or energy to burn the 500 calories a day by running or doing other exercises, you could use a combination of calorie reduction and exercise.

For example, if you ran 3 miles (approximately 300 calories burned) every day, you would also need to reduce your recommended calorie intake by 200 calories each day. The combination of the calorie intake reduction and the calories burned would create your 500 calories/day deficit.

Of course, it's important to figure out how many calories you need each day since the USDA 2000 calorie diet is only a recommendation.

You can use a weight loss calculator to see how many calories you need each day.

Pump Up the Burn

If you're looking for ways to increase your calorie burn, try adding strength training and speedwork to your workout routine. One of the many benefits of strength-training is that building more muscle mass will increase your calorie burn, both when you're working out and when you're resting.

You don't need to do lots of heavy lifting to get the benefits of strength-training. Try doing some simple exercises such as core exercises or lower body moves a couple times a week.

Running faster can also help you jumpstart your weight loss efforts by increasing your calorie burn. Try speed workouts for the track or workouts for the treadmill. If you're not ready for speed workouts, focus on finishing your runs at a faster pace or running faster for short intervals during your run.  Run hard for 30 seconds and then slow it down for a couple of minutes, and try to do that a few times during your run.

Pay Attention to Other Measurements

Remember not to get too focused on the number on the scale. Try to pay attention to how you're feeling overall. Use measurements other than weight, such as inches lost or how your clothes fit, to mark your progress.

You may be adding healthy lean muscle even as you lose fat. You can also track your running progress by racing new distances, increasing your weekly mileage, and trying to improve your race times.

Sources:

Ainsworth BE, Haskell WL, Herrmann SD, Bassett DR Jr, Tudor-Locke C, Greer JL, Vezina J, Whitt-Glover MC, Leon AS. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(8):1575-1581. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31821ece12.

Donnelly JE, Blair SN, Jakicic JM, Manore MM, Rankin JW, Smith BK. Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009;41(2):459-471. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3181949333.

Sanghvi A, Redman LM, Martin CK, Ravussin E, Hall KD. Validation of an inexpensive and accurate mathematical method to measure long-term changes in free-living energy intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;102(2):353-358. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.111070.

Continue Reading