What are METs? Metabolic Equivalents for Exercise Explained

Jul 22, 2022

Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio

By: Danielle Abel

What the heck are METs anyway? In this article, we're going to break down what they are and how to apply them to different types of movements or sports. 

METs = Metabolic equivalent of oxygen burned and calories consumed 

For example:

  • Oxygen consumption at rest = 1.0 METs
  • 2.0 METs = double the oxygen consumption 
  • so on and so forth

Oxygen burn is related to calorie consumption, so if an athlete was working at 5.0 METs, they would be burning 5x as many calories and 5x as much oxygen as they would be at rest. 

Different sporting activities: 3 METs and up

  • Volleyball (casual) = 3.0 METs and 90-113 cals/30 min 
  • Golf = 4.5 METs and 135-169 cals/30 min
  • Dancing (partner) = 4.8 METs and 144-180 cals/30 mins
  • Backpacking = 7.0 METs and 210-263 cals/30 mins
  • Soccer = 10 METs and 300-375 cals/30 mins

Each MET is equal to 3.5mL of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute. The units are actually the same as VO2 max. 

  • If an athlete's VO2 max was 60mL O2 / kilogram of bodyweight / minute
    • If you divide 60mL by 3.5 (1 MET) = the VO2 max would be equivalent to about 17 METs

Most exercises are not maximal, though, so 17 METs would be much higher than where normal sports and training would occur. On average, most people have a VO2 max of 35-40, so they're maximal amount of METs would be around 10-11 METs.

Calorie Burn Calculation

If we know about how many METs an activity is, then we can calculate about how many calories an athlete would be burning in a given session. 

  • METs x 3.5 x bodyweight in kilograms divided by 200 
    • the body weight in kilograms gives us an absolute number of calories to the athlete's bodyweight
    • the end unit will be calories per minute
  • Alice, 110lbs (50kg) does group fitness classes at about 8 METs
    • 8 x 3.5 x 50 / 200 = 7 calories per minute
    • Before we divide it by 200, that's giving us her oxygen consumption per minute
      • 8 x 3.5 x 50 = 1400 milliliters (1.4 liters) of oxygen per minute
      • The conversion factor between oxygen consumption and calories is about 5 calories per liter
      • So another way to get to the calories per minute is to take the 5 calories x 1.4 liters of oxygen = 7 calories per minute
      • 45 minute group fitness class x 7 calories = 315 calories 

Calories Burned Compared to MET level

The more a person weighs, the more calories they will burn per minute. It only makes sense if you look at the calorie burn calculation example it contains body weight as a consideration. So the more body weight someone has, the more calories they will burn at the same relative intensity.  Practically speaking, if you are training or coaching heavier athletes, it's important to keep in mind that they will have higher oxygen consumption and higher caloric burn. 

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