A recent study out of Stanford University concludes many of today's popular fitness trackers are ineffective for measuring total caloric burn, and may even be off by hundreds of calories a day![1] This is disappointing news to anyone who uses the gadgets to calculate what to eat and drink during the day—and a real bummer if you rely on these numbers to lose weight.

Here's the problem: The breakdown of food requires oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, so measuring the rate of consumption of these gases is the gold standard for determining actual calorie burn.[2] Unfortunately, measuring oxygen consumption requires running on a treadmill in a medical lab wearing a special mask.

Even if companies did try to calibrate their fitness tracking devices using more sophisticated techniques, chances are the final algorithm would still never truly capture the spectrum of fitness levels found in the average consumer.

So, unless your gadget was scientifically engineered for your exact biometric specifications, the best it can give you is a rough estimate.

Where These Trackers Can Deliver

Inaccuracy in fitness trackers is nothing new, and it's not all bad news. The same Stanford study revealed these little contraptions are surprisingly accurate for measuring heart rate, which is useful information for interval training and high-intensity workouts. As you probably already know, HIIT training might actually be more effective for fat loss than low-intensity cardio. 

Improve Your Results With Smarter Fitness Tracking

If you start using your tracker to monitor your interval progress, don't be surprised if the pounds of fat melt away.

For more detailed information on taking advantage of what your fitness tracker can offer, check out Ciaran Fairman's 2016 article, Is Your Fitness Tracker Accurate?  

Taking Control of Your Weight Loss

Beyond using these gadgets for what they do well, change your mindset with respect to fitness technology. Letting a little device tell you what you can and cannot eat every day is both maddening and, often, ineffective. Your meal plan should be based on the average of what you expect to burn each day—not what a gadget on your wrist spits out. Rewarding yourself with treats just because Garmin says you burned 1,000 extra calories is a recipe for failure.

To learn how to properly estimate your daily calorie needs, check out this great article on how to lose weight effectively. 

Bottom line: Use your fitness tracker as a heart-rate monitor and workout partner. But, if you want to lose body fat, stick to tried-and-true methods and quit letting technology rule your life.

  1. Dusheck, J. (2017, May 24). Fitness trackers accurately measure heart rate but not calories burned. Retrieved June 07, 2017, from http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/05/fitness-trackers-accurately-measure-heart-rate-but-not-calories-burned.html
  2. Oxygen Required for Metabolism. (n.d.). Retrieved June 07, 2017, from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Biology/metab.html

About the Author

Heather Eastman, NSCA-CPT

Heather Eastman, NSCA-CPT

Heather’s mission is to use her passion for fitness and her knowledge of training and nutrition to educate and motivate others to enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle.

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