Want to Prolong Your Post-Workout Calorie Burn? Go Harder on the Exercise

You’ve probably heard about something called the “afterburn effect”: that after a workout, your body continues to burn calories even though it’s at rest. And while that phenomenon, which is officially called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC, sounds too good to be true, it’s actually scientifically proven to be legitimate. Learning how to maximize your EPOC is a great way to keep your body burning calories well beyond your last set of the day.

How EPOC Works

EPOC, also known as oxygen debt, is the amount of oxygen your body needs to get back to its regular level of resting metabolic function following exertion. After a good workout, your body should be working hard on a number of restorations: producing and replacing chemicals like ATP that you spent while exercising, repairing the muscle tissue that you strained, bringing your body temperature back down to normal levels, etc. All of these functions require a lot of oxygen, and consuming oxygen at this rate burns a significant number of calories. (A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise actually showed that people who cycled for 45 minutes a day lost almost 200 more calories on average in the hours after their workout than when they hadn’t exercised during the day.) That’s how you continue to lose calories even when you’re resting after your workout; whether you feel it or not, your body is still exerting itself.

How to Maximize It

The key to maximizing calorie burn from EPOC is pretty straightforward: just go harder on your workouts. If you use more ATP and exercise more muscle tissue during your workout, your body will need more oxygen to restore those levels and get back to its resting state. And calorie burn is directly related: for every liter of oxygen consumed, your body loses about five calories, and sometimes more, depending on your metabolism and body type. So making your body demand more oxygen post-workout by exercising extra hard is the best way to maximize your calorie burn after.

The Best Workouts for Maximum EPOC

Want to extend your post-workout calorie burn but don’t have the time to prolong your workout itself? Fret not. A recent study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology proves that you don’t need to increase the length of your workout to maximize your EPOC — you just have to boost the intensity. High-intensity interval training, like Tabata and core interval training, are especially good for triggering afterburn but preventing burnout, since they have built-in rest times for you to catch your breath. All high-intensity workouts, from short bursts of cardio to interval training with weights, propel your body to keep rebuilding and restoring protein and chemical levels long after your workout. So consider making high-intensity exercise a regular part of your regimen if you want to rest easy after your workout knowing that your body is still burning calories at an impressive pace.