The calorie-burn counts on some cardio machines can be pretty inaccurate. To help combat this, increase your goal calorie burn by 30 percent, says Laura Streeper, an exercise physiologist at the Human Performance Center at the University of California at San Francisco. So if you go to the gym with the intention of burning 300 calories, aim for 390 calories instead.
Calorie ConundrumIf you've been logging tons of miles or you're a gym regular and you still aren't seeing changes, it's time to take a closer look at your diet.
Moderately active women typically need a ballpark of 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day to maintain their weight, says Fear. To drop pounds, you'll need to shave anywhere from 250 to 500 calories a day from that total.
Seems simple, right? Not quite.
"After exercise, adrenaline and endorphins are flowing," says Howard Rachlin, Ph.D., a research professor at Stony Brook University. In this elated state, women often feel they deserve a post-workout treat or can splurge on a high-calorie lunch.
(You don't need as many calories on days when you don't work out. Learn how to Calculate Your Calorie Goal for Weight Loss.)
More: 3 Foods for Fast Muscle Recovery
Case in point: In a study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Doucet and his colleagues found that college students consumed up to three times more calories than they burned during an earlier workout.
Researchers think people may be less mindful of what they're putting into their mouths—as long as it's tasty. Not only that, many women also reward their gym efforts by being less active throughout the rest of the day—by, say, not taking the stairs or spending more downtime on the couch. In a 2011 study, women burned 70 fewer calories during the day after doing a hard workout compared with days they didn't hit the gym.
Even if you can resist the reward mentality, how you feel after working out—exhausted, drained, possibly ravenous—can reinforce the idea that you burned a ton of calories and your body needs more fuel.
Just take a look at the spread of goodies offered at the end of a 5K. Grab a bagel, a banana and coconut water and you've just canceled out your calorie burn.
While serious athletes need pre-and post-workout calories to offset their demanding training, the average woman has enough glycogen stored in her muscles and liver to power her through a workout.
Translation: Put down the sports drink, gel or jelly beans. You don't need them after an hour at the gym.
That doesn't mean post-workout noshing is entirely off-limits: Calories after a workout can be a solid investment, says Fear: "They can help with muscle recovery and restore glycogen supplies so you won't reach for candy later."
If necessary, beat exercise-induced hunger pangs with a 200-calorie snack—a mix of carbs and protein, like half a turkey sandwich—within 30 minutes of exercising. Just remember to figure the calories into your daily count—not in addition to it.
The Perfect Balance
Once you sync up your diet and workout, be patient—successful pound shedding takes time.
"Fat loss and weight loss don't always go hand in hand," says Ben Hurley, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Maryland.
While endless cardio and a restrictive diet might lead to the fastest drops on the scale, you're often losing fat, water weight and muscle mass. The combo of cardio, weight training and healthy eating might mean slower losses, but you'll likely ditch flab while building good habits that you can maintain over time—meaning you'll look hot for years to come.
(Use our decade-by-decade fitness plan and you'll be Lean, Strong, and Sexy for Life.)More: How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting Once and For All
Stay in shape in a fitness class.