This question sort of comes to mind when hearing how efficient an internal combustion engine is turning chemical energy in mechanical energy (something like 20-40%) with lots of excess heat. As an analog, how efficient is (or potentially) the human body at turning food into energy? Please bare with me, I realise there LOTS of different variables (how much the person weighs vs mass, metabolism, diet, etc). But I would imagine that there shouldn't be much margin of error given that most people maintain the same constant temperature (98 F +/- 1 degree).
The MET (Metabolic Equivalent Task) readout on your gym equipment is your body doing 1Kcal/kg/h = 4184 J/kg/h and can be reasonably accurately measured by how much oxygen a test victim uses.
Sitting still is roughly 1 met and cycling at 100 Watts is around 5.5 Mets.
So taking a man of 75kg, cycling at 100Watts (100J/s) he is having to do 5.5 * 4184 * 75 / 3600s = 480Watts so an efficency of 20%
Remember though that the person is spending 80-100Watts just staying alive doing nothing - unlike your car. There is an interesting experimental fit to how much energy you need to just stay alive, calculated about 100 years ago, the Harris-Benedict equation
The human muscle efficiency (the mechanical work divided by the total metabolic cost) when performing intense exercise is measured to be in the typical range of 18-26%. Manufacturers of fitness equipment use such results and typically show a guesstimate of burned calories based on the actual mechanical work delivered.
protected by Qmechanic♦ Jan 30 '13 at 15:49
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