EPOC: Exercise Afterburn… Should We Really Care?

Two questions for you.

  1. Do you care about the number of calories you expend due to exercise?
  2. Have you heard a fitness instructor or trainer promote the benefits of exercise afterburn?

If you answered YES to either of these questions, please read on!

EPOC stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and is commonly referred to as exercise afterburn.  The typical reference during a fitness session is to inform you that you will be burning extra calories due to exercise for hours after you stop!  How flipping cool is that?!?!

And guess what?  EPOC is a real thing!  Data from numerous studies demonstrate that oxygen consumption is greater during rest after exercise than before exercise.  The reason for the larger cost is that the body is resetting, restoring and adapting in response to the training load.  In short you are burning more calories post activity.  EPOC is greatest immediately after exercise and following high intensity training.

But this is where the whoo-hoo about EPOC ends.  The same research that shows EPOC exists also reveals that it is an extremely small portion of your total calorie burn in a day.  So, the exciting claims from your fitness instructor or trainer about exercise afterburn should unfortunately be ignored.

The number of extra calories burned is, at a maximum, only 6-15% of the energy expended during the exercise session, does not consider resting metabolic rate, and the response varies dramatically between individuals.  It depends on sex, age, muscle mass, fitness level, nutrition, sleep, and stress. 

Here is an example based upon previous studies to illustrate the actual calories count.

woman, 30 years, trains 6 hours per week

resting metabolic rate = 1680 kcal/day = 70 kcal/hour

example 1

EXERCISE CALORIES = 350 kcal for 60 minutes moderate intensity cycling

PRE-EXERCISE RESTING METABOLIC RATE = 70 kcal/hr

POST-EXERCISE RESTING METABOLIC RATE = 75 kcal/hr

EPOC CALORIES = 5 kcal (75-70)

example 2

EXERCISE CALORIES = 275 kcal for 30 minutes high intensity plyometric intervals

PRE-EXERCISE RESTING METABOLIC RATE = 70 kcal/hr

POST-EXERCISE RESTING METABOLIC RATE = 90 kcal/hr

EPOC CALORIES = 20 kcal (90-70)

The significant energy expenditure and therefore calorie burn is due to the exercise sessions, not the excess post-exercise expenditure.  This example demonstrates that you could consume an additional 10 raisins or 1 triscuit cracker or .75 ounce of wine.

Should we really care about EPOC?  Nah.  Instead, we can focus on the numerous benefits of exercise aside from a few extra calories afterward.

References:

Beau et al. EPOC comparison between isocaloric bouts of steady-state aerobic, intermittent aerobic, and resistance training. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 86, (2015): 190–195.

Jung et al. Effect of interval exercise versus continuous exercise on excess post- exercise oxygen consumption during energy-homogenized exercise on a cycle ergometer.  J Exercise Nutrition Biochemistry 23, (2019): 45-50.

Laforgia et al. Comparison of energy expenditure elevations after submaximal and supramaximal running. J Applied Physiology 82, (1997): 661-666.

Laforgia, et al. Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Journal of Sports Sciences 24, (2006): 1247-1264.

Mann et al. Effect of exercise intensity on post‐exercise oxygen consumption and heart rate recovery.  European J Applied Physiology 114, (2014): 1809-1820.

Tucker et al. Excess postexercise oxygen consumption after high-intensity and sprint interval exercise, and continuous steady-state exercise. J Strength Conditioning Research 30, (2016): 3090-3097.

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6 Responses

  1. Jinger, how long does the metabolic rate stay elevated, typically? In example 2, if the EPOC effect lasts five hours, we get 100 extra calories of energy consumed. I tried to find a couple of the references to see how quickly EPOC tails off from that first hourly rate.

    Thanks,
    Gene

    • HI Gene! Super sorry for the 2 month delayed response… I did not know where these messages were located in Go Daddy! Bah!
      EPOC actually decreases significantly after about 30-40 minutes… so 100 is not likely. Bummer-

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