How do I burn off Thanksgiving dinner?

Thursday, November 22, 2018. Author Dr. Haran Sivapalan

How do I burn off Thanksgiving dinner?

It’s fine to overindulge on the odd occasion, and what better occasion than Thanksgiving dinner. According to a report by the Calorie Control Council, the average American consumes a gargantuan 3,000 - 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving Day.

But, suppose you want to burn off those calories? Just how much exercise is required?

In this article, we take a look at some of the key ingredients of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We then calculate their individual caloric content and figure out how long you need to perform various exercises to account for those calories.

Bear in mind that this is not an exact science. The number of calories you expend during exercise varies according to your bodyweight, exercise intensity and even the ambient temperature. With regards to bodyweight, we’re using figures for the average 155 lb (70 kg) person. Broadly speaking, a heavier person will burn more calories for a given volume of exercise.

It’s also important to note that we are referring solely to the energy expended during exercise, or “activity-induced energy expenditure” Your body will also burn calories at rest, both in order to keep you alive and to digest food. See this blog for further explanation.


Roast turkey

Roast Turkey

High in protein and rich in selenium, phosphorous and vitamin B6, turkey is the traditional centrepiece of Thanksgiving dinner. The number of calories in a portion of turkey varies according to the cut of meat, with light meat (e.g. breast) containing fewer calories than dark meat (e.g. leg or thigh). If you like your turkey with the skin on, that’s additional calories. Lashings of gravy also ramp up the caloric content.

A 3 ½ ounce (100 g) serving of roasted dark meat turkey including skin comes in at roughly 221 kcals.

So, what’s that in terms of exercise for the average 155 lb person?

Power walking (at a speed of 4.5 mph) - 36 mins

Cross-trainer (Elliptical trainer)20 mins

Rowing ergometer (moderate intensity) - 26 mins

Bicycle ergometer (moderate intensity) – 26 mins

Weightlifting (general) – 59 mins

Calisthenics (e.g. pull-ups, push ups, squats, dips at moderate intensity) – 40 mins




Everyone has their own recipe, but stuffing typically contains a mixture of different ingredients, including bread or cornbread, butter, onions, celery, eggs, sage and other herbs. It’s common to add sausage meat to stuffing too. Be aware that pork and beef sausages tend to be more calorific than turkey or chicken sausages.

A 1 cup (214g) serving of pork sausage stuffing contains about 350 kcals.

To burn those calories, the average person will need to perform the following:

Power walking (at a speed of 4.5 mph): 56 mins

Cross-trainer (Elliptical trainer) – 31 mins

Rowing ergometer (moderate intensity) - 40 mins

Bicycle ergometer (moderate intensity) – 40 mins

Weightlifting (general) – 93 mins

Calisthenics (e.g. pull-ups, push ups, squats, dips at moderate intensity) – 63 mins


Mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes

While white potatoes probably weren’t part of the original Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag (for they had yet to be introduced to North America), mashed potatoes are a modern favorite. That fluffy, creamy texture that makes mashed potatoes so tasty results from adding milk and butter (or margarine). Alas, this also increases the caloric content. Whole (full-fat) milk is more calorific than semi-skimmed (half fat) or skimmed milk.

A 1 cup (214 g) serving of homemade mashed potatoes with whole milk and butter contains 237 kcals.

That equates to:

Power walking (at a speed of 4.5 mph): 38 mins

Cross-trainer (Elliptical trainer)21 mins

Rowing ergometer (moderate intensity) - 27 mins

Bicycle ergometer (moderate intensity) – 27 mins

Weightlifting (general) – 63 mins

Calisthenics (e.g. pull-ups, push ups, squats, dips at moderate intensity) – 43 mins


Cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce

Cranberries are rich in anthacyanin, an antioxidant that gives the berries their red colour and may promote better heart health. Nevertheless, the process of making cranberry sauce involves boiling and adding to sugar to cranberries, reducing their nutritional value and increasing the calorie content. On the flipside, cranberry sauce is usually an accompaniment to turkey, so the portion sizes are small.

A 2 ounce (56 g) serving of cranberry sauce amounts to about 85 kcals.

Power walking (at a speed of 4.5 mph) - 14 mins

Cross-trainer (Elliptical trainer)8 mins

Rowing ergometer (moderate intensity) - 10 mins

Bicycle ergometer (moderate intensity) – 10 mins

Weightlifting (general) – 23 mins

Calisthenics (e.g. pull-ups, push ups, squats, dips at moderate intensity) – 15 mins


Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie

You may round off your Thanksgiving dinner with a slice (or more) of pumpkin pie. Pumpkins are rich in several micronutrients, including Vitamin K and beta-carotene, the orange pigment that gets turned into Vitamin A. While cooked pumpkins on their own are low in calories, the addition of pastry, sugar and butter obviously makes pumpkin pie much more calorific.

One slice (about 1/8th) of a 9-inch pumpkin pie, weighing 5 ½ ounces (155 g) contains roughly 316 kcals.

To burn that off that slice of pie, the average person will need to perform:

Power walking (at a speed of 4.5 mph) - 51 mins

Cross-trainer (Elliptical trainer) – 28 mins

Rowing ergometer (moderate intensity) - 36 mins

Bicycle ergometer (moderate intensity) – 36 mins

Weightlifting (general) – 85 mins

Calisthenics (e.g. pull-ups, push ups, squats, dips at moderate intensity) – 57 mins


Remember to enjoy yourself

Remember that it's both enjoyable and good for our mental health to celebrate special occasions and have feasts. If you do overdo it at Thanksgiving dinner, don't worry. In the context of a generally healthy lifestyle, the occasional overindulgence is unlikely to have a massive impact on your fitness goals. So make sure you enjoy your meals and, from all at FitnessGenes, have a great Thanksgiving! 

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