When it comes to getting healthy, there’s always a conversation about how to calculate calories. Specifically, how many calories are needed for optimum performance, energy, strength, or simply living daily life.
There are so many calculations out there based on body mass index (BMI), age, weight, how much exercise you do, how active you are, or how much fat you have on your body.
The most ACCURATE way to calculate your total daily calorie need is by FIRST calculating how much energy your body burns per day, called the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), which will be explained below.
What is a Calorie?
First, let’s take a step back and talk about what a calorie really is.
Have you ever really thought about it?
People use the word “calorie” all the time, but do they really understand its meaning?
A Calorie is unit used to express the heat output of an organism and the fuel or energy value associated with it.
In simple terms…a calorie is energy.
Basically, when we eat food (an apple containing 95 calories), we provide our bodies with energy to go about our day.
3 Ways Your Body Burns Energy
Now that we know where energy comes from…
What happens to the energy once in your body?
Well, your body burns that energy over a 24 hour period by doing these three simple, but all powerful things.
1. Energy to Stay Alive
If you were to stay in bed all day (which I don’t recommend, but this is just an example), your body would burn a set amount of energy simply to stay alive by providing energy to your organs.
This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR.
2. Energy for Digesting Food
Your metabolism uses calories (or energy) just to digest and process the food you eat.
Digesting food IS work!
Your body breaks down the food into basic elements and sends hormones as messages throughout your body so your cells react appropriately to the food.
Then, your body has to delegate usable nutrition to certain organs and must get rid of the rest as waste.
All this “work” burns energy, and this process is called the Thermic Effect of Food, or TEF.
Want more “Bang” (Nutrition) for your “Buck” (Calorie)?
Eat more of these foods so your body can extract MORE NUTRIENTS from each calorie you ingest.
3. Energy for Movement and Exercise
This one is simple.
We all know that exercise, or generally moving throughout the day, burns calories.
The more you move, the more energy your body needs to support that movement without getting tired or weak.
Not consistent with exercise yet?
These 4 Smart Tips to Begin Exercising and be Consistent will greatly help you along your journey and even provide you with some great motivation.
Also, check out these workouts below to help you in the gym or at the park with kids.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure
By understanding the three ways your body burns energy, you can now calculate how much energy you burn over a 24 hour period, or your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE.
TDEE = BMR + TEF + Exercise
I understand this is a lot of information, and probably more than what you were expecting.
I personally believe finding your exact calorie need is only half the battle. Understanding the equation and the pieces of the whole can really make a huge difference in how you execute this information.
Click my Quick and Easy Calculator to calculate calories without all the background information, or simply scroll down and you’ll find it.
Step 1: Calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate
The first step is to calculate your BMR, shown in the formula below using your Lean Body Mass (LBM) in pounds.
Your Lean Body Mass, or LBM, is the weight of your body WITHOUT fat. Meaning you need to take your weight and subtract the weight of fat from the number to get to your LBM.
BMR = 370 + (21.6 * LBM / 2.2)
LBM = Weight – (Weight + Body Fat %)
Body Fat Percentage is Required
For this calculation, you need to know your body fat percentage. Your body fat percentage is the most accurate way to determine your BMR because muscle burns energy very differently from fat. So much so that it can drastically change this calculation – even to a point where it could be ineffective.
I will have a post on calculating your body fat percentage soon, but any gym can provide this information by taking a few simple measurements.
Even some scales these days can provide your body fat percentage by sending a current through your body as you step on the transponders on the scale with your bare feet.
Either way, you need to determine your LBM and then your BMR to move forward with the calculation for the most accurate result.
Step 2: Calculate your Exercise Expenditure
This one is fairly simple and is based on the number of days per week you spend exercising or moving in general.
Depending on how many hours per week you exercise, there is a TDEE Multiplier you use in the formula, which increases your TDEE amount by how much you exercise.
> 3 hrs = 1
3 hrs = 1.2
4-6 hrs = 1.35
< 6 hrs = 1.5
Step 3: Calculate Calories
You’ve done your homework.
You understand the research.
Now you can apply the full formula and get an accurate depiction of how much energy you burn over a 24 hour period.
The formula below calculates your Total Daily Energy Expenditure.
TDEE = BMR * TDEE Multiplyer
Quick and Easy Calculator
Even better…check out this quick and simple online calculator I provided just for you so you don’t even need to get your calculator out.
Simply fill in the blanks and let the calculator do the math.
Calculate Calories Based on Goals
Lastly, you can take this calculation to the next level by tailoring it to your goals. Whether you’re trying to reduce body fat, increase lean body mass, repair your metabolic function, or simply just maintain your current weight, slight adjustments can be made to your TDEE to help you reach these goals.
Reduce Body Fat
If you’re trying to reduce body fat, then you will want to maintain what’s called a calorie deficit.
This calorie deficit goes against your body’s natural tendency to be equal. Basically your body constantly wants to refill the energy expended by eating the same (and sometimes more) than the energy expended.
To accomplish this calorie deficit properly without too much resistance from your body (and mind), I suggest reducing your daily calories by 100 calories each week until you reach a 20 – 25% reduction in overall TDEE.
Increase Lean Body Mass
By following the approach above, by reducing your body fat, you essentially increase your LBM by building more muscle.
In some, but not all cases, people lose weight with this approach as their calories are reduced. If you want to focus only on increasing LBM, you will actually have to ADD calories.
To accomplish this calorie addition properly, I suggest increasing your daily calories by 100 calories each week until you reach a 5-10% increase in overall TDEE.
For this to work, you must continue strength training as you add calories or you won’t be building LBM, just more fat.
Repair Metabolic Function
Are your calories well below the number calculated above?
If you answered yes, then chances are your metabolism is in need of some TLC.
When you stress your body by eating too few calories, your body goes into “Self Preservation” mode. This means, your body automatically slows down, preserves fat, and burns less energy even if you move or exercise the same amount.
To make it worse, when people notice weight is not going down, they eat less food, they add more movement or increase exercise duration or intensity, which only compounds stress to an already stressed system.
If this resonates with you, the first step is to repair your metabolic system.
I suggest following the TDEE calculation as shown above without making any adjustments to it. Stick with it for 3-6 months.
Record how you feel each week in the following areas:
- Comfort in your Body
ONLY when you rate yourself pretty high on the above-mentioned items, is your body and mind ready to go to the next step.
Where are you on your Health Journey?
Are you just starting out and learning about your calorie need?
Are you a pro and looking to reduce body fat or increase lean body mass?
Let me know below and join the conversation.
We are all in this together, no matter where you are right now.
Let’s do this!!