Counting Calories – How Many Calories Do I Burn a Day?

Are you aware of how many calories you burn in a day? If your answer is ‘no,’ it’s high time you found out. Knowing the number of calories you burn in a day is the first step to weight loss. You must burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. But, to do this, you must first know how much you burn in a day.

This is where the daily caloric intake calculator (like the one above) comes in handy. Enter your age, gender, weight, height, and your daily exercise levels into the calculator, and the results show how much you should be eating to maintain or lose weight. In this article, you will learn about calories, how to measure calories burnt, and how this can help you stay fit.

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What is a calorie?

A calorie is a unit of heat energy. It is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree C. The food contains calories. Different foods have different calorie counts. While carbohydrates and proteins contain just four calories per gram, fats contain nine calories per gram.

How are the calories that you burn in a day calculated?

The total number of calories that you burn in a day is known as the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Your TDEE is a combination of the following factors –

1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Your BMR is the number of calories your burn by merely existing. Your body needs this energy to perform primary functions like breathing, circulating blood, and building cells. Your BMR depends on your weight, height, sex, and age, and you can calculate it using the Harris Benedict formula. To calculate BMR, you use inches for height, pounds for weight, and years for age.

For men – 66 + (6.2 x weight) + (12.7 x height) – (6.76 x age)

For women – 655.1 + (4.35 x weight) + (4.7 x height) – (4.7 x age)

Your BMR accounts for almost 75 percent of the calories that you burn in a day.

2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

Eating induces a rise in the metabolic rate due to digestion, absorption, and short-term storage of macronutrients. In other words, the energy used to process and store certain foods is known as their thermic effect.

Proteins require much more energy to process and store as compared to fat and carbs. Fat requires the least amount of energy. So the overall TEF of food depends on your diet. On average, TEF accounts for 10 percent of the calories you burn in a day. 

3. Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Neat is the energy that we expend while doing daily tasks that exclude sleeping, eating, or sports-like activity. It includes tasks like walking to work, typing, undertaking agricultural tasks, washing dishes, and even fidgeting. Even small actions can increase your metabolic rate, and their cumulative impact culminates into a person’s daily NEAT (1).

4. Calories burnt during exercise

The number of calories that you burn while exercising varies according to how much you exercise and the intensity of your workouts. Calories burnt during exercise and other physical activities account for 15 to 30 percent of your TDEE.

How can you find your TDEE?

There are several different ways to calculate your total daily energy expenditure. Here are some of the most commonly used ones.

1. Metabolic testing

The metabolic test measures the rate at which calories are burnt in the body. Metabolic tests were once done only in the hospital, or lab settings as the equipment used is quite expensive. These tests are now available in many gyms and health clubs. This test provides you your resting metabolic rate, with the help of which you can plan your food intake and your exercise routine.  

2. Activity monitors

Activity monitors or fitness trackers gather information from its sensors like the accelerometers which track your movements. They then use an algorithm to give you the total calories burnt. You make your decision about what to eat and how much to exercise based on these figures.

Fitness trackers from different brands like Fitbit, Garmin, and Polar are readily available in sporting goods stores. These devices may not be completely accurate, but they provide a general estimate of your calorie expenditure during the day.

3. Online TDEE calculators

There are several TDEE calculators available online, which can help you to calculate your daily energy expenditure. These calculators consider your BMR and the calories that you burn while exercising.

How to use TDEE to lose weight?

You need a negative energy balance to lose weight. In other words, all you need to lose weight is a calorie deficit. If you eat fewer calories than your TDEE, you will definitely lose weight. But you must ensure that the calorie deficit is sustainable.

One pound is equal to 3500 calories. So, if, for example, your TDEE is 2,200, and you eat 1700 calories a day, you will be eating a 500 calorie deficit. This way, you will lose about a pound per week.

This method may sound effective, but it doesn’t work efficiently in the long term. As you lose weight, your TDEE also comes down. So, what was once a deficit diet becomes a maintenance diet. This is why we often reach a weight loss plateau when we diet.

Your body also becomes more efficient in using lesser calories (lower metabolism) and thus burns less fat. As you continue to drop calories over time, your metabolism will slow down, and you will regain all the weight you lost as soon as you go back to your regular diet. When your calorie intake is very low, you also lose muscle mass as it is broken down for energy. You may also become sluggish and develop nutritional deficiencies.

How can you create a calorie deficit and boost your metabolism?

1. Weight training

After weight training, muscles all over your body are activated. A pound of muscle mass uses six calories a day while a pound of fat uses only two calories a day. So, more muscle mass improves your resting metabolic rate.

2. Increase cardio exercise

Cardio exercises do not help to build your muscle, but they can boost your metabolism for several hours after the workout. High-intensity workouts deliver better results.

3. Hydrate

Your body metabolism slows down even when you are mildly dehydrated. So drink water or other unsweetened beverages during the day.

4. Cheat meals

Cheat meals help to boost metabolism by increasing the levels of leptins, the hormone responsible for sending hunger messages to the brain. Cheat meals also help to ward off feelings of deprivation and thus help you to stick to your diet.

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5. Cycling calories

Calorie cycling allows you to shift between low-calorie and high-calorie periods. Studies show that it helps in more significant weight loss as it improves your ability to stick to a diet, and reduces negative hormonal and metabolic adaptations (2).

6. Manipulating macro-nutrient ratios

Macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Managing your macronutrient ratios can help improve your weight loss and helps you to make smarter food choices.

Final thoughts

Losing weight is not easy. Knowing your total daily energy expenditure TDEE and maintaining a negative energy balance is the key to losing weight. To reach a negative energy balance, you can increase the amount of energy you spend each day through exercise or reduce the calories you consume smartly. While it is essential to know how many calories you are eating, do not let it take over your life. Some high-calorie foods are high in nutrition and are right for you.

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