What are calories and the best ways to burn them?

Does counting calories count? Here’s the basics about calories and five calorie-burning workouts to add to your weekly training, because we want to help you reach your weight loss goals. 

It seems every fitness blog you read these days mentions calories and claims how many calories you need to consume, burn and count.

"Calorie" becomes a familiar word especially when weight loss is the focus. The truth is, the facts around calories can sometimes be overwhelming if you haven’t figured out the foundation of what it all means.

So let us breakdown the calories … (psychologically and physically)


What are calories?

A calorie measures the amount of energy we ingest when we eat food and drink beverages. A calorie is a unit of measurement. It measures energy. Energy is found in our diet in the form of macronutrients: fats, carbs and proteins. 🐟🍞🥩

To live and stay healthy, we need this vital energy. Everything we do depends on the energy that comes in the form of calories. The drinks we drink, and the food we consume becomes the fuel that drives our bodies to function. ⛽

Good quality calories vs poor quality calories

We need calories to function. Where you get your calories from is important, because not all calories are healthy. The quality of the calories you consume matters. 

Poor quality calories count as sodas, fast-food and high-sugar foods, amongst many. Poor calories can also be counted as empty calories. Good quality calories are those that provide you with essential micronutrients needed for healthy body function. 💪 

For eg. a small candy bar and an orange will have the same amount of calories, and those calories would be burned more or less the same. The difference is that the orange is full of vitamins that nourish your body and prevent deficiencies whereas the candy bar only provides energy. You could in theory lose weight if you ate junk food but monitored your calories, but that would not mean you would be healthy - you might be a lower weight, but you would be inviting serious deficiencies into your body. 

An average person using exercise for health should definitely avoid empty calories and ensure that most calories they eat come with micronutrients (nutrient dense calories) so that they maximise on their health and energy levels. 

Calories vs Kilojoules

Calories and kilojoules are the same thing - they both measure energy. 

4.2 kJ = 1 calorie 

Basic calories in macronutrients

Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram 

Protein has 4 calories per gram

Fat has 9 calories per gram

So for eg. a slice of bread would contain around 15g of carbohydrates, 3g protein, and 1g of fat - giving it around 80 calories. 

A tablespoon of olive oil, on the other hand gives you around 15g of fat, which is about 45 calories. 

Understanding the breakdown of your food therefore gives you a better idea of your calorie intake. And understanding your calorie intake can help you monitor and adjust your nutrition to bring you closer to your fitness goals.

How calories are burned?

The answer to this involves understanding metabolism. What is metabolism? Metabolism explains how your body creates energy from food, and how your body uses this energy. Metabolic rate then explains how quickly your body burns these calories for energy. This increase depends on various factors including the activity you’re doing, as well as your body composition and gender.👨👩

Why should we burn calories?

Unused energy is stored as fat. Fat in your body not only leads to feeling lethargic and not fitting into your favourite pair of jeans; but it also leads to extra health complications that can cause a string of negative effects that can become irreversible if not carefully monitored and managed. Essentially, if fat is left to linger, your chronic disease risks increase with time.Man through weight loss journey | DNAfit

How much does your diet affect calorie balance?

Simple answer: A LOT! Your diet affects your calorie balance directly. Your calorie burn and your calorie intake are directly related when it comes to your weight management. Your diet can affect your calorie balance in a negative way if you are eating more calories than you are burning. 🤔

So making sure you are not eating high calorie foods regularly can assist you in your weight loss goals faster and more efficiently. However, if you’re burning calories like a ‘fitness boss’ 😎 but you’re going out for dinner and getting take out everyday, eating pizza, french fries, hamburgers as well as baked goods and such, you’re not going to see weight loss results, because your calorie intake is not balanced with your calorie output. 

If you’re in need of some guidance around losing, maintaining or gaining weight, download our helpful Honest Guide to Weight Management for expert tips that can help you reach your weight goals faster. 

Download the Honest Guide to Weight Management and build life-long healthy eating habits

What are the best workouts to burn calories?

All exercise is good for you. Just getting moving, mobile and stretching out those muscles and joints regularly can bring benefits that last a lifetime. However, some workouts do burn calories more than others. 

Get on your gear, grab a towel for the sweat and a bottle of water to stay hydrated… here’s a list of workouts to include in your weekly training to get the weight to melt off your body like an ice-cream in the midday sun. 🌞🍦

Five Workouts that burn calories

1. Electro Muscle Stimulation Training (EMS)

What is Electro Muscle Stimulation Training

EMS workouts involve sending electrical impulses to your muscles in order to recruit more muscle fibres and increase the intensity of a strength-training routine. 

This is becoming a popular choice amongst many who are looking for that extra toning edge to their muscles, but it can also be a great calorie burning workout, because muscle burns more calories than fat.

A 20 min session of electro muscle stimulation training can burn up to 500 calories  

2. Running

This one needs no explanation, right? Get your trainers on, stretch and keep going. Whether it's on the road, around the park, or on a treadmill at the gym, running is one of the best ways to get several muscles, the heart and the respiratory system all engaged at once.

A 45 min to 60 min run can burn between 600-1000 calories, depending on pace and inclines. 

3. Swimming 

Like running, this workout is self-explanatory. All you need is a pool, swimming costume, maybe a swimming cap and goggles. But how much of swimming do you need to do to burn some calories that count. 

Fitness Guru Tom Holland says:

“A 150-pound person will burn roughly 400 calories 

during an hour-long swim at a moderate pace and 

700 at a vigorous one.” 

Depending on your current weight and pace in the pool you can burn 400-500 calories in a 1hr- 1.5hr swimming session.

4. Weight training 

Muscle burns more calories than fat, so increasing your muscle mass will help you lose weight. 

This is where weight training can be your secret weapon to burning more calories in the long run. 

With weight training you can burn 200 calories an hour but the more muscle we develop the more energy we burn at rest, so that would increase calorie expenditure even after the training session. That’s like a bonus! Yes you heard right, burning calories continue even when you aren’t pumping that iron. 

5. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Like the name suggests, it’s high intensity, with intervals between each set. So the start of a HIIT workout would look something like:

45 seconds of squat jumps

30 seconds rest

45 seconds of mountain climbers 

30 seconds rest 

45 seconds of push ups 

30 seconds rest

And so on...

Check out one Home Based HIIT workout from our in-house sport scientists, to keep those calories melting away. 

A 45 minute HIIT session can burn up to 540 calories. 

Fruit, vegetables and gym equipment | DNAfit Blog

The basics of losing weight

At the end of the day, it’s an input-output game. If you eat more than you move your body, you put on weight, because the energy eaten isn’t used and stored as fat. If you move more than you eat, you use up energy eaten as well as energy stored and you lose weight. If you eat and move in a balanced ratio, then you maintain the weight you are. 

What you are nourishing your body with also matters a lot. Making sure your body has sufficient nutrients from the food you eat will ensure your body is using what it has to it’s best ability.

Determining your calorie requirements can be tricky, and overdoing calorie restriction can affect how well your body burns calories, making weight management difficult - so always speak to a dietitian about what would work best for you.

When you get your Diet Fit genetic test done, you get a personal consultation with one of our qualified dietitians on our wellness team. Your genes can also predispose you to see better results when it comes to weight loss. So getting your genes tested for your nutritional needs and a dietitian to guide you through your reports can help you identify your choices toward seeing results sooner rather than later.

Get Diet Fit 


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