How long does it take to burn off a McDonald's Big Mac?

It’s the classic McDonald’s meal, but how long do you need to cycle for in order to cancel out the calorie intake from this fast food favourite?

Clock14:00, Sunday 14th January 2024

The Big Mac is the daddy when it comes to fast food. It contains little in the way of nutritional value but is packed full of taste – and calories. There are plenty of people out there who love them, with a whopping 2.4 million of them sold every day. So if you eat one and then find yourself feeling guilty shortly afterwards, how long will you need to spend on the bike to burn it off? Si Richardson has been trying to work it out.

Before we get started we need to do a little basic arithmetic. A Big Mac contains 493 kilocalories. When accompanied by a medium portion of fries and a soft drink - because, let’s face it, who eats just a Big Mac by itself - we’re looking in the region of 1000 kilocalories.

How do we measure our calorie burn?

In order to see how long it will take to burn those calories off we first need a reliable way of measuring our ability to burn calories. If you own a smartwatch you’ll likely find a ‘calories burned’ rate on there which it calculates from your heart rate combined with your age, height, weight and other data you’ve inputted.

The problem with this method is that it’s not always very accurate. In fact the figure you see can be out by as much as 40%. But there is a better way. That’s by using the power meter, like the Wahoo ELEMNT we have, on your bike. It is much more accurate in measuring how much energy you are producing.

A power meter measures power in watts, with 1 watt of power being one joule of energy per second. A calorie is also a measurement of energy and is equivalent to 4.18 joules, so 1080 kilocalories in that Big Mac meal is equivalent to 4.514 million joules.

The other thing we need to consider is that as humans we’re pretty inefficient. For every joule of energy we put through the pedal, we’re burning about four times more, most of which is being given off as heat.

At one watt of power, it would take around 830 hours of cycling to burn the energy contained within a Big Mac meal. So the answer to our original question really comes down to how many watts you’re able to sustain for as long as possible on the bike.

It’s worth noting here that there isn’t actually much efficiency difference between a pro athlete and a novice rider. Surprising as this might be, what it actually means is the speed with which you burn energy is entirely related to how hard you can press on the pedals. So actually the fitter you are, the easier and faster you can burn calories.

How long to actually burn off the Big Mac?

Take an untrained normal person who’s asked to jump on a bike and ride. They might expect to put out about 100 W. At that power, it would take 2 hours and 24 minutes of continuous cycling to burn off that meal. That’s a fair amount of time and probably more than that level of cyclist is likely to do in a week.

An average cyclist might produce double that power. So at 200 W, it would take 1 hour and 12 minutes of continuous cycling to burn it off.

In Si’s case, he’s averaging around 340 W which means that he should have burned off the Big Mac Meal in 42 minutes. In fact, as you’ll see in the video, it takes him closer to 51 minutes. Looks like he wasn’t quite able to sustain that output…

By the way, if we were talking about a pro cyclist like Italian powerhouse Filippo Ganna for example, who rode an incredible 56.792km in one hour at an average of 440w, he would have burned two Big Mac meals in that hour. Way to go Filippo!

What's the main takeaway (ahem)

So while we can just about put a figure on how long it takes to burn that Big Mac meal off, the missing element to all this is nutrition. Calories might be a meaningful unity of energy, but when it comes to nutrition they don’t really tell us anything. Research has shown that what type of food you’re eating and how it’s prepared dramatically alters how much energy you can absorb from that food.

So what’s the lesson here? Perhaps it’s just to forget about counting calories at all when it comes to trying to lose weight or manage your diet and focus more on the types of food you put into your body in the first place. Oh, and also that McDonald’s won’t actually serve you a Big Mac until after 11am, as Si found out in the video.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

GCN's The Cyclist’s Cookbook: Food To Power Your Cycling Life
GCN's The Cyclist’s Cookbook: Food To Power Your Cycling Life

The Cyclist’s Cookbook brings together 67 of Nigel’s most-loved delicious and nutritious recipes from a hugely successful career at the cutting edge of performance cycling nutrition in an accessible, practical and inspirational celebration of food, cooking and cycling culture for every cyclist. Within its 244 pages, The Cyclist’s Cookbook covers the fundamental principles of how to fuel your cycling – alongside insights into ingredients, cooking, equipment, and more – The Cyclist’s Cookbook brings together everything that any cyclist could want: easy to make but incredibly tasty everyday meals and snacks; indulgent celebration dinners and treats; pre-ride, on the bike, and post-ride recovery food and drinks, through family favourites, time-crunched, healthy and nutritious ‘fast’ food – and everything in between. The wide range of recipes in The Cyclist’s Cookbook reflects carnivore, omnivore, pescatarian, gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets and demands, all wrapped up with Nigel’s wealth of WorldTour knowledge, advice, and insights that will help you take the guesswork out of powering your cycling life, every day. “Nigel’s experience will help you eat and ride better” — Si Richardson, GCN Presenter Product Details: Pages: 244 (120gsm) Size: 246mm (h) x 189mm (w) Cover: Paperback Cover Finish: 280gsm, with anti-scuff matte laminate and spot UV gloss finish Weight: 700g approx. Please note: There may be some additional shipping charges for orders consisting of 2 or more books. However, our customer service team will contact you after you have placed the order to advise on delivery options. Click here to explore all GCN best selling books

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