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Is a Turkey Trot Enough of a Workout to Burn Off Thanksgiving Dinner?

Running a 5k or 10k is a start, but it’s certainly not the best workout when you want to quickly work off 3,000 calories

When it comes to working out, we’re not all strongmen like Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (aka the Mountain from Game of Thrones). In fact, many of us could go our entire lives and still have no clue how a lat pull-down differs from an incline bench. Which is to say, there’s no shame in not knowing your way around a gym, or how to start the process of getting in shape. Plus, that’s what we’re here for — to make sure that when you’re in the gym, you at least never have to sweat the small stuff.

I hate that I consume so many calories on Thanksgiving. And yet, I’ll never stop — the perfect forkful of turkey, gravy and stuffing is just too good. Which brings me to my question: Is there any sense in trying to work off the meal before or after I stuff my face (and stomach), or is it a futile effort? I saw, for example, that my gym, L.A. Fitness, is open from 8 a.m. to noon on Thanksgiving morning.

There’s definitely sense in working out in order to consume the foods you want with less guilt. Will, though, one workout on Thanksgiving allow you to go hog wild with the candied yams and mashed potatoes? Probably not. But let’s consider its utility anyways.

First, however, I should note what you’re up against: According to the Calorie Control Council (natch), the average caloric intake on Thanksgiving can run between 3,000 and 5,000 calories. To make matters worse, half of that will likely come from carbs — more than 500 grams’ worth. Not exactly keto!

In other words, you’ve got one hell of a hill to climb. Now, a lot of people over the last few years have sought to conquer this hill by doing something called a “turkey trot,” typically a 5k or 10k race on Thanksgiving morning, with the hope of feeling like less of a schlub later in the day when the inevitable tryptophan-induced drowsiness takes hold. Well, let me stop all of you turkey-trotters in your turkey-trotting tracks right there: Running 10 kilometers (or 6.21 miles) with the hope of burning off 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 calories is like trying to prevent the Titanic from sinking with half a roll of duct tape. Not. Gonna. Happen.

According to Runner’s World, the average person running a single mile will burn 100 calories. Multiply that by 6.2, and you’re looking at 620 calories burned, well under a quarter of the calories found in that holiday bird with all the fixings. Basically, that trot would need to be marathon-like just to sniff the amount of calories you’ll consume over the course of Thanksgiving dinner. And even then, you’d better limit yourself to a single plate (impossible, I know).

Save for an ultra-marathon, then, what else can you do to limit the caloric damage you’ll be doing tomorrow?

“If you’re going to opt to get your workout in early, opt for weight training with free weights,” suggests Damien Brown, a personal trainer in L.A. “Not only will a mix of squats, deadlifts and presses with limited rest between sets burn calories, but they should also accelerate how quickly your body burns carbs for fuel — giving you a nice hole you can fill with everything you’ll be eating later.” 

That said, if your plan is to work out after your big meal, you’ll want to try something a little different. “After you’re done eating, try doing a HIIT session — if you think you can get through it without throwing up,” says Brown. HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, like a 90-second circuit of burpees, kettlebell swings, air squats and lunges (among many other combinations), can burn calories and boost your metabolism — meaning everything you just ate will continue to burn off for hours after you’re done working out. “Do a HIIT circuit for 30 minutes to an hour,” Brown instructs. “It’ll kick your ass, but it’ll make you feel better about what you just ate, too.”

Fact is, there’s little chance you’ll be able to completely work off all 10 pounds of savory turkey, buttery sides and sweet, sweet desserts you’re definitely going to devour tomorrow afternoon. But with a little forethought — and a bit more than a turkey trot — those 10 pounds don’t have to stick around your waistline all winter either.