First let’s answer this question: Just how many calories does running a marathon burn? That number will vary from person to person depending on age, body weight, and other factors like run intensity or pace. But for this article, we will use as a baseline estimation that an average marathon runner burns 2,600 calories over 26.2 miles. That translates to around 100 calories a mile, or approximately 500–700 calories an hour for a 4–5-hour run. With this baseline in mind let’s now compare the calorie burn of running a marathon to other elite sports, such as football, road cycling, tennis, and swimming.
Football is one of the most physically demanding sports to play. To illustrate just how far professional footballers run let’s rewind to last year’s World Cup. During that tournament, Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić (both Croatia), and N'Golo Kanté (France) ran 39.1 miles, 39.08 miles, and 39 miles, respectively, in 7 matches. That’s around 5.6 miles per match! Unsurprisingly playing football has a high-calorie burn. A 68 kg footballer playing casually for an hour will burn around 500 calories based on computations by Captain Calculator. Playing competitively for an hour, on the other hand, burns approximately 700 calories. Either way, the calorie burn is significant and similar to running a marathon on a per-hour basis.
Calculations by Calories Burned HQ show that the calorie burn of a 20-mile bike ride for a person weighing 79.4 kg is 1,111. Elite Tour riders burn some 5,000 to 7,000 calories each race day to cover a distance of over 100 miles. Ben King, who won stage 12 and 15 this year, burned 5,200 calories on the 15th stage after cycling 123.5 miles with 3,800 meters of climbing. For the average rider though they would need to cover approximately double the length of an average marathon to burn the same amount of calories.
Tennis, much like running a marathon, is a test of endurance, and tennis players run approximately a mile or two every match. The famously fit Caroline Wozniacki, in fact, ran some 6 miles in 6 matches in the run-up to the 2014 U.S. Open final. That means the 58kg Wozniacki burned around 487 calories an hour during her matches. Unfortunately, Denmark’s own lost in the final to Serena Williams, who in contrast ran just 2.8 miles in her 6 prior matches. As if to further show her fitness credentials Wozniacki participated in the New York City Marathon right after the 2014 WTA season ended. The NYC Marathon is one of the world's largest, attracting the most number of entrants and finishers. Not only did Wozniacki finish it, she actually clocked in an impressive time of 3hr 26. Four years later she would go on to win her first major at the Australian Open, making Wozniacki one of tennis’ highest-earning stars. Since then she hasn’t recaptured the form that led to her first major, largely because of injuries. Yet when she is back to her best, expect her to be covering much more ground than her opponents.
Even though swimming is a low-impact exercise it still burns a considerable number of calories. A 68 kg person swimming laps for an hour, for instance, can burn around 400 calories. This would mean they would need to swim for 6.5 hours to burn the same amount as a 26.2-mile marathon. A competitive swimmer, like the 2016 Olympic gold medallist Pernille Blume, can burn up to 700 calories per hour. Unlike the above sports, the low impact nature of swimming means the body can burn a lot of calories without any risk of injury.
This post was contributed by Angela Grayson.
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