How Many Calories Did I Just Burn?

I have found that keeping accurate records has been helpful to me as far as getting in shape, and staying there.  That means using quantifiable metrics to measure how much, how far, and how often.  Keeping records has helped me immensely although I am throttling back on how, and what, I keep track of, and especially how I do it.

We are obsessed by calories, but for good reason.  They do matter, and you ignore them to  your peril.  I know I did.  Unfortunately I think measuring calories burned, and to a lesser extent calories consumed, can be problematic. So what are we talking about?

What is a calorie?

Most of us know that food has a quality about it that we call calories, but what is it?  It is:

The amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). One calorie is equal to 4.184 joules, a common unit of energy used in the physical sciences.

Most of us think of calories in relation to food, as in “This can of soda has 200 calories.” It turns out that the calories on a food package are actually kilocalories (1,000 calories = 1 kilocalorie). The word is sometimes capitalized to show the difference, but usually not. A food calorie contains 4,184 joules. A can of soda containing 200 food calories contains 200,000 regular calories, or 200 kilocalories.

from:  http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/diet-fitness/weight-loss/calorie1.htm

Our body:

… needs calories (energy) to survive, without energy our cells would die, our hearts and lungs would stop, and we would perish. We acquire this energy from food and drink.

If we consume just the number of calories our body needs each day, every day, we will probably enjoy happy and healthy lives. If our calorie consumption is too low or too high, we will eventually experience health complications.

The number of calories foods contain tells us how much potential energy they posses. Below are the calorific values of the three main components of the food we eat:

–   1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories

–   1 gram of protein contains 4 calories

–   1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.

from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263028.php

How Many Calories Do We Consume By Exercise?

It is technically possible to measure how many calories we are burning  with  some precession.  Unfortunately it is not yet practical (issues with reliability and validity) since it currently requires laboratory conditions although advances in wearable technology coupled with smart phone technology will probably change that in two to five years.  In the meantime what we  have are essentially estimates, based on laboratory findings.  These estimates use  calculations that take into account some combination of age, weight, type of activity (running, walking, bicycling, etc.), intensity, and duration .  There are several formulas, and it depends on which formula is being  used.

How Are Calories Burned Measured?

Most modern exercise equipment has some kind of calories burned function.  GPS watches, smart phone apps, and web sites will also give you an estimate, and remember it is an estimate.  Accuracy will vary as we are about to see.

Lately I have been using the MapMyRun app on my iPhone 5 to keep track of time, distance, and calories burned while running.  It syncs with MyFitnessPal which I switched to from Livestrong’s MyPlate app (which I think was actually better).  Before that I used my Timex Marathon GPS watch  for time and distance while ignoring the ridiculously low caloric estimates it provided.  Instead I ignored the calories burned number on the GPS watch, and used the calories burned calculator from Runners World (which is specifically for running, and is available online)  using the time and distance from the Timex.  I stopped  that practice after I got the iPhone.   But, last week I decided to compare the two methods because I suspected the results from MapMyRun were too high.

For 3.19 miles, at a 10:50 pace here are the results from MapMyRun;

MyFitnessPal calculation

Here are the results from Runnersworld.com for the same workout. I used time and distance from MapMyRun.*

Runners World CalculationMy schoolboy arithmetic indicates a difference of over 18%, or nearly 100 calories.  I would say that is a significant difference.  Subsequent comparisons showed the same pattern.  The MapMyRun app  is consistently more optimistic when it comes to how many  calories I burned.

Which One Is Right?

I have no idea.  I know that the Runners World site does not take into account age or gender.  MapMyRun has access to all that information, but I do not know if it uses it. I decided to use the more conservative measure from the Runners World website for two reasons:

1.  Tired of lugging around the iPhone.  I never found a way to secure it comfortably or usefully other than holding it in my hand. Am I turning into one of those people?  I hope note. Also, battery life is problematic, and sometimes it just does strange and wacky things.

2.  I wanted to be more conservative and go with the lower estimate.

That means I am back to using my Timex GPX watch in conjunction with the Runners World website.

Are There Other Measurements?

Yes.  Some consider measurement of the heart rate over time as the best estimate.The Journal of Sports Sciences  provides the following two calculations based based on gender:

Males Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.2017) — (Weight x 0.09036) + (Heart Rate x 0.6309) — 55.0969] x Time / 4.184.

Females Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.074) — (Weight x 0.05741) + (Heart Rate x 0.4472) — 20.4022] x Time / 4.184.

Those calculations would be difficult to do in  your head while  you are out running or on the elliptical machine. Also, have you ever tried to take your pulse rate manually while running?  Of course this method requires a heart rate monitor, and the sophisticated software that comes with them.  I am still doing my research.  My current understanding is that good ones are expensive, and there can be problems with their accuracy as well.

What to do?

I think we are inclined to underestimate the calories we eat, and overestimate the calories we burn.  Because of that, I am comfortable in going with the lower number calculated by the Runners World website. I also know there are ongoing issues with reliability and validity when we measure some things (such as calories burned), but we have more mature technology measuring others (such as distance and time).  Probably the best we can do is utilize the tools we have with care, caution, and consistency.  More later.

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*M y tests show reasonable consistency between MapMyRun, the Timex GPS watch, and my bicycle computer regarding distance and time, but between them the calories burned estimates are inconsistent.

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Running Ugly: The Upcoming Book

This is the preface of my  upcoming book Running Ugly: A Fitness Memoir.  I would love to get feedback from you.  

Preface

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime. Bill Rodgers (American marathon runner. b. 1947).

This is the story of a very ordinary runner, and a very ordinary person. No matter what they mean to me, my accomplishments are modest to the world, and if there are any strengths in this book it lies in that fact. This is a book for persons of modest means. What I have managed to accomplish was by the way of humble tools, and a meager athletic ability, fortified by persistence. I am still astonished at what happened, and can scarcely recognize my own hand in it.

I started this book when I was 56, and will be over 59 years old before it is done. In the meantime I have explored the jagged edges of my emotional, physical, and spiritual capabilities. In the meantime I have twice become a grandparent. I have become more at peace, and more comfortable, with myself. Fitness, the weight loss, all those original goals have become secondary. It turns out running was a tool, maybe even a metaphor, for something else, and there is no denying the existential aspect of what running represents. But, we cannot run forever. We must take time for other things, and eventually even the best runner can run no more. Aging is something that we cannot conquer but, that we can perhaps come to a gentleman’s agreement with.

What is this book about? This book is about a journey to regain my health so I could live better, and perhaps longer, and where that journey ultimately led me. I wrote it because I think there are a lot of people like me, and that I may have learned something from my experience that may be useful to them. I also wrote it for deeply personal reasons, perhaps even selfish reasons, as part of my struggle to understand what happened as well as what it might all mean in the end. This book is also about hope. This book is also about our ability to assume at least some control of our destiny rather than to be passive recipients of what popular culture wants to spoon feed us figuratively, and literally. This book is about running ugly. So what is running ugly?

Running ugly means running for the joy and the benefit of it rather than for the laurels of victory or the false accomplishment of trying to look good. If the laurels, and looking good, come to us it is a by-product of almost no consequence. A light desert to an already satisfying feast. Running itself is always a process, never a product. When you are in your fifties you are no longer the belle at the ball, and in our youth oriented society you are considered a has been anyway. So why doll yourself up for nothing? Don’t worry about how you look, how fast you are going, if you look weird, if you run strange, or lumber about on the track without grace. If so, you are probably doing something right. At the very least you are at least doing it. You have been freed from the the prison of the couch. Just run.

Run ugly. Run often. And if you can’t run too far, or often, do what you can. If you cannot run walk. If you cannot walk, live a mindful life. Exist with gratitude for the experience of being a part of it all.

I said earlier that running ugly is a metaphor. Perhaps a metaphor for something very much beyond running. Perhaps it means for us to have patience, curiosity, and grace as we explore the contours of our lives in order to make meaning of it. Perhaps it means that we cultivate an inner beauty by letting outer appearances take care of themselves as we strive to become beautiful on the inside. To become kinder to ourselves and others. I went outside to run, but instead entered a classroom.

“You can’t out train a bad diet.”

I am working on the post about weight training at home I promised a couple of days ago.  But, I read about this video in the Runner’s World article by Amby Burfoot, and it made a tremendous impression on me.

Intuitively we know this to be true.  But to actually see it in this video really drives it home.  For all the emphasis we put on exercise, and it is important, it is the diet that is making the biggest difference.  Another hard truth is that the standard diet in America is fundamentally unhealthy.  This video, and the movie/book  Forks Over Knives along with the movie/book Fast Food Nation has convinced me, that for me, a vegan diet is the way to go.  I don’t advocate vegan for everyone, but for me it works.

Weight Lifting Charts and a Definitive Article on Keeping the Weight Off

I have two things to share with you this evening.  The first are some weight lifting charts I designed, and the second is an incredible article in Runners World by their editor at large Amby Burfoot.  I will cover the article first.

In the current issue of Runners World, April 2015,  the article A Weight-Loss Manifesto appears under Amby’s byline.  He has done his homework,  and written what amounts to a meta analysis conveyed in laypersons terms, on the science of weight loss,  There is a special emphasis on keeping the weight off which is, I think, harder than loosing it.  Like any magazine Runners World can run hot and cold.  This months issue, “The Weight-Loss Special,”  is one of the better ones. Now to those weight lifting charts I promised.

Through aging and by running I have lost some muscle mass.  So, I have started to get serious about weight training. I don’t want to bulk up, but I do want to stay functionally strong, and to tone.  Since I started to get serious about weight training I have been on a quest for the perfect weight lifting chart to keep track of progress.  I am a big fan of using metrics for fitness.

I had little success in finding a chart that made sense for me.  So I designed one for myself.  I have always liked the little half size clipboards for trips to the gym or even just working out at home.  They fit inside a gym bag and seem to be just the right size. Here is what my rig looks like with an older version of the form:

FullSizeRender
These half-sized clipboards are perfect for workouts at home or in the gym.

Below is the chart design I am currently using.  It is more generic than the previous one.

weight lifting chart portraitI make some copies and cut each copy in half.

I would prefer one with three workout routines per page, instead of two (after the chart is cut in half) but the lines just get too small and I really like that little half size clipboard.  But, I made a full size version, portrait orientation instead of landscape, for anybody that wants to use it. It has two rows of three workouts each.   Here is what it looks like:

weight lifting chart landscapeHere is a link to one of my cloud files where I keep the originals, and a pdf version of each one.  The files were created with Libre Office and are in .odt format.  I prefer open source software and the Linux operating system.  Besides Linux, Libre Office is available for Mac, and Windows.

My  next article will be on the perfect weight lifting setup for home, and some suggested resources.