Compared to other endurance activities like cycling and swimming, you get way more bang for your buck on a run when it comes to how many calories you burn. That’s because running jacks up your heart rate higher than the other sports even when you’re performing at the same effort level—and the harder your heart is working, the more energy (i.e. calories) your body uses.
Here’s what you need to know about how many calories you burn while running, and what you can do if you want to burn more.
How Many Calories Does Running Burn?
You’ve probably heard that the average person burns about a hundred calories per mile—but, in reality, that number seriously varies person to person (more on that below).
To estimate calorie burn, scientists use a unit called a MET, or the metabolic equivalent for task (MET). “A MET is a conversion of how much oxygen your body uses per minute,” explains Joel French, Ph.D., director of the Colorado University Sports Medicine and Performance Center. “Using about a liter of oxygen translates to five calories of energy.” Since the average person probably isn’t doing fancy tests do measure oxygen consumption, scientists came up with METs to provide a more general estimate of calorie burn.
Think of METs as a way to measure how hard your body is working. “The number of METs is basically how many times more calories you burn doing an activity compared to when you’re at rest,” says Heather Milton, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist and clinical specialist at the NYU Langone Health Sports Performance Center.
Running can be anywhere from 7 METs to 12.3 METs, depending on how fast you’re running. If you’re on a treadmill, it may show how many METs you’re current pace is at; if you’re running outside, you can refer to the Compendium of Physical Activities (which is a giant list of activities and how many METs they cost). Then, you just need your weight, the duration of your workout, and an online calculator to figure out how many calories you burn while running. (Note: This equation uses time to calculate the number of calories vs. distance. That means it doesn’t really matter how many calories you burn running a mile, it matters more how many calories you burn per minute of running.)
For example, here’s how calories burned translates for a 65kg person running for an hour:
- Jogging: 7 METs (446 calories per hour)
- 10-minute mile pace: 9.8 METs (624 calories per hour)
- 9-minute mile pace: 10.5 METs (668 calories per hour)
- 8-minute mile pace: 11.8 METs (751 calories per hour)
- 7-minute mile pace: 12.3 METs (783 calories per hour)
What Factors Into How Many Calories You Burn Running?
Remember, all those numbers are just an estimate. “Anything you do to increase the amount of work—or, force applied over distance—you’re doing is going to increase the amount of oxygen you use and the number of calories you burn,” says French.
Your bodyweight. For starters, force = your body weight. “The more weight you’re carrying, the more work you have to do to move it,” says Milton. That’s why a heavier person is going to burn more calories than someone who weighs less, even if they’re running the same pace for the same amount of time. For example, a 65kg person likely burns 13.2 calories per minute while running, a 73kg person burns 15.1, and a 82kg person burns 17, according to estimates from the American Council on Exercise. If you’re specifically looking to increase your calorie burn, you could run in a weighted vest.
Your speed and intensity. Upping your speed and intensity also requires more oxygen, which increases your calorie burn. Compare the 10-minute mile pace, which burns 624 calories per hour, to the 8-minute mile pace, which burns 751 calories per hour. It’s not always easy to drop minutes per mile, but including intervals can help you reap the calorie rewards of a faster pace. You don’t need to run fast to burn a ton of calories, though. You can always run longer instead; jogging for 60 minutes will burn approximately the same number of calories as running 30 minutes at a 6-minute mile pace.
Add an incline. Another way to jack up your calorie burn without changing your pace: run hills or do incline work on a treadmill, says Milton. “Your heart is going to have to work harder to handle those inclines at the same pace as it would on flat ground, and that translates to more calories burned.”
The Other Benefits of Running
Forget about calories for a second. Running has a ton of benefits, from reducing your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and strengthening your joints to warding off depression and improving your memory. And you don’t have to rack up the miles to get those perks: Running just six miles a week delivers more health benefits and minimizes the risks that come with longer sessions, according to a meta-analysis in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
When you’re running, it’s not just about burning calories—it’s about building strength, burning fat and carbs, and increasing the oxygen you can efficiently consume and use. And you can’t do all of those things by running like a speed demon. Too many runners just try to run fast all the time, whether it’s because they’re in the zone, they’re limited on time, or just because they want to torch the most calories. But variability is key to get all the benefits of running.
“An easy run isn’t going to burn many calories, but it’s great for recovery and stress reduction,” says French. Running slow and long “trains the muscle to extract more oxygen and the mitochondria in the muscle to be more efficient,” he adds.
Faster runs, like tempo and interval workouts—condition the heart and lungs to push more oxygen to the muscles, so you can go faster and keep that speed up longer, says French.
If you’re not incorporating all these workouts into a training plan, you’re eventually going to plateau, says Milton—in calorie burn and performance. “The more efficient you become as a runner, the more efficient your metabolism becomes,” she explains. “To keep improving, you need to change up the inclines, the intensities, and the speeds you’re running at.”