The TDEE calculation is commonly used to establish a target or a baseline to help people looking to lose weight, achieve their fitness goals or health aspirations, and understand how they can adjust their diet and nutrition.
Like most formulas used in the fitness world, TDEE – which stands for total daily energy expenditure – is not a precise science, nor is it necessarily the only approach available. It has several pitfalls to be aware of since even if you know you have an ideal caloric intake of, say, 1,950 calories a day based on a TDEE calculator, it doesn’t tell you how to split those calories into macros.
Today I’ll explain exactly how TDEE works, how to calculate yours, and its advantages and drawbacks as a weight loss methodology.
What Is a TDEE Calculator – and How Does it Work?
TDEE calculations attempt to work out the total calories you burn every day. That includes the calories your body burns simply to walk, eat and live. The more active your lifestyle, the higher your TDEE will be. Conversely, if you have a desk job, your energy expenditure will be significantly lower than a person with a manual role.
The TDEE formula uses several other fitness calculations to arrive at an outcome:
- Basal metabolic rate: this is the number of calories your body needs to function and keep your organs working properly at rest. As a rough idea, BMR is thought to be around 20 x your body weight in kilos, although more accurate body composition tests are available.
- Thermic effect of eating: indicates the energy you use to digest the food you eat. You can calculate your thermic effect by multiplying your BMR x 0.1.
- Exercise activity thermogenesis: assesses the average calories burned every day during exercise, based on around 250 calories per hour of light exercise and up to 500 for intense workouts.
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): the calories used outside of digestion and exercise to follow your routine, such as walking to work and up and down stairs.
Once you have all the relevant measurements, you can work out your TDEE by using this formula: basal metabolic rate + thermic effect of eating + exercise activity thermogenesis + NEAT. A TDEE calculator does this for you, using estimates and averages, so although it isn’t 100% precise, it’s a much quicker way to get an idea of the calories burned daily.
The principle is that once you know your TDEE, you can decide how to adjust your diet to lose weight or whether you need to consume more calories to be able to gain muscle.
There is an alternative to the basal metabolic rate calculation called the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, which was created in the 1990s, attempting to provide a more accurate assessment. The Mifflin-St Jeor method uses your body weight, height and age.
Benefits of a TDEE Calculator to Help With Weight Loss
Knowing your total daily energy expenditure provides an insight into the number of calories you should ideally be eating, often because you are keen to burn fat. You can use this as the starting point of a body recomposition to see how you can reach your target body weight without cutting back your calorie consumption too fast or too far.
People also use a TDEE calculator to assess how quickly they might be able to hit a specific body fat percentage based on their meal planning or to make more accurate calculations to ensure they are in a real caloric deficit.
As a tool, this information can be very helpful indeed because it takes into account factors like your basal metabolic rate, which are generally disregarded by other calorie calculators. You can make your TDEE calculations more precise if you wear a fitness tracker like an Apple watch since this will tell you how many calories you burn during a workout, for example.
Having details to hand about your personalised calorie consumption needs is positive when you utilise this depth of understanding to:
- Adjust very intense exercise routines to avoid unintentional weight loss or adapt your nutrition to add more calories to provide the fuel you need.
- Keep track of weight loss as you go while tweaking your caloric needs as necessary to respond to other factors, such as your activity level.
- Maintaining a healthy BMI, particularly if you are targeting fat loss or want to improve your body mass without becoming underweight.
We almost always underestimate the number of calories we eat and overestimate the total calories burned during exercise! Getting to grips with your TDEE stands you in good stead to make informed choices about how to work towards improved health and a sustainable body weight you are comfortable with.
Potential Downsides of Relying on the Total Daily Energy Expenditure Calculation
Onto the negatives, and it is essential to remember that a TDEE calculator uses approximations and averages based on things like your age, height, weight, health and activity level. You can enter your current weight and an estimate of your daily calories eaten, but these figures are rarely spot-on.
I’d say TDEE is useful as an indicative guide to help calculate the calorie deficit you require to achieve your ideal body weight – but it can’t be absolutely correct without considerable tracking.
Another aspect is that even two people with identical activity levels will not burn calories at the same rate. For example, if you do a workout with another person, the calories you burn, and the energy expended will never be precisely the same based on aspects like your muscle mass and the speed you move.
It is worth remembering that conditions such as an underactive thyroid will significantly impact the energy intake you require to follow the same exercise routine or daily activity level as another individual.
Further, TDEE calculators cannot provide you with a proper nutrition plan, calculate macros that are ideal for your weight loss goals, or tell you how to consume fewer calories without impacting the balance of macros you currently eat.
To achieve that level of personalisation and specificity, you’d need to ensure your TDEE calculator is as accurate as possible and then seek advice customised to your lifestyle, health and activity level to create a tailored nutrition plan. This will ensure not only that you know how many total calories you should be eating – but get those calories from the right food sources. For more information regarding your fitness training and weight loss plans, get in touch with Reubizzle any time