Whether you’re out to crush competitors at an event, drop a few pounds or just maintain great health, getting the right daily caloric needs is important. If you use it properly, a good heart rate monitor, such as the HeartQ, can ensure you’re taking in your ideal level of food and drinks.
Customizing Your Monitor’s Settings
All but the cheapest heart rate monitor allow you to customize how the device calculates calorie expenditure by inputting some personal information (e.g., height, weight, age) into the user settings. Higher-end models often allow you to perform this task via a website/app as well as manually, but even if yours doesn’t have a sync option, taking the time to enter this data takes only a moment. Once you’ve entered the information for the first time, don’t forget to update it—this is where a lot of users drop the ball and don’t get the most out of their device. Good times to readjust the settings for a more accurate calorie estimation include 1) when you have lost 5 pounds or more, 2) you go up in the weight you are lifting, 3) you’re finishing repetitions, sets or laps faster or feel that they are easier and 4) you have a birthday and 5) you replace the batteries in or deep clean your device.
As you check your user settings, see if you can adjust VO2 max. This figure is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in and use when you perform intense physical activity. Oxygen is necessary for your body to break down carbohydrate, fat and protein for energy, so in theory, the more oxygen you’re consuming, the more calories you’re burning off. If you know your VO2 max, you can use it along with your heart rate to estimate calorie burn more closely. The absolute most accurate way to find your VO2 max is through laboratory testing, but because that’s expensive and often physically grueling, you also can estimate it with an online calculator. If you have a higher-end heart rate monitor, it might provide the option to do a no-workout fitness test that very roughly estimates VO2 max for you, as well. Regardless of how you find your VO2 max, your calories burned estimation will be more accurate if you can include it in your HRMs calculations. If you can’t, check out this VO2 max website, which will do the same job based on heart rate and known VO2 max.
Getting a Weekly Average
After you’re good to go with your user settings, wear your monitor 24 hours a day for about a week. Allow the monitor to track your activity the entire time, even when you are sleeping. At the end of the week, simply add up the calories burned and divide by seven to get an average of your total daily expenditure. You need an average to accommodate the fact that both your workouts and regular activities vary from day to day. If you find that wearing your heart rate monitor strap continuously is uncomfortable, try tricks like changing the position of the transmitter slightly (especially if you’re a tummy sleeper) applying some aloe vera gel where the strap makes contact with your skin or putting the strap over a very light undershirt or camisole.
Gross Vs. Net Calories
Your body burns a certain amount of calories every day just to survive, even if you’re just sitting like a lump on your couch. This number is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and is easy to calculate on your own or with a handy online BMR calculator. A golden rule when trying to diet or keep your daily caloric needs high enough is that your net calorie intake shouldn’t dip below your BMR. If your BMR is 1,300, for example, and you typically burn off another 800 calories through activity and exercise, then you need to eat at least 2,100 calories a day to stay healthy and maintain your weight. If you know your average daily caloric needs from your one week of continuous monitoring, and if you also know your BMR, you can subtract your BMR from your daily average to determine how many calories you’re usually burning off as you move around.
Even good heart rate monitors can provide inaccurate estimations of calorie expenditure. You can improve the accuracy of your device first by making sure to input your personal information into the user settings, updating the data as needed. It’s ideal to include VO2 max in these settings if possible. Once you’ve done that, wearing the device for a few days should give you a decent estimate of what you’re burning, but don’t forget that there’s a difference between gross and net calories. Try not to let your net intake drop below your BMR as you try to meet your goals.