What are METs? And How Many Calories am I Burning?

What are METs? And How Many Calories am I Burning?

It’s important to understand how much energy you are consuming during your workout regardless of your goals.

While the importance of knowing how much energy you are using during exercise is evident for those who are aiming to lose weight, (weight loss is a simple equation: energy in [food] – energy out [exercise]) understanding energy use is vital for everyone who exercises regularly.

From interval training to heavy lifting, METs are a universal measure of energy expenditure – and here is how you use them:

So… What are METs?

METs are displayed on the vast majority of cardio machines you’ll find in the gym and are a handy measure. This issue is that a lot of us don’t understand what a MET is.

In the simplest terms, a MET is an excellent way to measure exercise intensity. MET stands for ‘Metabolic Equivalent Task”. One MET is equal to the rate you burn calories while you are sitting still.

An easy way to understand METs is to think of one MET as being ‘the metabolic equivalent to sitting’. While the actual number of calories an individual burns also takes into account weight, age and fitness level, METs are an excellent universal measure of energy burnt during exercise.

As you would expect, when you begin to move and exercise, you’ll start to expend more energy, and this change can be universally measured as an increase in METs. So when you are on the treadmill, and the display in front of you is telling you that you are currently working at ‘5METs’, your metabolism is working 5 times faster than if you were sat down. 

Here are some MET values of various everyday household activities:

Sweeping Carpet 3.3 METS
Gardening 4.0 METs
Playing with Dog 4.0 METs
Washing the Car 4.5 METs
Playing with Kids 5.0 METs
Moving Furniture  6.0 METs

And here are some examples of MET values for some common exercises, see how they compare: 

Walking Slowly 2 METs
Brisk Walking 5 METs
Jogging (at 5mph) 8 METs
Running (at 7mph) 11.5 METs
Leisurely Swimming 6 METs
Football 7 METs
Tennis Doubles 5 METs
Golf (walking and pulling clubs) 4.3 METs
Slow Ball Room Dancing 3 METs

Why Are METs Useful?

Now you know what METs are, it’s time to find out why we need them.

METs are useful in identifying how intense the activity you are doing is. They help to allow estimates of the amount of energy needed for various exercises.

With this information, you can create more effective exercise programmes – whether for weight loss, muscle gain, or building endurance.

Being able to identify what intensity you are working at using a more objective measure is also useful when it comes to looking at the recommended activity guidelines. These guidelines state that individuals should do at least 150 minutes of ‘moderate’ intensity activity per week.

Generally, the boundaries of activity intensity (in METs) are classified as shown below:

Sedentary Intensity Less than 1.5 METs
Light Intensity Less than 3 METs
Moderate Intensity 3-6 METs
Vigorous Intensity More than 6 METs

Calories: A Language More Commonly Understood

METs are an excellent universal measure of activity intensity, but to fully utilise the information, you need to have an understanding of the relationship between METs and calories burned. After all, you’ll be measuring ‘food consumed’ in calories, so, to calculate your energy balance, you’ll need to know energy burned in calories too! 

Calculating calorie burn for METs is done as follows: 

Calories = METs x body weight (kg) x time (hours)

For Example:

If I am a 75kg male, jogging (5 METs) for 30 minutes…

I will have burned 187.5 calories.

Calories = 5 x 75 x 0.5

Using This Information

Once you know how many calories you are burning each time you exercise, you will have a much better idea of how you need to fuel your body to reach your goals.

Whether you are aiming for weight loss, training for a marathon or trying to gain muscle, knowing your energy outgoings will assist you in writing both your training and meal plans!

If it is weight loss you want, you need to make sure you are using more energy than you are taking in from food.

Otherwise, when you are trying to maintain body weight, gain muscle or fuel long distance runs, you should be trying to match (or exceed) your energy intake to your energy usage. 

Overall, gaining a proper understanding of METs and the intensity at which you are exercising is going to be incredibly useful in planning more efficient workouts and estimating how many calories you should be consuming to meet your fitness goals.

Next time you workout, pay a little more attention to your METs, and soon you’ll be fuelling your body like a pro. 

Ellen Havard

Ellen is a sport, health, & fitness writer and personal trainer currently studying at Loughborough University. Her training and coaching experience ranges from competitive cross country running to CrossFit and Olympic Weightlifting.

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