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Home » Cycling » Whose Calorie Tracker is Right, Anyway? A Case Study in why it can be Difficult to Lose Weight using Fitness Tracker Data

Whose Calorie Tracker is Right, Anyway? A Case Study in why it can be Difficult to Lose Weight using Fitness Tracker Data

September 2018
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For the longest time I relied, loosely, on data I got from Endomondo to watch what I ate while balancing a ridiculously active cycling habit. There once was a time I couldn’t eat enough “good” food to keep weight on so I added a little fast food on occasion. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s… they were all on the table. I didn’t overdo it, of course, maybe a couple of times a week, but I didn’t shy away, either. It was a good problem to have.

Two years later it got to a point where I was eating two value meals after a Tuesday night ride to keep my weight up. And that’s about the time everything caught up to me. My problems started when I didn’t taper down the extra food and fast food after DALMAC (typically our “end of the season” tour – after that, we tend to ride a little easier). I kept eating as if I were putting in 250 mile weeks. I didn’t put on a lot of weight, but I got a little mushy, and I didn’t like it.

This year, I’m down at my fighting weight and I’m smarter going into fall. I’ve already started to taper and I’m saving fast food for big ride days only.

However, it seems I may have been using bad information all along. Take yesterday’s 54 mile ride: Endomondo gave me 3,307 calories to make up for. That’s a lot of chips and salsa, folks! Strava, for the same ride: 1,803.  Where the extra 1,500 calories went, I don’t know.

Let’s look at another. Last Saturday’s 101 mile effort at 20.2-mph, the last two hours of which were in the rain. Endomondo: 6,559 Strava: 3,832. Even a short 20-miler. Endomodo: 1,216 vs. Strava: 616 calories.

Folks, I have no doubt in my mind that Endomondo is too high in their estimate, and I paid for it.  That led to my troubles regulating my weight over the last couple of years.

User beware.

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11 Comments

  1. unironedman says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but those calorie counter estimates are a load of bollocks, as you have discovered. They are just making stuff up based on very general assumptions from simple data you entered at the outset (probably your gender, height, weight and age). BMI has been shown to be so vague as to be largely useless. Don’t trust any of it. Trust your own instincts, plus a quick weekly or monthly check on the scales, or even a glance in the mirror when you jump out of the shower (assuming your wife isn’t honest enough to give you a hint). The local discount store here are flogging weighing scales that apparently can tell you your % fat loss and water content and other amazing details just by stepping on board. What a load of crap. There’s one born every minute, I guess. You work hard, train hard, and need to fuel that machine, which you do. You’ve earned the right to have a few chips and dips. But many others haven’t 😉
    My mate and I have similar GPS watches from the same company. By the end of a 20k run they can be easily 250m out of sync. So I just about trust the stats from the watch in terms of time and distance, but always ignore the calories. It’s waffle (but waffle you can’t eat, ha ha!)

  2. theandyclark says:

    I’ve looked around an embarrassing amount and come to the conclusion there isn’t an accurate tracker out there, or at least one at a price point I’d consider. Calories burnt just depends on lots of different things, not just distance and time, but also roughness of the road, wind, how much you’re carrying, your bike and most of all, your overall efficiency as a biker (which is complicated). If someone finds something, and I think it would have to work off something like pulse rate or a power meter, let me know, I’m interested. But I’m not optimistic.

    That said, maintaining weight is much easier than losing it. I track calories, but leave myself a buffer. Most of all, I watch the scale. Weight naturally bounces around a bit for reasons I don’t understand, but as long is a trend doesn’t settle in, everything’s good.

    • unironedman says:

      You’re right; there isn’t one, nor, would I argue, to we really need one. Counting calories is the first slippery step towards the edge of the rabbit hole. I’m inclined to use the two devices supplied to me from the outset; the small roundy ones in-between my ears. If I keep those open (and the mouth closed!), I am generally fine. The beauty of cycling and running (decent distances, as opposed to, well, not decent distances!) is that we have the luxury of scoffing pizza now and again with few ill effects.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Actually, from what I understand, Strava is pretty good. I have it on authority that their estimated wattage output is surprisingly accurate as well (+-5 watts).

      I’d always hoped a century was worth 6,000 calories, though.

  3. Ha, I can totally empathise with the original post and the comments following. Actually I couldnt give up triathlon now, I would blob out in days, single sports don’t even do it for me anymore …

  4. All those calorie estimates are just that, estimates. They can’t take into account headwinds, rough roads, drafting, etc. Guesses would probably be a better word. It does surprise me that they are both so far out compared to each other.

    For cycling the most accurate way to track calories burned is by using data from a powermeter, as it knows your actual effort produced over the ride.

  5. I’ve never heard of that app, but good to know! I never have luck with tracking calories consistently. I’m not good at writing down what I eat, but I’m great at keeping track of my workouts. haha! 🙂

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