This post is going to break down everything you should know about TDEE, and we’ll dive into the calculations at the end. If you want to use my calculator to find out what your TDEE is, you can find that here.
When we think about weight loss (or weight gain) it always comes back to calories.
If you want to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. In other words: you need to burn more calories than you consume.
If you want to gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus. This means consuming more calories than you burn.
It’s truly as simple as that.
However, your “calories burned” refers to way more than exercise, and this is where many people get tripped up.
You don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill trying to burn more than you’re eating. Please don’t do that!
If the goal is to fat loss, you need to eat fewer calories than your TDEE, NOT just the calories burned through exercise!
What is TDEE?
TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure. That’s just a fancy way of saying that it is all the calories you burn in a day.
You can also view it as your maintenance calories. If you know that your maintenance level is 2,000 calories (if you eat that amount every single day then you’ll remain the same weight) then your TDEE is 2,000 calories!
To be specific, your TDEE includes:
- Your basal metabolic rate (BMR)
- Physical activity/exercise
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
- Thermic effect of food (TEF)
All of these factors combine to become your TDEE, representing all the calories you burn in a day.
Let’s look at each component.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Your basal metabolic rate, better known as your metabolism, is the calories your body needs to maintain your current weight.
If you were to lay in bed all day long, you’d still be burning a specific number of calories.
Everything you do, from breathing to blinking, burns calories. Some of us just have naturally higher BMRs, but there are some cases in which you can naturally increase your metabolism.
The most common way is by increasing your muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the higher your BMR is going to be. As you build muscle, you’ll notice that your appetite increases, because your body now requires more calories to maintain that muscle mass.
What’s the difference between BMR and TDEE?
Your metabolism (your BMR) is just one component that contributes to your total calories burned (your TDEE).
Your BMR is all the calories your body needs to function at rest.
Your TDEE is all the calories you need in a day with activity taken into account.
When it comes to calculating your caloric needs, we will always use our TDEE and never our BMR.
You never want to eat below your BMR, because that is all the calories your body needs to function properly.
For weight loss, TDEE is the number we want to look at.
Don’t worry, we’ll talk about that more in a minute.
Physical Activity / Exercise
This aspect of your TDEE is self-explanatory, but we have to include it here.
It’s no secret that exercise is a major component of weight loss, but when it comes to calculating TDEE, we actually don’t need to worry about the specific calories you are burning during your workouts.
Many people now have activity trackers, which are great tools to have, but they can be ignored for these purposes.
When we calculate our TDEE, we’re calculating the total calories we burn every single day.
If you have a grueling leg workout one day, you’re going to burn more calories than you did for your light arm workout. Or, some days you are surely going to rest!
In other words, you’re going to burn different amounts of calories every single day, so rather than try to track the specific numbers, we simply estimate our overall activity levels.
When we calculate our TDEE, we use what is known as an “activity factor,” which is just a way of estimated our activity levels. Here are the categories it is broken up into:
- Sedentary: A desk job with no exercise.
- Mostly sedentary: A desk job with little exercise.
- Moderately active: A job that has you moving around OR exercising 3-4 days per week (most people fall into this category).
- Very active: Working out or playing sports with moderate intensity 5-6 days per week.
- Extremely active: You work out vigorously AND have a job that keeps you active.
Not sure what category suits you best? Most people fall into the “moderately active” category. If you workout 3-4 days per week, even if you sit on your butt at work all day, we’d call that moderately active. Don’t overthink it!
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
Your NEAT is actually a larger contributor to your calories burned than exercise is.
Your NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) refers to all the movement you do in a day that ISN’T structured exercise.
If it burns calories, it’s part of your NEAT.
Walking the dog, showering, putting together IKEA furniture, chasing your kids around- it’s all part of your NEAT.
If you are a very active person outside of the gym, your NEAT is going to be very high and you’re going to be burning more calories throughout the day.
If you’re a construction worker, for example, your NEAT is going to be significantly higher than someone working a 9-5 desk job.
Your NEAT makes up 63% of your waking day, while working out for an hour is only 4% of your day. It’s no wonder why NEAT is so important!
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
The final contributor to your TDEE is the thermic effect of food, sometimes referred to as dietary-induced thermogenesis.
Admittedly, this is a very small factor, but it is still worth mentioning.
The thermic effect of food is simply the calories you burn chewing and fully digesting your food.
This generally will not make up more than 10% of your total calories burned, so I don’t recommend stressing about it, but there are a few ways you can increase your TEF.
Protein will have a higher TEF, so focusing on a high-protein diet is wise. Otherwise, your age and physical activity level will play a factor in your TEF, but the changes will be very minimal.
Should you use TDEE or BMR for weight loss?
So many people confuse these two, so I want to make it very clear for you.
If you are trying to figure out your calorie intake, you should ALWAYS use your TDEE.
Your BMR is your base metabolism. If you decided to stop moving forever, you would still have a specific calorie requirement to live comfortably.
If you set a calorie deficit based on your BMR, you’d feel terrible, because it is less than your body needs to function properly.
When you find your TDEE, you are finding your maintenance calories.
Your TDEE takes into account all of the calories you are burning in a day with activity taken into account. If you eat exactly the same amount of calories as your TDEE, you will maintain your current weight.
When you set a calorie deficit for fat loss (or a calorie surplus for weight gain), you are basing that off of your TDEE.
Your BMR is simply a reference point to see what your metabolism is, but when it comes to weight loss or weight gain, TDEE is what we care about!
How do you calculate your TDEE?
Looking for an accurate TDEE calculator? Look no further!
No, I don’t expect you to do the complicated equations above- I created a FREE calculator to do the work for you!
Click here to try my TDEE calculator, which will also give you a breakdown of macro recommendations, too.
Not only will this give you a TDEE calculation, but it can also act as a BMR calculator as well.
In general, online calculators should only be used as guides, and none of them can be 100% accurate.
My calculator is based on the Mifflin–St Jeor equation. I have found it to be the most accurate for calculating BMR & TDEE, and it’s what I have always used with great results to show for it!
This equation is used to calculate our resting metabolic rate…
Men: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
Fun, huh? You don’t need to worry about the exact equation, since my calculator will do all the work for you!
But, it’s worth understanding that we are taking our BMR, then using our estimated activity levels to calculate our TDEE. Refer back to the section on physical activity to see how/why we estimate our activity rather than calculating specific calories burned through workouts.
Why should we worry about TDEE?
I get a lot of questions from people through Instagram, and one thing that has become very clear to me is that most people severely underestimate how many calories they need.
Whether it’s an app like MyFitnessPal or an activity tracker, many people end up with calorie requirements that are far too low, and it’s clear that they are not eating enough.
When it comes to weight loss, it’s true that we want to consume lower calories, but we don’t want to eat as little as possible. There’s certainly a downside to consuming too few calories!
That’s why our TDEE is so important.
By calculating our total energy expenditure correctly, we will know exactly how many calories our bodies require.
From there, we can lower them for a calorie deficit or raise them for a calorie surplus depending on our goals.