Ever heard that your 60-minute workout will make you burn more calories for the rest of the day? Sounds too good to be true, right? Keep reading to learn what EPOC can do for you.
This is the concept of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which has been described as a benefit of high-intensity exercise and a major player in weight management and weight loss.
What is EPOC? Does it really turn us into calorie-burning machines? And, if so, how can we train to get the most out of it? Let’s explore some of these key questions:
What is EPOC?
The amount of oxygen our body consumes following a bout of exercise that is in excess of the pre-exercise oxygen consumption baseline level. Essentially, our body uses more oxygen after exercise than before exercise, and we expend more calories during our recovery from exercise than we do before exercise.
Why do we experience this effect?
After a bout of exercise, our body has to restore itself to homeostasis, or its resting state. This recovery process requires energy, which is why we see an increase in calories expended post-exercise compared to pre-exercise. Reynolds & Kravitz (2001) state that the following occurs during EPOC: replenishment of energy resources, re-oxygenation of blood and restoration of circulatory hormones, decrease in body temperature, and return to normal breathing rate and heart rate.
How long does EPOC last?
While it has been stated that the body can take 15 minutes to 48 hours to fully recover from exercise (Vella & Kravitz, 2004), research does not definitively answer this question. The majority of studies we reviewed measured oxygen consumption within 24 hours post-exercise. That said, previous research has indicated that oxygen consumption (and thus, caloric expenditure) may be increased up to 24 hours after exercise.
How much does EPOC increase our caloric expenditure?
This is where things start to get a little tricky. Again, research has yielded mixed results on the overall effect of EPOC following a single bout of exercise, as many factors contribute to this elevated caloric expenditure (think: mode of exercise, intensity & duration of exercise, exerciser fitness level, gender, research methodology, etc.). In general, most research we reviewed showed an additional energy expenditure of 50 – 200 calories due to EPOC following resistance training and interval training. Keep in mind that a greater amount of calories were expended during the actual exercise session.
This article by the American Council on Exercise and this article by the National Strength and Conditioning Association also shed some light on the effect of EPOC.
How does exercise affect EPOC?
High-intensity and/or longer duration cardiorespiratory and resistance exercise seem to elicit the greatest EPOC response. A general rule of thumb is that the higher the intensity (and the more the exercise disrupts our homeostasis), the greater the magnitude and duration of EPOC following exercise. MYZONE makes it easy for us to gauge the intensity of our workouts – we can think of exercise in the YELLOW and RED zones as having the greatest effect on EPOC.
Though longer exercise sessions have been show to elicit a greater EPOC response compared to shorter sessions, exercise intensity is suggested to be the main contributor to EPOC.
Several forms of exercise have been recommended for maximizing EPOC effects. Vella & Kravitz (2004) named several, including:
Heavy Resistance Training
What’s the major takeaway for us as exercisers?
Here are the key points we take away about EPOC:
- EPOC appears to have a modest effect on overall caloric expenditure.
- Cardiorespiratory exercise in the YELLOW and RED zones, circuit resistance training, and heavy resistance training seem to have the greatest impact on EPOC.
- The types of exercise that increase the magnitude and duration of EPOC have many additional health and fitness benefits and are important to include in training programs, when appropriate. Intervals, circuits, and heavy resistance training are good for us!
- Even though we may not be expending a large number of calories following a single exercise session, additional calories expended due to EPOC may add up over time to contribute to our weight management goals. For example, if you did three workouts a week that had an average EPOC effect of 100 calories per workout, you’d be burning an extra 300 calories beyond what you burned during your workouts!
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Keep moving forward!
Kravitz, L. (2015). Research sheds new light on the exercise "afterburn." IDEA Fitness Journal, 12(4), 16-18.
Reynolds, J.M. & Kravitz, L. (2001). Resistance training and EPOC. IDEA Personal Trainer, 12(5), 17-19.
Vella, C.A. & Kravitz, L. (2004). Exercise After-Burn: A Research Update, IDEA Fitness Journal, 1(5), 42-47.