How can I burn a high number of calories?

10. September 2020

There are times when people want to try to burn as many calories as possible. In both everyday life and sport, there are various ways to increase the number of calories you burn. This article deals with this topic, regardless of how appropriate it is in terms of training technique.

This article is brought to you by Swiss Sports Nutrition Society

Various factors influence how many calories an individual burns in certain situations. Several simple principles are mentioned here:

  • Load duration (the longer, the more)
  • Intensity (the more intense, the more)
  • Body weight (the heavier, the more)
  • Active muscle mass during the load (the more, the more)
  • Special environmental conditions: altitude, heat and cold (the more extreme, the more)

The illustration from Romijn et al. in 1993 shows the energy expenditure at different load levels (light, moderate and high intensity) as well as the proportion of carbohydrate and fat metabolism at the corresponding intensity. It is clear that as the intensity increases, more calories are burned, and the proportion of carbohydrates burned increases. At a lower intensity, the proportion of fat burned increases, but the total energy expenditure per minute decreases.


So, if you want to burn as many calories as possible, you should train for as long as possible at the highest possible intensity. However, this also causes several problems, because the maximum duration of the load can only be maintained relatively briefly. The carbohydrate reserves needed for the energy supply are limited. Another problem is the risk of injury. Anyone who trains for both a long and intensive period is exposed to an increased risk of injury. And finally, frequent training in this intensive range sooner or later leads to mental overexertion and over-training.

Metabolic equivalent of task (MET) enables different activities to be compared

Energy expenditure is also often expressed in the form of METs (metabolic equivalent of tasks). A MET corresponds to the energy expended during the load compared to the energy expended at rest. In other words, the MET value is suitable for estimating the energy expenditure of a person compared to their individual expenditure when at rest.

Table 1: Energy expenditure of various activities


So how can I increase my calorie expenditure?

As a basis, you should ideally aim for regular, structured training that contains intensive units as well as those for your basic endurance. The latter make it especially possible to train for a longer period of time and «tolerate» high intensities.

At the same time, the goal should be to burn additional calories by increasing your physical activity in everyday life. For instance, by biking to and from work or taking the stairs instead of the lift. With regards to sports, you can opt for sports activities with a large proportion of active muscle mass, such as running or cross-country skiing to achieve a higher energy expenditure. And by gently increasing the frequency, duration and then intensity at the end, you can further increase the expenditure.

Last but not least, spending time in the mountains can also burn even more calories and thus increase expenditure.