What is EPOC? (And Can it Really Help You Burn Extra Calories?)

The health benefits of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption go beyond burning extra calories

EPOC: it stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and if you ask any health guru they’ll tell you it’s the key to burning extra calories after you’re finished working out.

The notion almost sounds too good to be true, but unlike a lot of other “oh my god” fads floating around the fitness universe, this one has some science to back it up and it really can help you burn more calories long after your workout is over.

“In simple terms, EPOC is the measureable amount of oxygen consumed post-workout that it takes to bring your body back to its normal resting state,” says Josh Anderson, an AFAA Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and the CEO of Always Active Athletics. “There are many processes that take place in your body after your workout, like oxygen replenishment in general, energy re-synthesis and lactate disposal. They all require oxygen and therefore burn calories.”

Now you know a little bit about how EPOC works, but you’re probably also wondering how you can best get this effect to kick in. After all, it doesn’t happen after any old jog-on-the-treadmill type workout. The key to achieving EPOC is to exercise at a high-intensity.

“Science has determined that in order to achieve a significant EPOC effect you need to work out at a high intensity,” says Anderson. “The longer you stay at this intensity the longer your EPOC effect can be.”

He references a 2001 study by Thornton and Potteiger which found that strength training at 85% of your 8 rep max produces a higher EPOC magnitude compared with strength training at only 45% of your 8 rep max. Another 1991 study by Bahr and Sejersted concluded that a workout performed at 75% of your VO2 max (maximal oxygen consumption) compared to a workout of the same duration performed at 50% of your VO2 max will result in a significantly larger EPOC effect.

In other words, the more intense the exercise, the greater the EPOC response. Anderson explains that research has shown that resistance training is the best way to increase the EPOC effect and he recommends circuit style training for achieving the highest intensities.

“When we are helping our clients with EPOC training we suggest super-setting every exercise with an opposing muscle group,” says Anderson. “This will have you constantly on the move between exercises and if you perform them with little to no rest between sets it will give your strength training routine a circuit training feel.”

If you’re wondering how many extra calories EPOC can help you burn, well, the answer to that is different for everyone. However Anderson does point out that most scientists agree you can burn about five extra calories for every extra liter of oxygen consumed, but the actual amount of calories will depend on the intensity of your workout and also your own physiology.

“It can range up to 150-plus extra calories burned post-exercise,” says Anderson. “To me, that’s a ton of calories for just sitting and resting. And don’t forget about the hundreds of calories you burned during the actual workout, too.”

Anderson also points out that the effect lasts longer than just the period of time directly after you finish exercising. “If your workout was at a very high intensity and you performed it for an extended period of time you can actually still experience some EPOC effects up to 38 hours after your workout,” he says.

What’s more, EPOC isn’t just all about burning extra calories. The effects can also help improve your heart health and increase your muscle strength. “[High intensity training] will increase your muscle strength and mass and increase your VO2 max,” says Anderson. “Because VO2 max is an overall indicator of your cardiovascular health and endurance capacity, increasing this can have wonderful heart health effects.” He also notes that this means it’s a great training strategy for athletes with performance improvement goals.

“There are many benefits of EPOC training for everyone from those just trying to lose weight all the way up to elite performance athletes,” says Anderson.

His one note of caution: because you’ll be training at very high intensities make sure you are cleared with your doctor before employing this exercise strategy.