I’ve used peloton for a while and I’ve noticed a big discrepancy between calories burned on the app vs on my heart rate monitor. In this article, I will explain how does peloton calculates calories and if peloton calories are accurate.
As a whole, the peloton bike uses the build-in output meter to measure the watts, and based on that it calculates the number of calories burned. However, this formula isn’t accurate because it doesn’t take into consideration resting metabolic rate and lean body mass.
There is also another way to measure calorie expenditure using the heart rate monitor. Keep reading to learn more about the difference between these calorie estimates and which one is more precise.
How Does Peloton Bike Calculate Calories?
The only way to know how many calories you burn during physical activity is to measure the amount of oxygen consumed. There are a couple of ways that give you accurate numbers:
- Indirect calorimetry
- Direct calorimetry
While both of those methods are excellent ways to measure oxygen consumption and energy expenditure, neither method is practical for everyday use because they require expensive and hard-to-access equipment (more on that later).
Thankfully, there are few more ways to estimate energy expenditure, but those are way less accurate.
- Metabolic equivalent
- Heart rate monitoring
- Motion sensors
Overall, the peloton bike calculates calories using the metabolic equivalent method (METs). It calculates calories based on the power output. One MET is equivalent to 3.5 mL of oxygen consumed at rest per kilogram of body weight per minute.
NOTE: Please remember that accuracy of the power output will be depended on having a properly calibrated bike. You can learn more about “peloton bike calibration” in my article here.
Here’s how it works.
The body consumes oxygen, and the more oxygen we consume, the more energy (calories) we need to transport this oxygen throughout the body.
Plus, with more physical effort, the body will have a higher demand for oxygen and higher demand to eliminate carbon dioxide.
The effort level on the peloton bike is measured using watts, which is a combination of resistance, cadence, and power output.
The number of watts corresponds to different numbers of METs, and the bike automatically calculates the number based on the amount of effort you train at.
Here you can see the example of a conversion of watts to METs.
|30 – 50 watts||3.5|
|51 – 89 watts||4.8|
|90 – 100 watts||6.8|
|101 – 160 watts||8.8|
|161 – 200 watts||11|
|201 – 270 watts||14|
METs and watts are widely used and accepted across most fitness machines and equipment as a way to measure intensity, as well as energy expenditure.
This means that most of the fitness machines you see in the gym can show you how many calories you burn based on a build-in output meter that converts into METs.
Here is the peloton calories formula.
As you can see, to make the estimate more accurate, the formula needs to be adjusted for body weight.
That’s why updating your profile on the peloton is important because the bike uses those numbers to calibrate your calories. Keeping the numbers up to date the peloton will be able to provide a better estimate of energy expenditure.
However, even after you update your profile, this measure has many limitations because it doesn’t take into consideration other important factors like:
- Lean body weight
- Fat percentage
Are METs Accurate?
Overall, the METS formula isn’t accurate because the value equating 1 MET = 3.5 ml/kg/min doesn’t take into consideration the lean body mass. According to Dr. Nuala M Byrne, the METs formula was derived from the resting oxygen consumption of a 70-kg, 40-yr-old man, and used as a baseline.
This creates a significant discrepancy, especially if your age and body weight doesn’t match the baseline profile. Studies have shown that in some cases, the variance can be as high as 35-59% (Byrne et al. 2005).
Another reason why this formula isn’t accurate is that it doesn’t take into account the impact of lean body mass on the RMR (resting metabolic rate).
People with more lean muscle mass will have a significantly higher resting metabolic rate because the skeletal muscle is the most metabolically active tissue.
This means muscle consumes oxygen at a high rate even at rest. People with more muscle mass will gobble more oxygen, even when they are sitting or sleeping (Maeder et al. 2008).
As you can imagine, the more oxygen one consumes, the more calories one burn at rest.
How Accurate Are Peloton Calories?
Since I got the peloton I was shocked at how do people burn so many calories on the peloton.
To see how accurate the peloton calorie estimate is I did an experiment and compared my total calories burned from the bike with calories burned on my Garmin watch.
For this experiment, I completed 5 classes that ranged from 20 to 75 minutes. Here are the results.
|Peloton calories||Garmin calories|
|30-minutes Low-impact Ride||348||278|
|30-minutes Power Zone Max Ride||567||452|
|75-minute Power Zone Endurance Ride||970||823|
|45-minute Rock Ride||616||575|
|45-minute Low-impact Ride||467||397|
As you can see, the peloton bike always gave me a higher number, compared to the Garmin watch. This can happen because the peloton bike uses a power meter as a way to estimate energy expenditure, whereas the watch is using a heart rate monitor.
However, I know many people who seem to have the exact opposite. They often ask me why I don’t burn as many calories on the peloton as on the Fitbit or Apple watch.
Overall, you don’t burn as many calories on the peloton as on other devices because the peloton uses the formula that needs to be adjusted to body weight, age, gender, and height. People who don’t keep up to date their profiles may not get the most accurate data.
Learn more: Click here to learn more about “does your weight impact peloton output“.
What About Heart Rate Monitor?
The second way the peloton estimates calories burned is from the wearable heart rate monitors. However, this formula has limitations, which makes it inaccurate. Several factors can influence heart rate levels, even without being physically active.
Here is the list:
|Heat||Exercising in a humid or hot place will lead to increased resting heart rate.|
|Hydration||Dehydration leads to decreased blood volume, therefore, faster heartbeat and higher heart rate|
|Lack of sleep||Poor sleep and abrupt awakenings can lead to an increase in heart rate.|
|Stress||Stress releases adrenaline, which temporarily causes the heart rate to increase and blood pressure to rise.|
|Caffeine||Caffeine increases adrenaline and mildly increases the heart rate.|
|Pre-workouts||Pre-workouts contain caffeine and taurine|
|Nicotine||Research has shown that smoking increases heart rate and can cause an irregular heart rhythm|
|Medications||Certain medications can influence your heart rate|
As you can see, the higher heart rate doesn’t always correspond to more calories burned.
Now imagine if I had a bad night’s sleep. To compensate I drink coffee and take pre-workout before my peloton ride, my heart rate will be off the chart. This has nothing to do with more calories burned.
The peloton heart rate monitor is an excellent way to measure heart rate. However, the heart rate itself isn’t the most accurate way to estimate calorie burned.
Anything that can affect your heart rate and is not related to the workout will provide inaccurate feedback to the heart rate monitor. This can either over or underestimate your total calories burned.
Studies have shown that estimate of energy expenditure measured from the heart rate monitors can be off by 9-43% (Wallen et al. 2016).
Type of heart rate monitor matters
Keep in mind that the way you measure your heart rate is also important. For example, optical heart rate monitors have been shown to be less accurate, compared to ECG heart rate monitors.
NOTE: I’ve written a review about “peloton heart rate monitor“, which I recommend you read.
In my testing, the most accurate heart rate monitor I’ve used so far is the Polar H10 Heart Rate Monitor (chest strap), available on Amazon. Details here.
(if you buy through links on this page, I may earn a small commission).
Peloton Calories Not Matching Apple
Now once you understand there are different methods to estimate calorie expenditure, let’s look at why peloton calories and apple watch calories don’t match.
As a whole, the calories on peloton and apple watch don’t match because they use different ways to estimate energy burned. The peloton bike uses a build-in watts meter that estimates your calories based on your output. The apple watch uses a heart rate monitor.
Is Apple Watch or Peloton more accurate for calories? Overall, the apple watch is more accurate than the peloton bike because the heart rate monitoring is more precise than the metabolic equivalent method. However, no single method can accurately calculate calorie burned, compared to direct and indirect calorimetry.
Direct calorimetry is a measurement of total body heat produced via an air-tight sealed chamber. Direct calorimetry is more out of reach because it requires laboratory settings and expensive equipment that only a few research facilities can afford.
Indirect calorimetry measures respiratory gases exchange. This is more common to see in the Univesity lab. It requires attaching a mouthpiece to a person and measures the exchange rate of oxygen. The results are recorded and provide real-time immediate feedback.
Average Calories Bured with a Peloton
Just because a Peloton bike isn’t the most accurate way to measure calories, it doesn’t mean it’s not important to track them. Tracking calories is one of the ways to measure progress, together with other metrics like power output, milage, and class difficulty.
How many calories do you burn in a peloton session? On average, you can burn between 300 to 600 calories in a 20-minute peloton ride, depending on the type and intensity level. Classes that involve more high-intensity interval training, climbing, and riding out of the saddle require more effort.
Learn more: Click here to see the list of “peloton rides that burn the most calories“
What I like about the peloton metrics is they have the calorie history from all your rides. This is important, especially for people who need extra support and motivation.
I think nothing is motivating more than seeing on the screen your history and realize how far you have come. So, on a day-to-day basis, I don’t recommend stressing about calories burned.
But at the macro level, it’s important to have access to those metrics because they give you a clear indication if you are making progress or not.
How to Track Calories With Peloton?
One common recommendation I give to all of my clients is to track as many indicators as you can that show you’re making progress. This is important because it allows you to stay focused and have a reference of how much you’ve achieved so far.
There are several things you can track:
Calories burned – you can look at the total amount of calories burned over the week and compare it with your previous week. Each week try to beat your record.
Miles or kilometers – If you’re training for a marathon or triathlon, you can track the mileage you do over the week. The most effective way to train for endurance training is by adding more training volume.
Power output – The power meter is the gold standard to measure intensity. If you train for performance, you should be riding around your desired power zone.
Sessions – Another way to implement progressive overload is by adding more sessions over the weeks.
If you use a peloton bike, you have all those metrics automatically saved for you. However, if you use the peloton digital, you need to track your metrics.
With peloton digital, you can track your calories from the peloton simply by writing down the number of calories burned after every class. You can also keep a log on the spreadsheet or google docs that will automatically add up all the numbers.
Also, I don’t recommend using calories burned as an indicator for calorie intake. The numbers are way off and if you just look at the math, you may be overeating or undereating.
Learn more: Click here to learn more about how to use “peloton and Fitbit” for health and weight loss.
As a whole, the peloton class can burn anywhere between 300 to 600 calories, depending on the type of class and the intensity. Some classes like power zone max ride, full-body boot camp, or interval runs burn the most calories.
I always recommend tracking as many indicators as you can that will help you stay motivated. I also don’t recommend using calories from the peloton or apple watch as a way to calculate your calorie intake.
Those numbers are great for performance measures, but to know how many calories are you burning, you need to visit your local lab for indirect calorimetry.