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How Accurate Is Your Wearable's Calorie Count?

The popularity of fitness trackers has exploded in recent years, helping millions of people reach their fitness goals with a variety of data-driven features. If you are serious about managing your calorie intake and expenditure, chances are you're already well-versed in the world of wearable tech. But how accurate are smartwatch calories? And what are the best wearables for calorie tracking?

Covered in the article:

Calorie counting: the accuracy of your wearable's calorie count

Choosing your wearable: pros and cons of smartwatches vs. fitness trackers

Get it right: how to improve the accuracy of your wearable

Good or bad: limitations of counting calories with wearables

Is calorie tracking on my wearable accurate?

Fitness tracker calorie count is one of the most useful elements of a wearable, enabling us to see how many calories we are burning in real time. The exact formula used by your wearable manufacturer to calculate your personal energy expenditure is usually a well-kept secret, but they start by gathering vital stats to calculate your base metabolic rate (BMR).

What is a BMR?
Your BMR is the number of calories your body uses to perform the most basic functions like breathing, blinking, digestion, and circulation while at rest.

Once the wearable has your BMR, it will then be able to accurately track your active energy usage by monitoring your heart rate and using an in-built accelerometer to measure your movements.

Having accurate energy expenditure stats available on your wrist or an app is incredibly valuable when figuring out the best times to exercise. Your fitness tracker calorie count provides you with the data you need to plan an effective exercise regime and weight management program.

Evaluating the accuracy of wearable calorie counts

Wearables estimate the number of calories burned by calculating your energy expenditure. Different brands use different types of sensors in their devices, which may vary in sensitivity and affect the accuracy of the calorie count on your watch.

It’s important to note that calorie tracking is always going to be based on estimates unless you go to a lab and have all your stats measured with the latest technology. There are also different factors affecting calorie count accuracy in wearables.

  • Algorithm. Each brand of fitness tracker uses its own algorithm to process the raw data collected from the sensors on your wearable. This data is then processed to give you your health metrics.
  • Individual physiology. We all have different bodies. You can have two people who are the same height and weight but who might burn calories at a different rate. Most fitness tracker calorie counts are based on the general population and may not account for individual differences.
  • Wearable type and placement. Calorie tracking accuracy can also depend on the positioning of your wearable and if it’s a ring or watch. Wear your smartwatch snugly just above your wrist bone. Wear a good-fitting ring that doesn't slip. However, wrist size, finger shape, or types of arm and hand movements aren’t taken into account and could affect the accuracy of your wearable.

Smartwatches vs. fitness trackers: which is more accurate?

With so many different options, it can be hard to decide which type of wearable is best for you. Fitness trackers vs. smartwatches' calorie counts are pretty close in accuracy, so it really depends on what you want to get out of your wearable.

Smartwatch pros and cons

Fitness tracker pros and cons

With similar calorie tracking accuracy, you will have to think about what you need most from your device when it comes to deciding on a smartwatch or a fitness tracker.

If you prioritize staying fully connected and don't mind the higher cost, a smartwatch may be preferable. However, if you seek focused health data without interruptions during workouts, a fitness tracker is likely the better choice.

How to improve calorie count accuracy on your wearable

If you want your wearable calorie accuracy to be at its most efficient, there are a few things you can do.

Make sure it fits right

It’s no good having a smartwatch or fitness tracker that is loose and flopping around on your arm, or sliding up and down your fingers. You need to make sure it’s fitted snugly and doesn’t move in order for the sensors to accurately monitor your heart rate and movements.

Change your app dashboard

Although some wearables can measure everything from your number of steps to the quality of your sleep, more information isn’t always better and can sometimes lead to overwhelm. If calorie tracking is your main aim, set your dashboard on the app accordingly. That way, you will be getting the information you need and can track your calories more accurately.

Log your meals

Your calorie tracking accuracy can be improved by logging all your meals and recording the number of calories in your food versus the fitness tracker calorie count. This will give you a better picture of your overall calorie-burning efficiency and enable you to make dietary and exercise adjustments to help with your fitness goals and weight management strategies.

Set your goals

If you have a particular goal like walking at least 10,000 steps or burning an extra 300 calories per day, you can set up your apps and wearables to monitor these goals. Having the screen on your wearable show you the live calorie count can be a great way of monitoring your progress and making any necessary adjustments to your routine.

Before making any significant fitness or dietary adjustments, it's essential to consult a medical professional for personalized guidance to prevent the development of unhealthy habits.

What are the limitations of counting calories with wearables?

Because wearable calorie accuracy is always going to be an estimate, it’s important to recognize that you can’t take the energy expenditure data for granted.

Every person is unique and uses energy in a different way, so use your wearable as a guide for fitness progression, not as a replacement for an individualized personal workout plan.

As an example of a limitation, wearables don’t take into account muscle mass. More muscle tends to equate to a higher metabolic rate, which results in a higher number of calories being burned. So even if you have great muscle tone, you could get the same fitness tracker calorie count as someone the same height, weight, and sex who has a lot less muscle than you.

In an ideal world, if you want the best and most accurate data, book a session in a lab where you can have your energy expenditure evaluated with exceptional accuracy. You can also get your stats for factors like muscle mass, fat distribution, and cellular health along with recommendations for the most effective times to work out for your metabolic type.

Following your lab session, you can set up your wearable based on the health metrics provided and use it with greater calorie tracking accuracy.

Final thoughts on wearable calorie accuracy

Deciding to track your energy expenditure with a calorie count on your watch or fitness tracker is great if you want to monitor your health goals. However, it’s important to remember that the calorie tracking accuracy will always be an estimate.

The best wearables for calorie tracking really depend on your budget, individual needs, and how connected you want to stay with the rest of the world while you are exercising.

Don’t forget that calorie counting is only one part of a weight management and fitness journey. While wearables can be a useful tool, they shouldn’t replace guidance from professionals or a personally designed fitness regime that is geared toward your unique health goals.


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