Monday, September 24, 2007

Running vs. Cycling: Burning Calories

Running requires the same amount of energy to run one mile at any speed; you burn 110 calories per mile. It doesn’t matter if you are a super fit athlete, or an out of shape beginner you will still burn the same number of calories per mile.

However, bike riding is affected by wind resistance so the faster you ride, the more energy you use, and the more calories you burn. You have to compare running and cycling at different cycling speeds.

This is according to fitness expert Dr. Edward Coyle of The University of Texas in Austin, who has worked with Lance Armstrong and other top athletes. He determined average values of oxygen consumption by cyclists to develop a table to estimate the approximate caloric equivalence between running and cycling.

He found that if you ride at 15 mph, you burn 31 calories per mile. This means if you ride 20 miles you burn 20 x 31 = 620 calories. Take the 620 calories and divide by 110 calories per mile for running and you get 5.63 miles of running to burn the same number of calories. Therefore, riding a bicycle 20 miles at an average 15 miles per hour is equal to running 5.6 miles at any speed.

Dr. Coyle’s conversion figures are for an average-size adult (approximately 155 pounds). A larger cyclist would divide by a slightly higher number, a smaller cyclist, by a slightly lower one. Wind and hills are not accounted for in the table; nor is drafting behind another rider, which can reduce your energy expenditure by up to one-third.

The number of miles ridden divided by the conversion factor for the speed of riding equals the number of miles running to use the same amount of energy and calories burned. Here is the conversion table:

Riding 20 miles at 10 miles per hour, divide 20 miles by the conversion factor of 4.2 to get 4.8 miles equivalent running. For riding at 20 miles at 20 miles per hour, divide 20 miles distance by 2.9 conversion factor to get 6.9 miles running.

Running will give you a more intense workout in less time. However, a person would need to be at a reasonable fitness level to run 4.8 miles without causing themselves distress. Whereas, it would be easier to ride 20 miles on a bicycle, at 10 mph, to burn the same amount of calories. There would also be far less stress on the body’s joints.

During the 1990s I was in pretty good shape and I could run 10 miles quite easily. My weight stayed steady. Ten years later, I could no longer manage that distance due to hip problems and had to cut back to 5 or 6 miles; the result was I gained weight, even with exercise. Eventually I had to give up running, and went back to cycling.

Now with the same level of fitness, it took me to run 5 or 6 miles, I can easily ride 50 miles at an average speed of 15 mph which equals 1,550 calories burned. I would have to run 14 miles to burn the same number of calories.

I am starting to loose weight again, and as my fitness level increases, my average speed increases, therefore, my calorie burning level increases. If I were still running, it would not matter what fitness level I attained, I would still only burn 110 calories per mile.

It seems to me that cycling is the best bet for anyone trying to burn calories and loose weight. There is far less stress on knee and hip joints, and the harder you push yourself the greater the reward in calories burned.

A person overweight by a considerable amount, who initially can only manage a few miles at say 10 mph, can also take heart that the extra weight they are carrying is in itself causing more calories to be burned.

Addendum June 16, 2008. Comments are closed.

This post gets more hits from searches than any other post on this blog. (At least 150 per day.) Many have found this to be a useful guide, but that is all it is, a guide.

I took figures by Dr. Edward Coyle, he is the expert not me. Walking is never mentioned in the piece, it has been established in the comments that a heavier runner would burn more calories than a lighter runner would. The 110 calories per mile is for an average 155 lb runner.

It is also quite possible that a very fit athlete running at top speed may burn more calories. Again, it is only a guide. Comments have been closed on this particular post as it becomes difficult to monitor comments on an older post.


Anonymous said...

I have to question the first part of your post. Wouldn't the person's weight factor in to how many calories it takes to run a mile? It doesn't seem logical to me that it would take the same amount of energy to move a 95lb person one mile as a 400lb person.

It won't change the substance of your article, but I'm reasonably certain I burn more calories moving my 210lb carcass than my son does moving his 60lbs over the same distance, biking or running.

Dave Moulton said...

What you say does make sense, the 110 calories burned per mile running at any speed is probably for an average 155 lb. person, the same as the figures are for cycling.

Miss Machine said...

Actually, beyond that, it also doesn't make any sense that someone running a mile at 3mph would burn exactly the same calories as that same person running a mile at 9mph. In fact, isn't that an impossibility?

I've been running long distance for almost 12 years now and that just doesn't seem right at all.

But that doesn't change the rest of your excellent post! Thanks Dave!

Dave Moulton said...

A mechanical horsepower is the amount of energy to lift 550 lbs, 1 foot in 1 second. If I take 2 seconds to lift the same 550 lbs it means I lifted it 6 inches in the first second, and 6 inches in the following second. A half horsepower of energy each second making the same one horsepower extended. A watt of energy is the same thing, except it is measured in kilos, meters and seconds, but the same principle applies.

I think what Dr. Coyle is saying for the purpose his article that he is not factoring in any wind resistance for a runner. If runner “A” runs a mile in 6 minutes, and runner “B” runs a mile in 12 minutes; “B” ran at half the energy but took twice as long, so they both exerted the same energy.

Yokota Fritz said...

I got into cycling more seriously while recovering from stress injuries from competitive running. I can go all day on a bike, but running hurts too much for me to go much more than a couple of miles!

Hunter said...

Makes sense to me. I started riding to work this summer, about 4.5 miles one way, and lost almost thirty pounds. This with a starting weight of 290, on a Diamondback Approach steel framed hybrid.
My average speed appears to be around 10 - 12 mph.
Ketchikan, AK

Howard said...

When I started riding two years ago, I weighed over 250# and would burn a thousand calories within 45 minutes at a fairly slow pace, though it didn't feel slow at the time.

Today, at 193#, I have to fly down the road for well over an hour to burn that same thousand calories.

Diminishing returns suck. But I enjoy flying too much to stop.

Anonymous said...

I will question the idea that the energy cost of covering 1 mile is the same regardless of speed.

And I bring this to the table

Anonymous said...

The link got cut of it looks like

Anonymous said...

Okay I give up.

Go to PubMed and seach "Energy Expenditure of Walking and Running" from MSSE December 2004.

Jerome said...

I must say that I'm not in total concurrent either. I've been into long distance running for several years now, still a newbie, but I have completed 3 full marathons and 3 half marathons. The fact of the matter is, the more you run, the more efficient your body becomes. More to this, there are certain types of training (running) that can increase your body’s efficiency.

I notice that at the beginning of a training season, I'm very much affected by the type of food I intake and what I drink prior to running. After 4 months of running 5 days a week, need to ingest far less to feel strong through out the run.

Running magazines also speak very much to the notion that the more you run, the less calories you burn, the more efficient your body becomes.

Also, there is the whole issue of running style and stride length. To exaggerate for purposes of illustration; if I were to make every leg turn over a jump as high into the air as I could, I most certainly we use more energy than if I were to keep my legs as close to the ground as possible. Every persons stride varies in this way somewhat. May not be a big deal for 10 steps, but over the distance of a mile, it would be significant.

Don't mean to harp, and I really do enjoy your posts. I simply think that 110 calories flat rate per mile is false. I think the difference of energy used is very big, based on the runner and the fitness level of the individual runner at the time they are running.


jason said...

Suppose it is true that running burns a constant number of calories per mile (for a given person). That doesn't really bear on the question of whether running or biking is a preferable exercise. Most exercisers care about calories burned per minute -- and a faster runner covers more miles per minute.

mark worden said...

I decided that this year would be my "year of the bike" and that my goal was to 30 lbs (from 200 to 170). I ride about 40 miles a week and do my best to eliminate sugar and fatty food from my diet. I figure that if I can eliminate about 3500 calories a week--half from biking, half from diet change, I will lose one lb each week. I'm down 20 lbs but have plateaued. I think I am going to add some miles to get going again. I have set up a trainer in the living room, much to wife's delight!

Doug Gordon said...

I'm a distance runner as well as a cyclist, and I find that running is a better conditioning activity for me simply because I can get more of a workout in less time expended.

That said, since I began cycling more and running somewhat less, my running event times have continued to drop, and this year I've set PRs at distances of 8K, 10K, 10M, and 13.1M! BTW, I'm 61 and am enjoying my recent accomplishments in both sports.

Lisa said...

cool blog.

Anonymous said...

I've been off the bike this past year (except for minimal cross training) as a result of training for and completing three marathons, and I miss it! I look forward to more cycling over the next year, and less pain. Great forum!

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering how the resistance factors in to speed and calories burned per mile. Like what if you ride 20 mph at a higher resistance level on a stationary bike, then does it follow that you will burn more calories? How can you figure that out? Is there a formula you can use going off of your heart rate to know how many calories you are burning? sorry so many questions. I used to run and now I want to bike on the stationary bike. I go for about 45 minutes and my heart rate for both running and biking gets to the same rate of between 160 and 170. so am I burning the same number of calories?

Unknown said...

This is absolutely wrong. Speed will most certainly affect calories burned. Energy is equal to force times distance. Time is NOT a factor when concerning energy. The distance will be the same. But the force exerted by a heavier person and someone running faster would be much greater than someone that was lighter and running slower. Think about it this way...According to your argument a person walking the same distance as someone running that distance burns the same calories...ABSOLUTELY WRONG!!! Learn your physics people...

Unknown said...

To add on to my post, I feel I should inform you how time does factor into things...Power is equal to (F*D)/t, where F = force, D = distance, and t = time. So when you increase the time that you do something, the POWER, not ENERGY, is affected. And, actually, when you increase the time, the power goes down. So not only is the energy greater for someone running, the time is less, meaning the power required is substantially more. A person walking uses less energy and takes more time making the power substantially less. So, you see it takes a lot more energy and a lot more power to run for a mile than to walk for a mile.

Dave Moulton said...


Thank you for your input, but it was established early on in the comments that a heavier person running is going to expend more energy than a lighter person. The figures in the article are for an average 155 lb athlete. Walking was never mentioned.

Watts or calories burned are measured in terms of weight, distance, and time. If the weight and distance remain the same, a person running 1 mile at half the speed of another is using half the energy. However, the slower runner is on the 1 mile course twice as long, therefore 2 halves make one.

To explain it another way one runner travels 1 mile in 6 minutes, he burns 110 calories. Another travels 1 mile in 12 minutes, and burns 110 calories. The faster runner is burning twice the calories per minute, but is only running for half the time.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Dave.

Ok: It is absolutely untrue that running at any speed for a mile results in the same number of burned calories.

Here's an example of why this is bad reasoning: If I run extraordinarly slowly, say at the pace of .5 a mile per hour, then I will cover one measly mile in 2 hours. You can bet your butt that this near jogging-in-place style of running will result in more than 115 burned calories.

I have been a very longtime runner. I'll tell an interesting observation that I made in high school: slow running was often more exhausting than my natural, open stride.

I'll bet there are more than a dozen factors that make the original postulation untrue.

Dave, pull out of retirement and build me a bike! It's been a dream of mine! (Then we won't have to chat about this running silliness.)

Anonymous said...

Well I am an engineer and I agree with what Dave has said about the calories burned per mile. Now it can vary somewhat but you have to remember that one person walking will take a lot longer at walking to cover the mile than a person jogging or running. Even though the runner will use more calories per minute he is not doing it for nearly as long.
The 110 figure is for some average person and I will agree that for some other person the rate may be different but it will be approximately the same no matter what speed the individual uses to cover the distance. When he rides a bike to do it, he must go for a much longer distance as the amount of energy necessary to ride the bike is lower at any speed. Gosh I would have thought that was self-evident. Test it out. Walk a mile and back and see how much you get tired and then do it on a bike and see what the results are. If you are more exhausted riding a bike, then you are amazing!
Of course if you are lighter or heavier it will take more energy to do the distance.

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Anonymous said...

I think Dave is right in principle - but there's another point to consider. If you run (or cycle) at higher intensity, your pulse rate rises higher and your body carries on burning calories AFTER your session has stopped - so expending a set amount of energy over say 20 minutes at high intensity will burn more calories than the same amount of energy at half intensity over 40 minutes, because of this 'afterburn' effect

Anonymous said...


I am a runner and I run anywhere from 6-13 mile 3 times a week, but with the fuel costs and the expence of having a car I have decided to cycle. I now have just started this week to cycle mon-fri 15 mile there then 15 mile back. Would this help my running? or would it make me slower at running? I dont think I could take yp the cycling seriously cause I love the feeling that running gives me.
I hope you can answer my question.

Anonymous said...

We are talking about the human body y'all! Heart rate is the hidden factor and makes all the difference! The heart rate stays elevated longer and takes more time to recover after running compared to walking! Be honest now, scientifically this is what really matters. Boost that metabolism.

Anonymous said...

I think the thread is interesting. I cannot find the data right now, but I'm certain that the speed at which the distance is covered matters in calorie consumption. These measurements have been done through respitory tests which can very accurately measure calories burned. Animals are not pure mechanical machines, so increasing speed involves high overall muscle coordination (groups, strain...i.e. energy) above a certain threshold. Comparing 1mile/hour to 0.5 mile/hour doesn't really matter, but comparing 1mile/hour to 8-9mile/hour the difference shos up.

Anonymous said...

110 calories per mile is merely a generalization. Running at 10 mph not only burns more calories per hour but also more calories per mile than jogging at 5 mph. Engineers sometimes cite Energy = Force x Distance but fail to consider the mechanics of running. There is more up-down movement when running fast, and a fast runner stays in the air a larger proportion of the time than someone who is just shuffling along. Watch photos of a track meet to see how high the feet of a sprinter leave the ground. Considering just E=FxD also does not take into account the pumping of arms, gluts, quadriceps, calf, etc. and energy used in sweating, velocity of blood flow etc. of a 5-minute miler. At 12 mph, it is much more of a total-body workout than a 5 mph jog. I think few would argue that a sprinter burns the same amount of energy as a 100 m stroll.