TDEE stands for Total daily energy expenditure. This is the number of calories your body burns per day.
If you eat more calories than your TDEE you gain weight. Eat less and you lose weight. And if you eat around the same you maintain your weight.
So we have a brief idea of what TDEE is. But what are the components of TDEE?
The components of TDEE include:
- BMR (Basal metabolic rate)
- Thermic effect of food
What is BMR?
BMR stands for basal metabolic rate. This is the number of calories burned at rest.
Imagine you were in a coma, or hungover and spent the whole weekend in bed. If you did nothing for the day, this would be the number you burnt.
There are various ways to calculate BMR. The most accurate way is to hook you up with an oxygen mask in a lab. But for most of us, that isn’t possible. Luckily we can use a calculation.
There are different calculations, you can use. Calculations such as Harris-Benedict or Mifflin-ST Jeor.
I’ll be honest, most people overthink which one to use. It doesn’t matter, pick one and see how things go. Both have their strengths and limitations. (1)
I wrote an article, which goes into far more detail. I definitely recommend you read it, to get more detail.
For most people, this is where you burn most calories. For the average person, it’s around 75% of your daily calorie burn. (2)
These are the factors that affect BMR:
- Weight – the more you weigh the more burn. Thus heavier people have faster metabolisms (3)
- Sex – Men burn more than women of the same weight because they have more weight from muscle (4)
- Age – the older you become the fewer calories you burn. This is because people on average tend to lose muscle as they age and gain body fat in its place (5)
- Other factors such as menopause, thyroid issues and PCOS can also influence things (6,7)
The reason BMR burns most calories is that this is what is keep on you alive. Your BMR is the difference between you know and you being a corpse. BMR controls most of your bodily functions. Functions like heart rate, cell growth and repair, kidney and lung filtering. You name it, it’s your BMR which is responsible. (8)
Unlike the other elements of TDEE, you can’t manipulate the numbers day today. The only thing you can do is either lose or gain weight.
Thermic effect of food
This is the energy your body requires for digesting what you’ve eaten. This accounts on average 10% of your calories. (9)
Yet, the true percentage of what is burnt is dependent on the macronutrients you have eaten.
If you eat 3000 calories per day, you will burn around 300. If you eat 2000, you will burn around 200.
Fats, carbohydrates and protein all need different amounts of energy to burn.
- Protein – Protein has the highest thermic effect. For every calorie of protein eaten, 20–30% is burnt through digestion (9)
- Carbohydrate – For every calorie of carbohydrate eaten, 5-10% is burnt through digestion
- Fat – For every calorie of fat eaten, 0-3% is burnt through digestion (9)
- Alcohol – For every calorie of alcohol drunk, 10-30% is burnt (9)
Thus the best way to increase the thermic effect of feeding is to eat a higher protein diet. This means if you do eat more calories, more will be burnt through digestion.
If you were to eat 2000 calories of pure fat, you’d burn 0-60 calories, through the thermic effect of food.
But, if you were to eat 2000 calories of protein you’d burn 400-600 calories, through the thermic effect of food.
Though calories matter and they matter a lot. Where you eat your calories also plays a great role too.
NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
This is all the spontaneous activity you do in a day.
Any movement which isn’t exercising. After your BMR, this is the second biggest calorie burner. This is also the one area in which you have the most control. (10)
Let’s take away the 8 hours you sleep, that leaves most people on average 16 hours a day. Those 16 hours a day, leave you with so much potential to get in a high rate of NEAT.
2 People who have the exact same BMR can have a difference in NEAT of 2000 calories per day. (11)
This is all dependent on the activities they do. For instance, you could have someone who walks their dog, in the morning and in the evening. That same person could have a manual job too. Whereas someone else of the same BMR may drive to work and sit for 8 hours at the office.
NEAT is a useful tool to use when looking to burn a few extra calories. I go into far more detail in my article dedicated to NEAT.
This is self-explanatory. If you exercise you burn calories. Yet, the number of calories burned in exercise is actually the fewest. The exception being athletes of course. (12)
Most exercise to burn calories, that effort would be better spent elsewhere. Most people exercise for around an hour a few times per week. That time would be better to increase general activity over the 16 hours in the day. You can stretch that time out far more and do far less intense and taxing activities.
How do I determine activity level using TDEE?
There are different ways to determine your activity levels when calculating TDEE. The most common method is multiplying your BMR number, depending on the activity.
Depending on activity levels, these are the numbers you’d multiply your BMR by:
- Sedentary – 1.2 (>5000 steps a day)
- Light activity – 1.375 (Exercise 1-3 days a week) (5000 – 7499 steps a day)
- Moderate activity – 1.55 (Exercise 3-5 days a week) (7500 – 9999 steps a day)
- Active – 1.725 (Exercise 6-7 days a week) (10000 – 12499 steps a day)
- Very active – 1.9 (Multiple daily training and/or manual labour) (12500+ steps a day)(13) (14)
How can I use TDEE for weight loss?
By working out your TDEE, you now have a rough estimate of your daily calorie intake. With this information, you can then create a calorie deficit.
Take around 10-25% off your TDEE amount and check over a couple of weeks to see if you notice a change in weight.
Eating fewer calories than your body needs is the most important element of fat loss, but there are other elements too. For instance, the quality of your nutrition is important.
You could lose weight by only eating processed food, but that would lead to potential issues. Such as too much salt or high sugar and saturated fat intake.
You don’t need to exercise to burn a large number of calories. If anything, exercise will give you the smallest bang for your buck. Exercise has many health benefits, but burning calories isn’t on top of that list.
Even eating makes you burn calories as well as your regular daily activities. But the biggest calorie nurn comes from being alive.
If you want to work out your TDEE, you can do various equations. Or you can use my calculator.
As always I hope it was helpful and I hope you enjoyed this post.
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.