How Many Calories Do I Burn a Day?

    
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD

No matter what your nutrition goal, achieving results starts by understanding how many calories you burn each day. Your daily calorie needs tell you how to fuel your body for performance, establish a starting place for weight loss or muscle gain, and are key to understanding how your metabolism works.

Here’s your complete breakdown on how your body uses calories and what can cause your needs to increase or decrease accordingly.

Calories Explained

Calories are the unit of measurement used to describe the energy your body needs to survive and function each day. They fuel your muscle contractions, lung expansion to take in air and breathe, your thoughts, your digestion, and blood flow throughout your body, as well as every other bodily function you can think of!

Your only known source of calories is food and beverages.

Calories are an essential part of life; your body has a way to store them as muscle and fatty tissue, just in case your run out of food or need energy in between meals. When you don’t get enough calories through diet, your body will use up some of these stores for fuel.

The Calorie Equation

The calorie equation explains the relationship between calorie intake (how much food is coming in) and how many calories your body burn each day. If the amount of food you eat is equal to the amount you burn, you will maintain your current weight; if you eat less, you will lose weight; and if you eat more, you will gain weight.

The key to weight loss is burning more calories than you consume each day.

If you can figure out exactly how many calories you burn, you can then adjust your diet accordingly.  

How Many Calories Do You Burn Each Day?

Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) or the total amount of calories you burn each day is determined by a combination of the following:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
  • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).
  • Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)
  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

Together, all of these components comprise your total daily caloric output and directly determines how many calories you need each day to maintain, lose, or gain weight.

BMR

Your BMR, also commonly referred to as your your resting metabolic rate (RMR), is the minimum amount of calories needed to run your body’s metabolism based on your body weight. This does not include any energy required for movement and accounts for about 60% or the bulk of your TDEE.

Changing your weight, or body composition, has the largest effect on your calorie needs since this is the driving force behind your BMR. The more muscle mass you have and the more you weigh, the higher your calorie needs are. And vice versa, if you lose weight your calorie needs decrease.

Gaining muscle increases your RMR because muscle is more metabolic than fat - helping you naturally burn more calories during exercise and at rest. One pound of muscle burns 4.5 to 7 calories per day, whereas one pound of fat may only burn a couple of calories a day (1,2,3).

Outside of changes in weight, it is not possible to hack this system to speed up your metabolism or change it in any way.

Getting a body fat composition test, like a DXA scan, is one of the best ways to determine what your current lean mass and BMR is.

NEAT

The next largest portion of your TDEE is determined by your typical daily output or non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This is driven by daily movements such as walking around, performing normal tasks, standing and fidgeting.

Your NEAT makes up roughly 20% of your daily calorie needs and for those that move more throughout the day, this can have a major impact on your overall energy needs. NEAT is also typically the culprit behind why some people seem to have a naturally higher metabolism than others at the same weight.

TEA

Exercise can also change your output by helping you burn more calories each day. But because most people do not exercise for more than an hour or two a day, your thermic effect of activity (TEA) only makes up 10% of your daily calorie needs. In other words, you cannot exercise away a bad diet!

TEF

The remaining 10% of your energy expenditure results from digesting and metabolizing your food. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).

Depending on the type of food you eat, your body requires calories to digest it. Protein is the most thermogenic of all the macronutrients, using up to 30% of calories consumed to digest it. Compared to carbs that use 5 to 10% and fat that utilizes less than 3% (4).

However, most people don’t eat macros in a singular form, typically they are eaten in mixed meals. And when foods are combined, the average TEF of foods stays somewhere around 10% total.

Even if you increased protein intake, the thermogenic effects only represent a small portion of your overall metabolism. And while important, TEF cannot drastically alter your calorie burn the same way body weight and movement can.

Calorie Burn Calculator

There are a few different TDEE calculators in existence, with minor variations between them. The most popular being the Harris Benedict Equation and the Mifflin St-Jeor Equation. While the equations are slightly different, both provide fairly accurate estimates without major difference between the two.

Harris Benedict Equation

Male:

    • Calories needs per day = (88.4 + 13.4 x weight in kg) + (4.8 x height in centimeters) – (5.68 x age)

Female:

    • Calories needs per day = (447.6 + 9.25 x weight in kg) + (3.10 x height in centimeters) – (4.33 x age)

Mifflin St-Jeor Equation

Male:

    • Calories needs per day = 9.99 x weight in kg + 6.25 x height in centimeters – 4.92 x age + 5

Female:

    • Calories needs per day = 9.99 x weight in kg + 6.25 x height in centimeters – 4.92 x age – 161

 

If your lean body mass is known, the Katch-McArdle and Cunningham formulas can be used to provide an even more accurate measurement.

Katch-McArdle

  • Calories per day = 370 + (21.6 x LBM in kg)

Cunningham

  • Calories per day = 500 + (22 x LBM in kg)

And at the most advanced level, a metabolic cart can be used to directly measure your oxygen to carbon dioxide ratios and provide the most accurate RMR reading.

But all of these calorie equations only measure your resting metabolic rate (BMR or RMR) and require an activity factor or multiple to account for additional needs based on your daily activity level.

Calories Burned in Exercise

The easiest way to account for physical activity is to use an estimated multiple. However, this does not distinguish between varying calorie needs from one day to the next if you workouts change. 

You can multiply your calculated BMR/RMR from above by one of the following to estimate your total daily energy expenditure:

Activity Level Description Activity Factor Multiple

 

Sedentary

Little to no exercise. Use this activity factor if you sit at a desk most of the day and do not plan to exercise.

 

1.1

 

Lightly Active

Light exercise or training 1 to 3 days per week. Use this activity factor if your exercise regime includes walking and other activities that do not cause you to break out into a sweat.

 

1.2

 

Moderately Active

Moderate exercise 2 or more days per week. Use this activity factor if you are working out a couple days or more each week and breaking a light sweat.

 

1.35

 

 

Very Active

Hard exercise 3 or more days per week. Use this activity factor if you are working out multiple days a week and breaking into a full sweat.

 

1.4

 

Extremely Active

Working out 2 or more times a day. Use this activity factor if you are a high-performance athlete, training

 

1.5 to 1.7


Or to get an even more precise daily estimate of your calories burned from exercise you can use metabolic equivalents.

What is a Metabolic Equivalent (MET)?

Your muscle cells require oxygen to produce the energy needed to contract and exert force. The rate at which this happens can effect how many calories you utilize during exercise. In other words, the more oxygen your body uses and the more quickly, the more calories you burn.

Metabolic equivalents or METs are the unit of measurement used to define the amount of calories you burn during different activities, based on your unique body weight and the rate of oxygen consumption (5). One MET is equivalent to the amount of oxygen your body uses per minute while at rest, and is calculated using the following formula:

3.5 ml of oxygen per kg body weight x min

On average, you use five calories for every liter of oxygen consumed.

  • Example: a 150 pound adult (68.18kg), one MET equates to 238.63ml of oxygen (0.23863 liters) consumed and 1.19 calories burned per minute at rest.

METs can be useful in determining how many calories you burn during exercise if the MET of your activity is known. For example, an activity that is 3 METs uses roughly three times the amount of oxygen than you use at rest. And thus burns significantly more calories per minute.

  • Example: a 150 pound adult this would burn 3.57 calories per minute (1 MET x 3) or 214 calories per hour.

Use the following known METs to estimate the calorie burn from various activities based on your body weight and how long the activity was performed: 


Approximate METs for 30 Minutes of Physical Activity
Activity MET 150 lb. Adult 200 lb. Adult
Biking:
  • 6 mph
  • 12.5 mph
  • 15.5 mph

  • 4.8
  • 7.1
  • 8.4

  • 171 calories
  • 253 calories
  • 300 calories

  • 229 calories
  • 339 calories
  • 400 calories
Dancing
  • 4-6
  • 143-214 calories
  • 191-286 calories
Gardening
  • 3.5
  • 125 calories
  • 167 calories
Housework
  • 3-5
  • 107-179 calories
  • 143-239 calories
Hiking
  • 6
  • 214 calories
  • 286 calories
Jumping Rope
  • 9.8-12.1
  • 350-432 calories
  • 467-577 calories
Rowing:
  • 2,000 meters
  • 4,000 meters
  • 6,000 meters
  • 8,000 meters

  • 5.5
  • 10.3
  • 13.5
  • 16.4

  • 196 calories
  • 368 calories
  • 482 calories
  • 585 calories

  • 262 calories
  • 491 calories
  • 644 calories
  • 782 calories
Running:
  • 5.5 mph
  • 6.8 mph
  • 8 mph
  • 9.3

  • 8.8
  • 11.2
  • 12.9
  • 14.6

  • 314 calories
  • 400 calories
  • 460 calories
  • 521 calories

  • 420 calories
  • 534 calories
  • 615 calories
  • 696 calories
Skiing/Snowboarding:
  • 5-9
  • 179-321 calories
  • 239-429 calories
Swimming:
  • light
  • moderate
  • vigorous

  • 4.3
  • 8.9
  • 13.6

  • 153 calories
  • 318 calories
  • 485 calories

  • 205 calories
  • 425 calories
  • 649 calories
Tennis
  • 6.8
  • 243 calories
  • 324 calories
Walking:
  • 2 mph
  • 3 mph
  • 4 mph
  • Stairs

  • 1.8
  • 3.2
  • 5.3
  • 4.7

  • 64 calories
  • 114 calories
  • 190 calories
  • 168 calories

  • 86 calories
  • 153 calories
  • 253 calories
  • 224 calories
Weight Training:
  • light
  • moderate
  • vigorous

  • 5
  • 7
  • 11

  • 179 calories
  • 250 calories
  • 393 calories

  • 239 calories
  • 334 calories
  • 525 calories
Yoga
  • 3.2
  • 114 calories
  • 153 calories

 

You can use METs to calculate how much you burn during your workouts and daily activities and factor this into your daily calorie output. Some apps will even allow you to track your workouts along with your food intake. 

However, it is important to note that using METs is not a perfect science and there are a few factors that can affect how accurate these numbers are, including your level of training and metabolic efficiency. 

VO2 Max

VO2 max is defined as the highest rate at which oxygen can be taken up and utilized by the body during exercise and is used as a measurement of performance in athletes (6).

METs measure how much oxygen is consumed, whereas VO2 max measure how efficiently this oxygen is delivered to your muscles. The higher your VO2 max, the more efficiently your body uses oxygen at higher intensity. And thus the more calories your able to burn.

VO2 max can also impact oxygen consumption after working out. Exercising at an intensity close to your VO2 max (more than 75%) can increase the amount of excess post-exercise consumption (EPOC).

EPOC

Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC is the "after burn" effect following intense workouts. Just because you are done training, doesn’t mean your body snaps back to it’s normal state. EPOC refers to the amount of oxygen required to restore your body’s cells to their normal level of metabolic function (at rest).

Because of the continued increased rate in oxygen use after the gym, this also means you are continuing to burn calories at a higher level. And the longer you workout close to your VO2 max, the longer this affect lasts.

In other words, high intensity training can help you burn calories even after you’ve stopped working out (7,8). Strength training has also been thought to produce similar results (9,10).

How to Count Calories

Now that you have a basic understanding of how to calculate how many calories you burn a day, the next step is getting your diet to match.

Looking to lose fat? It takes cutting out roughly 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat. So if you decreased your intake or increased your burn by 500 calories a day, you could potentially lose one pound per week. However, this approach isn’t always the best solution for everyone, since some of need a lot less calories than others - cutting 500 calories a day from a 3,000 calorie diet is much easier than from an 1,600 calorie diet.

For most, using percentages to estimate a more sustainable approach is better suited. Here is exactly how to tailor your calorie goals for:

And when it comes to figuring out exactly how many calories you are eating each day, tracking your daily food intake is the easiest way to accomplish this! Get started with this simple habit and you’ll be surprised how much easier it becomes to get results.

Ready to start tracking?

TRACK MY INTAKE

Related Posts