What it takes to burn off an Olive Garden meal

Okay, first things first: I love Olive Garden.  And I know many of you do too.  And sometimes in your weight loss journey, you have a really awesome week and you just want to reward yourself on a job well done.  So the purpose of this post is to show what a splurge out to eat will entail.  This is absolutely not meant to discourage splurging (you gotta reward yourself!), but maybe it will make you think smarter about what you choose to splurge on.

So lets pick out what we are going to get at Olive Garden (aka I’m going to pick my favorites – note all of this information is available on the Olive Garden website):

  • House Salad, 1 serving with dressing: 140 Calories 


  • Breadsticks, 2: 280 Calories


  • Chicken Parmigiana: 1050 Calories


  • Lets say you have a glass of wine: 150 Calories


  • And you split a dessert, Tiramisu, with your friend: 235 Calories


Alright, the grand total calorie count is…….1,855 Calories

So now, lets see how much exercise, and at what intensity, it would take a 140 lb woman to burn off those extra calories.  I’ve included the ACSM metabolic equations to show how I got these numbers:

On the treadmill: You would have to run at 5 mph, at a 1% grade for 3.25 hours

  • VO2 = (0.2 . 5 mph . 26.8) + (0.9 . 5 mph . 26.8 . 1% incline) + 3.5 mL. kg-1.min-1 = 30.5 mL . kg-1 . min-1
    • 140 lbs = 63.6 kg
    • 63.6 kg X 30.5 mL . kg-1 . min-1/ 1000 = 1.9
    • 1.9 X 5 = 9.5 calories burned per minute, 570 calories burned per hour

On a stationary bike: You would have to cycle on level 3 resistance, at a cadence of 50 rpm, for 3.4 hours

  • VO2 = 1.8(3 kg . 6 . 50 rpm) / (63.3 kg) + 3.5 mL. kg-1.min-1+ 3.5 mL. kg-1.min-1 = 29.1 mL . kg-1 . min-1
    • 63.6 kg X 29.1 mL . kg-1 . min-1/ 1000 = 1.8
    • 1.8 X 5 = 9 calories burned per minute, 540 calories burned per hour

Those are just two examples, and of course everyones metabolic rate is going to be different.  Working at lower intensities, i.e. walking on the treadmill, or on a flat will take more time to burn those calories, and working at a higher intensity will take less time.

Of course, these numbers are going to be different based on your metabolic rate and your weight and body composition, but they’re still in the ball park in terms of estimation.

Also, the time I calculated only accounts for the meal itself, so if you are trying to lose weight, and you worked out for a total of 3.4 hours that week, you are only maintaining weight, if that makes sense.  So, simply put, if you are averaging exercise 3-4 days a week for an hour, and you are eating meals out like this at the end of the week, losing weight is going to be very hard, because you are just eating back those excess calories that you’ve worked so hard to burn during the week – and no matter what fad trends are out there, research continues to show that calorie expenditure (be it by burning more, or eating less), is the best way to lose weight.

Sorry if this made you REALLY crave some Olive Garden guys, I know I am!

Happy splurging!

-Juliane,  ACSM CEP



  1. gahh. it sucks.! why does the yummy food have to have so many calories.! At least I never drink wine or dessert. butt I do eat more than one serving of salad and breadsticks. oops.


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