Tracking how many calories you consume is fairly straightforward, but calculating how many calories you burn in a day goes beyond reading the calorie counter on the cardio machine or on your fitness tracker.
That’s where TDEE — total daily energy expenditure — comes in. TDEE tallies up how many calories you burn per day doing everything from sleeping and breathing to eating and running.
Here’s what you need to know about TDEE and how it differs from basal metabolic rate (BMR).
What Is TDEE?
TDEE is the amount of energy, i.e., calories, you burn in a 24-hour span.
This includes the bare-minimum number of calories your body requires for basic functioning, along with the energy you expend via physical activity — whether you’re pushing a cart through the grocery store or crushing a HIIT workout.
How Do You Calculate TDEE?
To calculate TDEE, you would use this equation:
TDEE = RMR + TEF + NEAT + EPOC + Ex
Let’s break that down.
- Resting energy expenditure (RMR): the amount of energy burned at rest
- Thermogenic effect of food (TEF): the increase in metabolic rate after eating a meal
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): the amount of energy burned when we’re not sleeping, eating, or doing formal exercise (this includes activities like cleaning the house or taking the stairs)
- Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC): an increase in the amount of oxygen intake after exercise; also referred to as afterburn
- Exercise (Ex): good old physical activity
If all that sounds complicated, there are handy TDEE calculators that can give you a rough idea of your TDEE. But know this: “TDEE is actually quite complex and is impossible to calculate to absolutely certainty. There will always be a margin of error,” says Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, private-practice dietitian based in Chicago.
What’s the Difference Between TDEE and BMR?
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories you need each day to maintain the vital processes that allow your body to function — like breathing, circulating blood, and cell growth. Each person’s BMR depends on their sex, age, height, body composition, and even genetics.
TDEE, on the other hand, includes all of the calories you burn in a day. “Think of BMR as the baseline energy to keep you alive, whereas TDEE takes into account movement,” Wolfram says.
For example, let’s say your resting energy expenditure is 1,800 calories, and you also burn 240 calories during a 30-minute circuit-training workout. Your TDEE would be closer to 2,040 calories.
However, this isn’t an exact measurement. To calculate your exact TDEE, you’d also need to account for the other factors (TEF, NEAT, and EPOC). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, for example, is hard to calculate on your own — you may know you covered 10,000 steps today, but how many calories you actually burned depends on how fast you walked, your body composition, and genetics.
Should You Start Calculating Your TDEE?
TDEE can be difficult to calculate, but the good news is, you don’t really need to. “I wouldn’t advise anyone to calculate their TDEE,” Wolfram says. “Getting wrapped up in numbers can take away from interoception, or being in tune with your own body.”
Instead, she suggests paying attention to your internal hunger and fullness cues and prioritizing an enjoyable self-care routine that involves some form of physical activity every day.