• Are Calorie Counters On Cardio Machines Accurate?

    December 15, 2011

    Hi, friends!

    I got my sweat on first thing this morning. Woohoo! I woke up, ate breakfast, and headed straight to the gym for a run on the treadmill.

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    I had some fun with inclines and intervals, and I covered 4.37 miles in 40 minutes.

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    Once I finished, I spent a few minutes walking on the treadmill as my cool down. During this time, I noticed that the machine said I burned 600 calories, which I thought was a serious overestimate.

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    I’ve actually heard that some cardio machines bump up the calorie count by 25% or more. I remember one time I spent 60-minutes on an elliptical, reading magazines and barely breaking a sweat, and the machine said I burned 1200 calories! Um, no. The workout was much too easy to burn that many calories. Common sense.

    I pretty much use cardio machine readouts as a guideline to gauge how many calories I’ve burned during a workout. To be honest, I usually don’t even look at them because I know they’re so off. Plus, I really enjoy exercise, so the calorie count at the end of my workout isn’t all that important to me. I just want to feel like a got a good workout at the end.

    Anyway, if you’re curious about how many calories you burn while running, I stumbled upon this neat chart from FitSugar that tells you what your running pace and workout time translates to in calories burned. Cool, right? It seems more accurate than the treadmill, especially for a 130-pound woman like me.

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    Breakfast

    Before I hit the gym, I fueled up with Overnight Oats In a (Sunflower Butter) Jar and a bottle of water. In the mix: rolled oats, banana slices, cinnamon, ground flaxseed meal, and almond milk.

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    Dinner

    Last night’s dinner was an oldie, but goodie: Mac & Cheese Lite. I like this recipe because it has a ton of garlicky and onion flavor, but, sadly, it isn’t as cheesy as others. I actually think using a really stinky cheese would make it a lot better. I used mild cheddar, so I barely tasted the cheese. Even still, it was a yummy dinner. I even went back for a second helping! 

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    After dinner, I wanted something more to eat so I grabbed an Apple Cinnamon & Pecan KIND Bar. I wanted to eat more cookies, but I figured something with a little substance would be a better bet.

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    Question of the Day

    How do you estimate the calories you burned during exercise? Do you use a device (Garmin, FitBit, BodyBugg, etc.) to track calories burned? Does it matter to you how many calories you burn during exercise?

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    { 91 comments… read them below or add one }

    Ari @ Ari's Menu December 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I’ve always felt like the ones at the gym are way off. I would like to believe that my Garmin is right. I put in my stats and it tells me that I burn about 120 calories per miles when I’m running. It seem right-ish considering I weigh about 150. I’ve thought about getting a body bug, but I could see that becoming obsessive real quick haha. At the end of the day, it really is about working hard and getting a good sweat, not the calorie burn, but it’s nice to at least get an idea.

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    Shelly @ Cake is a Food Group December 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    If I really want to know the amount of calories burned during exercise I use my New Balance heart rate monitor. I have also used the heart rate monitor on my Garmin, but the result was a lot different than my NB HRM. I think the NB HRM was more accurate after testing the two.

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    Anna December 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I have a polar heart rate monitor watch that I use that tracks calories. I mostly use it just to keep track of my intensity but I do admit that I like seeing the calories burned after (although even with this I feel like I have to take it with a grain of salt). I try to remember it’s not about the calories burned, but the effort and enjoyment of getting a good sweat in!

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    Jamie December 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I’m under the impression that the more fit you are, the harder you have to work to burn calories. Since you’re in good shape, I wonder if you burn less calories than the chart above..?

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    Kellie December 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I also think that the calorie count overestimates. I look at it, but in my head, I know that it’s roughly 100 calories per mile running for me, and around 100 calories for every 10 minutes of climbing stairs or biking. I think taking time to set your weight does help on these machines rather than ‘quick start’, but yes, they exaggerate or are by default set for less in shape individuals.

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    Cait @ Beyond Bananas December 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    They SO over estimate. I wear my Polar F7 calorie counter.. which likely ins’t 100% accurate either.. but definitely closer to the real deal than the cardio machines.

    Yesterday I had a relaxing 60 minutes on the elliptical. THe machine said I burned 750 calories while my Heart Rate monitor told me 500.

    One the treadmill, I tend to burn between 90-100 calories per mile. The time it takes me to do that depends on the speed I am going. The machine usually gives me 120 per mile.

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    Cait's Plate December 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    That’s so funny – I had that breakfast the other morning and so did Kath! Great minds think alike (and definitely know how to make good use of a nearly-empty Sunbutter jar! ;) )

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    Megan @ bump on a log learns to jog December 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I know those machines really overestimate espeicially the eliptical. I usually just go with the idea that I’m burning around 100 calories per mile that I run. I think I read that in a magazine somewhere. But for the bike and eliptical I would have no idea. I just know I’m working hard enough if I walk out of the gym with sweat marks on my shirt hahah…I know that’s kind of gross.

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    Jessica December 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I think even those fitsugar estimates might be a bit high, especially if you are already fit and have a low resting heart rate. Calorie burn depends a good deal on how high your heart rate goes during exercise. For me, when I use my Polar heart rate monitor, I only burn 75-80 calories per mile at 125 lbs. It might be closer to 90-100 if I’m doing sprints, intervals, or racing. In general, I’ve found that when I compare my HRM calories with the treadmill/elliptical (after inputting my sex, age, and weight), I only burn about 60% of what the machine will say.

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    Heidi December 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I find the elliptical calorie count is usually way off, but it makes me happy. I tend to be more excited about having a hard workout over burning calories.

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    Cat December 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Without your heart rate data, machines are simply giving you data that is based on the same equations that you’re probably learning about in your PT texts currently. If you enter your age, gender and weight correctly the range it generates will be more accurate, but still not as accurate as a heart rate monitor.

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    JB December 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    No. Gyms RARELY have the treadmills/ellipticals calibrated. So the HR is not going to be accurate either. If you want accuracy, use an HR monitor.

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    Laura December 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    I usually do the 100 calories for every mile calculation. It’s easy and based off the assumption that if I weigh 135 lbs and run a 10:00 minute mile I’ll burn roughly 100 calories. My weight and speed fluctuate a bit, but it’s a good rough estimate. (The only time I really care about calories is when I run 10+ miles during training bc then I am all “booyah! I can eat that delicious 1000 calorie burrito from Chipotle with zero guilt.” And after a marathon? 2620 extra calories are mine to burn. “Hello chocolate mousse!”)

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    April December 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    I am wondering if the incline matters at all. I always thought the calorie counts were off but would incline increase calorie burn?

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    Hillary December 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I do like knowing how many calories I’ve burned, even just as a rough estimate. It gives me an idea of how hard I’ve worked, at least to a point. The only time I really DON’T care about how many calories I’ve burned is during a long training run: times like those, I’m just happy that I made it through until the end!

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    Molly December 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    i was wondering the same thing at the gym yesterday about the calories burned. great post!

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    Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin December 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    I usually just judge my workout by the time and how I feel. If I’ve kept my heart rate up for at least 30 minutes, I deem it a good workout!

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    Tara @ Sweat like a Pig December 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    I don’t trust the machines at all! I don’t really care how many calories I burn – my trainer just tells me what heart rate to target and then I follow that.

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    Amanda December 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    I have used Garmins and heart rate monitors to track calories. I also use the rule of thumb: one mile = one hundred calories burned.

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    Erica @ For the Sake of Cake December 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I always wondered about those calorie counters & assumed that they had to be over-estimated. Like you, I don’t really focus too much on that though!

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    Cheryl December 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    I use my heart rate monitor when I’m at the gym but it’s more of a FYI kind of number. I like to know where I’m at in terms of heart rate during my workouts and it automatically keeps track of calories, but I’m pretty sure it’s overestimating cuz it’s set for when I was heavier. I could change it but it’s nice to think I torched more than I did. JK.

    There was a time when I was driven by the numbers on the machine. That was before I got a kin degree, realized they are foolish, and dealt with my eating disorder and realized exercise’s sole purpose is NOT to burn things off. Again, it’s more of an FYI thing for me now, and I even realize heart rate doesn’t always correlate with intensity.

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    Luv What You Do December 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I am obssessed with my heart rate monitor (Polar) but the machines are never accuarate compared to my monitor! I don’t trust them at all!

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    Katie December 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Interesting topic. I used to constantly wear my heart rate monitor to figure out my calorie burn each workout. While I think it can be a helpful training device, it can also become something that a lot of us can become too obsessive with. I’m happy to say that I actually don’t wear my heart rate monitor now and am much happier. I judge my workouts on how they make me feel and helping me become stronger, not a number I can tally in my head. I know this isn’t the case for everyone but for me, focusing less on the numbers and more about my physical and mental health overall is better for me:)

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    Ali December 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    The machines give a more accurate calorie burn if you input your weight. But, a lot them are old and over used so most likely not that great of a counter. I just use it as a gauge. Because on the other side most of the caloric information we receive on the boxes of our food are not completely accurate either. Best to listen to your body for the most accurate reading I would think (or have a personalized instrument ha!).

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    MB December 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    I think cardio machine calorie burns are big fat liars. They want people to think they are burning crazy amounts and then people wonder why they don’t lose weight after “burning” thousands of calories. I’ve been using a FitBit for over a year now and believe it is more accurate than cardio machines but still think it overestimates calorie burn. I like to judge my burn by the amount of sweat on the floor when I’m done.

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    BroccoliHut December 15, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    I use my heart rate monitor to estimate Calorie burn. I find it useful so I can regulate my intake for the day based on how much I burned during my morning workout.

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    Angela @ The Chicken Scoop December 16, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I used to be super obsessed and I love using my Garmin with the GPS off to track my calories burned with the heart rate monitor. But lately, I’ve been more lax (perhaps the reason for this major weight loss plateau?). I also just recently got a fitbit and I really love having that!
    ~Ang

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    diana@mymarblerye December 16, 2011 at 10:12 am

    get this. i walked for an hour one time and it said i burned 1200 calories. I WISH!

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    taylor December 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I used to constantly look at the calorie numbers while on cardio machines, and it ruined my workouts half the time! I was too concerned with seeing how I could burn more calories than actually enjoying the workout. I started putting a magazine or towel in front of it so I can’t see the calories, and focus on enjoying exercise instead. Works for me! :)

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    Alyse December 16, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I’m glad you asked this question. I’ve always wondered the same thing. Looks like heart rate monitors are the way to go! The cardio machines do seem to be a little overly optimistic.

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    Kelsey December 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    1200! Ha.. If that were true, many women would just live on the elliptical.

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    Liz December 17, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I enjoy having a rough estimate… but I usually rank it with my sweatiness, my exaustion/fatigue and just how I feel after!

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    Kell Brigan October 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    How can a computer ask each user whether or not they attempted weight “loss” in the past year? Or, the average weight of their parents and grandparents? Or, whether or not the user has an eating disorder. Calorie “counters” live in a bizarre, fantasy world where genetics and setpoint don’t exist, and people are just evaporation flasks rigged over Bunsen burners. People who weigh over 700 pounds have maintained that weight on fewer than 900 calories a day in controlled, heavily-monitored hospital settings, primarily because there bodies had been ruined by weight “loss” attempts. The rates of calories between individuals depend upon whether or not they’re starving/dieting, are recovering from a weight loss attempt and in the midst of returning to their normal weight, etc. etc. etc. Calorie “counting” makes less sense than trying to count angels.

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