The Premier League is widely recognised as one of the world’s most intensive football competitions. Frenetic, physically formidable and fiercely supported by millions of fans across the globe, demands on players’ fitness and performance levels have never been higher.
With this is mind, we delved into the data to find out how many calories teams burned over the 2018/2019 season.
To calculate an approximation of how many calories a player from each club would burn (if they ran this distance at a constant pace) we used the following information:
- distance covered per team in the Premier League last season (source: Opta via 90 Min)
- average player weight per team last season (source: espn.co.uk)
- and the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: a second update of codes and MET values compiled by B. Ainsworth, et al, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise by the American College of Sports Medicine.
And we used this method:
- Took the total distance run per team in kilometres and converted this into miles;
- Calculated the average speed run per player, per team;
- and calculated the number of calories burned on average by each player per team, using MET values and average player weights, if they were to run the average total distance at a constant speed.
We excluded goalkeepers from the calculation, based on the premise that they mostly won’t be required to cover ground. Weights for goalkeepers were not included to calculate the average weight of each team, and we calculated the distance covered per player by taking the distance covered per team and dividing this by 10 (the number of outfield players on the pitch at any one time).
Topping the charts for average calories burned over the course of the season were the Black and White Army, Newcastle United. Based on running the distance at a constant speed, each Magpies player would have burned 32,323 calories during the 2018/2019 campaign, and 850 calories per performer per match. That’s the equivalent of about 63 Big Macs, or 74 Greggs Cheese and Onion Bakes.
It should be noted that the weight of Newcastle’s squad, above average at 77kg, boosted the total average calories figure. The weight density of the team didn’t equate to a lack of fitness, however; only Tottenham, Arsenal and Bournemouth covered more ground than the Magpies’ 2,687 miles over the season, and The Toon were third for average running speed over 38 games, at 4.71 miles per hour.
Hot on the heels of Newcastle were Tottenham, with a season total of 32,114 calories burned on average per player, and 845.1 calories per match. That’s two fifths of a Big Mac or half a Cheese and Onion Bake short of a Newcastle player over the season. Fine margins.
The Lilywhites did actually cover more ground than the Magpies, at 2,690 miles over the course of the campaign, but the squad’s inferior average weight dragged Spurs beneath them. A rare event indeed in the Premier Division and a moment for the Geordie faithful to cherish.
At the opposite end of the spectrum for calories burned were Cardiff,who clocked in with a season-long 27,311, despite The Bluebirds’ average weight being 76.3kg - the 7th heaviest in the league. It comes as no surprise then that they covered the least ground; an average of 229.3 miles run per player for the campaign was significantly less than the second bottom team for distance covered, West Ham, who registered 252.72 miles over the same window.
Arsenal did justice to their nickname, The Gunners, by completing 269.68 miles, coming out on top across the division and most importantly finding an edge over their London rivals, Spurs. Due to being one of the Premier League’s lighter squads, however, they only came in at 8th for calories burned.
Despite playing in accordance with Jurgen Klopp’s high octane, Gengen-pressing, heavy metal football, Liverpool didn’t actually cover the most ground as you would expect. This resulted in a lower total average speed, with the average Reds player (were they to run at a constant speed) burning 30,035 calories over the campaign, the 4th lowest in the league. It should be acknowledged however that a sprinting Liverpool team would have burned more calories than this, as sprinting over short bursts increases calorie loss. The data we have collected doesn’t account for this (see caveats below).
So what do these findings tell us?
‘Evidently running around for 90 minutes per week (all at once or in three lots of 30 minutes) burns a lot of calories over the course of a year.’ Treated.com GP Clinical Lead, Dr Daniel Atkinson notes. ‘This serves to demonstrate the benefits of getting regular exercise. The NHS recommends two and a half hours per week of moderate activity, or one hour fifteen minutes per week of higher intensity exercise. One game of football per week would out you well on the way to achieving this.’
‘For this study, we’ve focussed on distance covered and used running MET values. But it’s likely that you’d burn even more calories playing football, because it involves sprinting and changing direction. The MET value given in the compendium for playing football competitively is 10, which is comparatively very high.’
‘Heavier people burn more calories performing the same exercise as someone lighter. So if you are lighter, it can be helpful to remember this. Lots of people use ‘calories burned’ as a measure of how much activity they’ve done. Rather than tracking how many calories you’re burning, you should aim to use time spent exercising as a measure of activity, if your goal is to maintain weight.’
- MET Value approximation for speeds between four and five miles per hour. In the compendium, there are values for four and five miles per hour, but no values for speeds between. The difference in values for these two speeds is quite significant (6 and 8.3) so it wasn’t feasible to assign all teams, running at constant speed ranges from 4.02mph to 4.73mph, the same MET value. Instead, we approximated MET values for these speeds, using a formula of (speed in mph/0.64), based on the convention that 6/8.3 is 0.6 and 4/6 is 0.67 (0.64 sits equidistant between these two points). All calorie values given are therefore approximate.
- Players substituted. We based the figures on 10 players playing 38 games throughout the season. We did not take substitutions or squad rotation into account.
- Players sent off. We didn’t take red-carded players into account. In an instance where a player is sent off and the remainder of the game has to be played out by nine outfield players, the remaining players would have to make up more ground; and this isn’t reflected because we divided total distance by 10 outfield players.
- Sprinting in short bursts against running at a constant speed. Football players don’t run at a constant speed during a football match. They will sprint in short bursts and then slow down, before speeding up again and slowing down several times over the course of a game. Sprinting in a shorter period burns more calories than running at a constant speed over a longer period. So it’s likely that teams that made more sprints will have burned more calories. The study doesn’t take this into account.
- Training. Football players spend most of their time during the week in training. This study does not take this into account.