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Metabolic Rate Energy Burned Calculator

Heat Transfer Engineering

Metabolic Rate Energy Burned Calculator and Formulas for Humans

When metabolic rates must be determined more accurately than is possible with tabulated data, physiological measurements with human subjects may be necessary. The rate of metabolic heat produced by the body is most accurately measured by the rate of respiratory oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production. An empirical equation for metabolic rate is given by Nishi (1981):

Eq. 1
M = 567 ( 0.23 RQ + 0.77) QO2 / AD


M = metabolic rate, Btu/h·ft2
RQ = respiratory quotient; molar ratio of QCO2 exhaled to QO2 inhaled, dimensionless
QO2 = volumetric rate of oxygen consumption at conditions (STPD) of 32°F, 14.7 psi, ft3/h
AD = Activity metabolic rates Btu/h·ft2 (met), typical metabolic rates for an average adult
(AD = 19.6 ft2) for activities performed continuously. see: Metabolic Rate Thermal Energy Created by the Human Body

The exact value of the respiratory quotient RQ depends on a person’s activity, diet, and physical condition. It can be determined by measuring both carbon dioxide and oxygen in the respiratory airflows, or it can be estimated with reasonable accuracy.

A good estimate for the average adult is RQ = 0.83 for light or sedentary activities (M < 1.5 met), increasing proportionately to RQ = 1.0 for extremely heavy exertion (M = 5.0 met). Estimating RQ is generally sufficient for all except precision laboratory measurements because it does not strongly affect the value of the metabolic rate: a 10% error in estimating RQ results in an error of less than 3% in the metabolic rate.

A second, much less accurate, method of estimating metabolic rate physiologically is to measure the heart rate. Table 1 shows the relationship between heart rate and oxygen consumption at different levels of physical exertion for a typical person. Once oxygen consumption is estimated from heart rate information, Equation (1) can be used to estimate the metabolic rate. Other factors that affect heart rate include physical condition, heat, emotional factors, and muscles used. Astrand and Rodahl (1977) show that heart rate is only a very approximate measure of metabolic rate and should not be the only source of information where accuracy is required.

Table 1 Heart Rate and Oxygen Consumption at Different Activity Levels

Level of Exertion
Heart Rate,
Oxygen Consumed,
Light work
Moderate work
90 to 110
1 to 2
Heavy work
110 to 130
2 to 3
Very heavy work
130 to 150
3 to 4
Extremely heavy work
150 to 170

Accuracy: Estimating metabolic rates is difficult. Values calculated as well as those given in the webpage Metabolic Rate Thermal Energy Created by the Human Body indicate metabolic rates only for the specific activities listed. Some entries give a range and some a single value, depending on the data source. The level of accuracy depends on the value of Mact and how well the activity can be defined. For well-defined activities with Mact< 1.5 met (e.g., reading). For values of Mact > 3, where a task is poorly defined or where there are various ways of performing a task (e.g., heavy machine work), the values may be in error by as much as ±50% for a given application. Engineering calculations should thus allow for potential variations.


1 met = 18.4 Btu/h· ft2 = 50 kcal/h ·m2.



2016 ASHRAE Handbook - HVAC Systems and Equipment, ASHRAE: 2016.