How Many Calories Burned in a 10K Cycle?

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There are several factors that determine how many calories you burn with cycling.
Image Credit: RichLegg/E+/GettyImages

The exact number of calories burned stationary biking a 10k — or any other distance — will vary depending on a few key variables. But if you know your body weight, how fast you're riding and how long it takes to complete that ride, you can estimate closely, on both a stationary bike or outdoor ride.

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Depending on how much you weigh and how fast you ride, you can expect to burn several hundred calories when cycling 10 kilometers.

Estimating Calories Burned

If you're doing your 10k ride on a stationary bike, most models have a digital readout that displays how many calories you've burned. This estimate is based on how fast you've pedaled for how long and against how much resistance, as well as some basic information that you input at the beginning of your ride. Your body weight is the piece of data you'll most commonly be asked for.

However, some models of stationary bike, along with most regular (outdoor) bikes, don't have the technology needed to estimate this.

Your next-best resource for estimating calories burned while stationary biking is a cycling calculator, or a physical activity calorie calculator from a reputable source. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) publishes an excellent calculator that accounts for several different cycling speeds — just input your body weight and how long you spent cycling.

Although it's somewhat less convenient to use, Harvard Health Publishing also offers an excellent table of calorie burn estimates that accommodates several different types and speeds of cycling, along with three different body weights: 125 pounds, 155 pounds and 185 pounds.

Taking note of your body weight, and how fast or hard you're pedaling, is key to figuring out how many calories you've burned. That's because, in general, the more you weigh and the harder you work, the more calories you'll burn while doing any activity.

Calories Burned Stationary Biking

Of particular note, the Harvard Health Publishing estimates include general numbers for calories burned while stationary biking. For example, if you weigh 185 pounds and ride a stationary bike at a moderate intensity, they estimate that you're burning about 311 calories per 30 minutes. If you pedal faster for a vigorous workout, your calorie burn jumps up to about 466 calories per 30 minutes on the stationary bike.

But if you want to base your calorie burn on distance pedaled instead of time, you must also figure out how long it takes you to pedal that 10k, or whatever other distance you're considering. (If you're measuring in miles instead of kilometers, 10k equals about 6.2 miles.) Again, there's usually a digital readout for that on stationary bikes — but if you're pedaling outside, you might need to do some calculations.

If it took you an hour of moderate-intensity pedaling to reach your 10k goal, you will have burned about 622 calories based on the aforementioned estimates from Harvard Health Publishing. If it took you 30 minutes of pedaling at a vigorous intensity to complete your 10k ride, you can go straight to the estimate of 466 calories per half-hour of vigorous pedaling.

Technically, in this example, the more vigorous cycling outing works out to fewer calories overall — but that's only because the ride is over so much more quickly. But if you look at your energy expenditure as calories burned per minute, you're burning about 10.4 calories per minute at the slower speed, and 15.5 calories per minute at the faster speed.

Moderate Or Vigorous Intensity?

How can you tell if you're exercising at a moderate or vigorous intensity? The Mayo Clinic gives some useful clues to watch for. If you're working out at a moderate intensity, you may feel the following:

  • You breathe quickly, but don't get out of breath.
  • You have enough breath to hold a back-and-forth conversation, but not enough to sing.
  • You break into a light sweat after about 10 minutes.

If you're exercising vigorously or strenuously, the workout will feel more challenging and what you experience in your body will change, too:

  • You'll breathe deeply and quickly, and only be able to get a few words out at a time.
  • You'll break into a sweat after just a few minutes of activity.

One person's leisurely warm-up may be another person's all-out sprint, so don't worry too much about comparing your exercise intensity to that of other people — just pay attention to what's going on in your own body. If you keep cycling regularly, you'll find yourself pedaling faster and farther with less effort.

Read more: The Best Cycling Workouts for Every Fitness Level

Calories Burned Biking Outdoors

If you're cycling a 10k route outdoors, your bike probably can't tell you how many calories you've burned — but if you can figure out how fast you're riding, you can make some pretty good estimates using the aforementioned online cycling calculators.

For example, the ACE cycling calculator offers three different speed ranges for estimating your calorie burn while cycling. In addition to inputting your body weight and time spent cycling, you must also choose between the following speed ranges:

  • 5.5 mph (8.9 kph)
  • 12–13 mph (19.3–20.9 kph)
  • 16–19 mph (25.7–30.6 kph)

If you measure out a 10k course and then time how long it takes you to ride it, that will tell you which speed range to use and what time to input. If you weigh 185 pounds and fall into the 12 to 13 mph range, it will take you about 30 minutes to pedal 10k — which means that according to the ACE estimates, you will burn about 335 calories.

Harvard Health Publishing also offers calorie burn estimates based on cycling speed. For example, they estimate that if you weigh 185 pounds and pedal at 12 to 13.9 mph, which means taking half an hour to bike a 10k, you'll burn somewhere around 355 calories.

Both ACE and Harvard are reputable sources that use science-backed calculations for their calorie burn estimates — but the slight difference in their numbers drives home the fact that the numbers you are getting are, ultimately, only estimates.

Read more: What Cycling Newbies Need to Know Before Hopping on a Bike

Use Fitness Trackers With Caution

Fitness trackers — whether that means a dedicated device like a Fitbit or a fitness tracker on your mobile phone — can be wonderfully useful for encouraging, and measuring, your healthy habits. This was confirmed by a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the April 2019 issue of JMIR mHealth uHealth.

But, if you're depending on that device to tell you how many calories you've burned, it's important to recognize that the numbers you're getting are still only estimates — and their accuracy can vary widely. For example, Stanford researchers and a group of 60 volunteers evaluated the accuracy of seven fitness tracking devices when it came to tracking heart rate and calorie burn rates while cycling.

They found that although six of the seven devices delivered a median error rate of less than 5 percent for measuring your heart rate while exercising, none of them delivered an error rate of less than 20 percent when tracking energy expenditure. The most accurate device was still off clinical measurements of energy expenditure by 27 percent, and the least accurate device was off by a shocking 93 percent.

Or, to put it another way, even fitness tracking devices that were very good at measuring participants' heart rate were not very good at measuring how many calories the study participants burned — and some were downright terrible at it. The results of this study were published in the May 2017 issue of the Journal of Personalized Medicine.

Outside a clinical setting, the most accurate measurement of your workout intensity will come from a heart rate monitor. But even a monitor that's very accurate at gauging your heart rate may falter when it comes to translating that into calories burned.

Of particular note, the Polar H7 heart monitor is often accepted as the gold standard in chest strap heart monitors to gauging your heart rate. But, according to a study published in the March 2018 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, even the Polar H7 didn't fall within acceptable error ranges for measuring calories burned while stationary biking or resistance training. Nor did any of the other six devices tested.

That brings us back to the bottom line: Unless you are hooked up to sophisticated clinical equipment, even the best estimates of calories burned while cycling will remain just that — an estimate. However, they're still useful for tracking your progress toward fitness or weight loss goals.

Cycling Offers Many Benefits

Although cycling is a great way to burn calories, that's not the only benefit it offers. As Harvard Health Publishing notes, some of cycling's other key benefits include:

  • Offering a low-impact workout that's easy on your joints, building muscle in your lower body, including your glutes, quads, calves and hamstrings
  • Building stronger bones in your lower body
  • Using your core, arm and shoulder muscles when you bike outside

But perhaps the most important benefit of all is that cycling provides a great aerobic workout. And that, in turn, provides a number of health benefits. The Mayo Clinic lists a few of those:

  • More stamina, cardiovascular capacity and strength
  • A stronger immune system, including the ability to ward off viral illnesses
  • Reduced risk, and improved management, of many chronic conditions
  • Improved cholesterol profile
  • A natural mood boost
  • A longer lifespan

Read more: 11 Amazing Benefits of Biking

To be sure you're getting enough aerobic exercise to enjoy those healthy benefits, follow the physical activity recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). They recommend that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity — or any combination of those two exercise intensities. For even more health benefits, double that amount.

If you're counting calories because your ultimate goal is weight loss, that first recommendation is a good place to start — but depending on how you eat, you may find yourself needing to do closer to the "double" amount of exercise to see results.

That doesn't mean you have to be glued to your bike all day, every day. No matter what your ultimate goal is, you can mix and match different types of physical activity to get there. In addition to biking, walking, running, hiking, inline skating, swimming, using a stationary rower or elliptical trainer, dancing and playing sports are all great calorie-burners that can help you meet your weight loss or fitness goals.

The DHHS also recommends you strength-train all your major muscle groups at least twice a week, giving each muscle group at least a full rest day before you work it again. Strength-training is great for helping you to meet your other physical goals, from biking faster to losing weight.

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