When you’re in the middle of a workout, you can feel your body working hard: you sweat, you tremble, you breathe harder. If someone asks if you burn calories in the middle of an intense gym session, you’ll say yes, of course!
But what if after your cool down? Do you feel like you’re burning calories afterwards? According to the principles of excessive oxygen consumption after exerciseor EPOC, it’s probably you.
What is EPOC?
EPOC refers to the additional calories your body burns following certain types of exercise, over and above what is burned during the exercise itself. In some circles, it’s regarded as the Holy Grail of exercise: it can be a great mechanism for chiseling fat from your frame, even after you’ve left the gym.
You may sometimes hear EPOC called the “afterburn effect.” This refers to the calories burned after exercise when your body is self repair and return to its normal resting state.
Why Does EPOC Happen?
Think of it like this: when you turn off your oven after baking a sheet of chocolate-chip cookies, the oven stays warm for a few hours afterward. The hotter it was when you turned it off, the longer it will stay hot.
The same principle applies to exercise: After you exercise, your body remains “warm” for a while, and takes some time to return to “room temperature” – meaning your normal state of relaxation, or resting “metabolic” rate.
What happens in this post-workout window? Like a NASCAR pit crew, your body scrambles like crazy: it dials your breathing and heart rate back to normal, cleans the dirt from your muscles and refills them with fuel, re-oxygenate your blood, and repair damaged muscle and connective tissue.
All repair and recovery activity requires your body to burn more calories and use more oxygen than it normally does. And that’s what EPOC means in its most basic sense: it’s the extra energy you burn as your body recovers and repairs itself following hard exercise.
How long does EPOC last?
The size and duration of EPOC are determined by both the duration and intensity of your workout. The longer and harder you exercise, the more EPOC levels you will see.
“Repairing mechanical damage to muscles and replenishing energy systems can take 48 to 72 hours, depending on your physical conditioning and the style of exercise you completed,” says the NASM. performance enhancement specialist Cody Braun, CPT.
What Exercises Trigger the Best EPOC Levels?
Because it’s a measure of the oxygen you’re consuming – and not heart rate – you can only measure it in a lab. This makes it difficult to determine exactly how much EPOC is produced from any given workout.
But in general, short, intense training sessions (eg HIIT) can produce more EPOC per minute of exercise than steady-state training (like distance running).
For example, if you go for a short, easy jog, the EPOC may last only a few minutes. But if you do a strength-training session with short rest intervals and challenging weights, it can last longer. Similarly, circuit training produces more EPOC than standard training; fast cycling produces more EPOC than slow cycling.
A recent study found that 20 minutes of interval training burned nearly as many total calories over 24 hours as a 50-minute steady-state session. And other studies still found that both resistance training and interval training produced more EPOC than steady-state training.
It’s easy to see why EPOC is an attractive idea: it seems to promise the perfect solution for time-poor exercisers looking to tighten their waistlines. If you put in a quick, high-intensity workout Monday morning, science seems to say you can burn extra calories until breakfast on Wednesday.
How Does EPOC Burn Fat, and How Much Fat Can It Burn?
Unlike most fitness myths, EPOC is, in fact, a real effect that contributes to caloric expenditure. However, this doesn’t completely translate to fat loss — although it can help.
The amount of fat you end up burning depends on several factors, such as how much fat you had to start with and your metabolic rate. So when we talk about things EPOC “burns,” we’re talking about burning calories, which can burn fat for some people.
With that cleared up, how many? calories does EPOC burn?
Unfortunately, the most up-to-date research indicates that, regardless of whether you sprint or jog, lift or spin, most of the energy you burn from exercise occurs. while the workout itself – not afterwards. EPOC may account for additional six to 15 percent burn energy after your workout, but rarely more than that.
That means the EPOC following a very hard lifting and interval training workout where you burn 400 calories, might be only 60 calories, or about the calories in a couple of rice cakes tasteless
But that’s not bad! Churn through three to four workouts like that a week and that adds up to a few rice cakes. However, this is not a license to binge: If you eat a cupcake, it can add up to (or exceed) any additional calories you may have burned due to EPOC, even if you exercised at a very high intensity in whenever you exercise.
But every person is different — it all depends on the person’s size and how many calories they actively burn.
“The biggest idea to take away from EPOC is that training at a higher intensity a few times a week can add some positive muscle damage as well as additional calories burned,” says Braun. “It’s not the be all, end all, but for people looking to lose body fat, it will only increase their chances of success.”
This brings us back to an oft-repeated point: Exercise, in all its forms, is essential for cardiovascular fitness, maintaining muscle mass, strength, and all forms of athletic performance. It boosts your mood, boosts confidence, and can help you look better — however you define it.
So if you’re going to put your faith in something that will undoubtedly help you lose fat, it’s a well-designed exercise plan that you follow diligently, multiple days a week. EPOC is just a great help.