Can You Actually Track Your Calorie Burn on a Long Bike Ride?

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Did you realize that you might not be burning as many calories as you think when you’re out riding your bike? There’s no doubt cycling is one of the best ways to keep a healthy weight, but unfortunately, many cyclists broadly overestimate the number of calories they’re actually burning.

But there is some excellent news; none of it’s your fault. Yep, it’s not often you can say that, but in this circumstance, it’s exactly what is going on.

I have been lucky enough to have led two international governing sporting bodies and have in-depth schooling and knowledge of sports health and nutrition; unfortunately, that can’t be said for most health writers. Far too many health writers spew absurd claims and reference every study without comprehending the subtler and more nuanced facts.

Misinformation, especially concerning weight loss, is very predominant, and because almost every human on the earth wants to lose body fat, the misinformation extends far and wide.

Ok, so I might be coming across as a bit blunt because one of the primary offenders of this “misinformation” is being driven by the 100s of calorie calculators you can find online. 

These calculators assert to calculate your expended energy by using tools cultivated on “the metabolic equivalent task.” Unfortunately, these calculators are incredibly inaccurate and guide cyclists to assume they’re burning more calories than they really are.

So with that being said, Let’s explore a little more in-depth.

Can You Track Your Calorie Burn When Cycling

Finding An Accurate Calculation For Burning Calories On The Bike

I honestly don’t think that health authors intentionally misinformed the cycling masses. Still, when calorie calculators are “way off” from the get-go, it is difficult for health industry people to document weight loss factually.

Let’s have a look at a relaxed ride, for instance. Generally, when you ride 10 mph, which equates to 7 METs, a 145lb rider could burn up to 450 calories but did you notice the keyword? COULD; You “could” or you “may” burn 450 calories, but that’s not a conclusive explanation.

These calculators fail to calculate or evaluate the cyclists’ present fitness level. If you’re a professional and exceptionally fit rider, you will burn far fewer calories than a novice cyclist. This is because the rider’s physiological actions of efficiency are operating at peak performance.

Nutrition and hydration are the two additional elements that greatly determine how many calories riders can and will burn. Many riders, myself included, use food as a “prize,” especially on a long 100-mile ride

We’ve all been guilty of taking a longer than usual rest at the coffee shop and spoiling ourselves with a cheeky espresso and a chocolate croissant. But to actually lose body fat and guarantee a calorie deficit, we need to regard food as a way to “fuel” our long rides instead of rewarding them.

Now I’m not stating you can’t have a donut or coffee but be mindful that they may include more calories than you originally thought. You are much better off making a few easy adjustments, like cutting the sugar from drinks, or rather than choosing to indulge in a chocolate croissant, you select a plain one.

long bike ride fields

Phone Apps And Digitial Calorie Counting Gadgets

Now that we have access to iPhone apps and other training apps like Strava, Wahoo, and Garmin, everything should be rosy red, right? Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. 

A 2017 study issued by investigators at Stanford concluded that out of the seven digital tracking devices they tried, not a single one delivered users with an exact estimate of calories burned. (1)

Here’s a list of the gadgets the researcher sampled.

  • The Fitbit
  • The Apple Watch
  • The Surge
  • The Basis Peak
  • The Microsoft Band
  • The Samsung Gear S2
  • The PulseOn

The research found that although the Apple Watch was by far the most precise, it was still a massive 25% inaccurate from the actual calories burned. More troubling than that, however, was the least exact digital gadget, which was incorrect by 92%. {you’ll have to read the analysis referenced below to find out which device that was}

The chief research scientist Dr. Euan Ashley declared, “calculating the number of doughnuts you eat on how many calories the gadget says you’ve burned is a horrible idea.”

While these iPhone apps are excellent and help you track your progress, they also deplete your iPhone battery. I highly advise buying a compatible iPhone charging case to guarantee you never lose any of your important ride metrics. There’s nothing more frustrating than hopping off your bike only to discover your iPhone is lifeless. 

An iPhone charging case can save the day and your critical ride data.

long bike ride lake and trees

Other Popular Cycling Apps That Can Track Calories

To some degree, apps such as Wahoo, Garmin, Strava, and even ZWIFT measure and track your calories much more accurately, but again, they’re not flawless. These apps are slightly more helpful because they do take into consideration your health and fitness particulars, such as body weight, size, gender, age, and maximum heart rate.

The apps then use algorithms to estimate the number of calories you burn. You can also connect many of these apps to external heart rate monitors and third-party apps to get a clearer picture of exactly how many calories you’re burning, further enhancing their preciseness.

Utilizing a power meter is one of the best ways to accurately track how many calories you burn while out on the bike. Power meters function by measuring your work rate and displaying the data in the form of “calories,” which is a unit of measurement that accounts for the inefficiency seen in the human body, mainly when performing a complex action such as pedaling.

The only major con is that a reputable power meter can set you back a small fortune, with many of the best brands costing well over $1000. That is entirely way out of the price spectrum for most intermediate cyclists, weekend warriors, and even hardcore riders.


Brenton Barker

Brenton holds a Degree in Sports Coaching from the University of Delaware and was the former Head Advisor for the Japanese Government's Sports Science Institute. Brenton currently consults with several Professional Athletes and clients in Self- Accountability, Health, and Goal Orientation.

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