Metabolic energy expenditure during human gait is poorly understood. Mechanical energy loss during heel strike contributes to this energy expenditure. Previous work has estimated the energy absorption during heel strike as 0.8 J using an effective foot mass model. The aim of our study is to investigate the possibility of determining the energy absorption by more directly estimating the work done by the ground reaction force, the force-integral method. Concurrently another aim is to compare this method of direct determination of work to the method of an effective foot mass model. Participants of our experimental study were asked to walk barefoot at preferred speed. Ground reaction force and lower leg kinematics were collected at high sampling frequency (3000 Hz; 1295 Hz), with tight synchronization. The work done by the ground reaction force is 3.8 J, estimated by integrating this force over the foot-ankle deformation. The effective mass model is improved by dropping the assumption that foot-ankle deformation is maximal at the instant of the impact force peak. On theoretical grounds it is clear that in the presence of substantial damping that peak force and peak deformation do not occur simultaneously. The energy absorption results, due the vertical force only, corresponding to the force-integral method is similar to the results of the improved application of the effective mass model (2.7 J; 2.5 J). However the total work done by the ground reaction force calculated by the force-integral method is significantly higher than that of the vertical component alone. We conclude that direct estimation of the work done by the ground reaction force is possible and preferable over the use of the effective foot mass model. Assuming that energy absorbed is lost, the mechanical energy loss of heel strike is around 3.8 J for preferred walking speeds (1.3m/s), which contributes to about 15–20% of the overall metabolic cost of transport.