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Key Takeaways

  1. TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure and is the average amount of calories you burn per day.
  2. You can accurately estimate your TDEE with your body fat percentage, weight, and activity level.
  3. To use a TDEE calculator to lose weight, multiply your TDEE by 0.75. To use a TDEE calculator to gain weight, multiply your TDEE by 1.1.

Just looking for an accurate TDEE calculator and nothing else? Here ya go:

LBM
BMR
TDEE

Not sure what a TDEE calculator is, why you need it, or how to use it to lose or gain weight? Read on!

“How many calories should I eat to lose weight?”

“I’m not eating that much and not losing weight. Do I really need to eat less?”

“I’m eating so much food and can’t gain a pound. What do I do?”

I hear questions like these all of the time, and fortunately, the answers are simpler than most people think.

They all have something in common, too, and it’s this:

How much you need to eat depends mostly on your goals and lifestyle.

Let’s start here:

  • If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less energy than you burn over time.
  • If you want to gain weight, you need to eat slightly more energy than you burn over time.
  • If you want to maintain your current weight, you need to eat more or less the same amount of energy you burn over time.

In other words, you need to manage your energy balance properly.

That’s hard to do when you deal in vaporous guidelines likes those, though. How do you quantify how much energy you’re burning over time? And how much less or more should you eat?

That’s where a TDEE calculator comes into play.

TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure, and it’s a mathematical estimate of how many total calories you burn throughout the day.

The best TDEE calculators work by using your weight, activity levels, body fat percentage, and mathematical formulas to generate an estimate of how many calories you burn each day.

With this number in hand, you can then create a meal plan that allows you to systematically lose, gain, or maintain your weight.

This is true regardless of the foods you eat, too.

No matter how “clean” you eat, if you feed your body more energy than it burns, you’ll get fatter.

And, as a corollary, no matter how “dirty” your diet is, if you feed your body less energy than it burns, you’ll lose fat.

That’s why Professor Mark Haub was able to lose 27 pounds on a diet of protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and Little Debbie snacks . . .

. . . and you could do exactly the same if you wanted to (not that you should though—food quality does matter).

The bottom line is once you understand how to calculate your TDEE and then ensure you’re eating less, more, or close to that amount of energy every day, you can lose, gain, and maintain your weight with ease.

And a TDEE calculator makes the first step easy as scrambling an egg.

What Is Total Daily Energy Expenditure?

Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is exactly what it sounds like:

The total amount of energy you expend every 24 hours.

It’s often expressed in calories, which is a measurement of energy. One calorie is the amount of energy it takes to heat one kilogram of water one degree Celsius (also called a kilocalorie).

For example, I’m 34 years old, 6’1 and 195 pounds, and I lift weights for about 5 hours and do steady-state cardio for about 30 minutes per week (I switch to high-intensity interval training when cutting), and my TDEE is about 2,800 calories.

“Wouldn’t this number change throughout the week based on what you’re doing every day?” you might be wondering.

Yep. Our total daily energy expenditure is a moving target for various reasons, including exercise, non-exercise activities, calorie intake, and even sleep duration.

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about the daily fluctuations. For our purposes, we only need to know our average total daily energy expenditure, which is what us fitness folk are actually referring to when we talk about TDEE.

Once you know your TDEE, you can make effective decisions about how to eat based on three premises:

  1. If you consistently eat more than that number of calories every day, you’ll gain weight.
  2. If you consistently eat less every day, you’ll lose weight.
  3. If you consistently eat that much, you’ll maintain your weight.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

How Do You Calculate Your TDEE?

tdee calculator

Your TDEE is comprised of your basal metabolic rate (BMR) plus additional energy burned through physical activity and the food you eat.

Let’s review each of these points separately.

1. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body burns at rest.

It’s the minimum amount of energy it costs to carry out essential functions like pumping blood, breathing, regenerating cells, and so on. In other words, it’s how many calories it costs to stay alive, but nothing more.

2. When you move your body, it costs energy.

No matter how large or small or long or short an activity is, it requires additional energy.

Even easy exercise can significantly boost your energy expenditure. For example, walking at just 3 mph burns almost four times as many calories as sitting. This is why enough small and short bouts of movement throughout the day can significantly increase your TDEE.

3. When you eat food, it costs energy to digest and absorb.

This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF).

Research shows that TEF accounts for about 10% of total daily energy expenditure, with amounts varying based on the macronutrient composition of your diet.

Studies also show that whole, minimally processed foods produce more TEF than processed foods, which is one of a number of reasons to get most of your calories from whole foods.

When you sum the energy your body burns to stay alive (BMR) and the energy burned through physical activity and digesting and absorbing food . . . you arrive at your TDEE.

And if that sounds complicated, don’t worry. It’s not. You don’t have to dust off your college algebra or take an Excel tutorial.

Metabolic researchers have already done all the heavy lifting for us and boiled it down to simple arithmetic.

The first step in calculating your TDEE is calculating your BMR.

There are several equations for this, but I recommend the Katch-McArdle variant, which looks like this:

katch mcardle tdee calculator

LMB stands for lean body mass, which is a measurement of all of the matter in your body that isn’t fat such as muscle, bone, organs, blood, etc.

The reason I recommend the Katch-McArdle over other formulas such as the Harris-Benedict or Mifflin-St Jeor is it accounts for differences in body composition.

This matters because muscle is more metabolically active than body fat.

That is, two people can weigh the same, but if one has a lot more muscle, his basal metabolic rate will be significantly higher.

Once you have your BMR, you need to account for the additional energy expenditure as noted above.

Instead of tracking every step you take and noting readouts from cardio machines (they’re inaccurate anyway), the Katch-McArdle equation includes multipliers that you can apply to your BMR based on your general activity level.

This will give you a good starting point for determining how many calories you should eat, and then you can adjust based on how your body actually responds.

If you’re running into difficulties losing weight, check out this article:

The Definitive Guide to Why You’re Not Losing Weight

And if you’re running into difficulties gaining weight, check out this article:

The Ultimate Guide to Bulking Up (Without Just Getting Fat)

Here are the standard Katch-McArdle multipliers:

1.2 = sedentary (little or no exercise)

1.375 = light activity (light exercise/sports 1 to 3 days per week)

1.55 = moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3 to 5 days per week)

1.725 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week)

1.9 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week and physical job)

There’s something you need to know about activity multipliers, though:

They will probably overestimate the actual amount of energy you’re burning.

I don’t have any research to directly back that statement up, but I’ve worked with thousands of people and consistently found it to be the case. It’s also common knowledge among experienced bodybuilders.

Simply put, if you use the above multipliers, you’ll probably place yourself in too small of a calorie deficit when cutting (resulting in less-than-optimal fat loss) and too large of a surplus when bulking (resulting in more-than-optimal fat gain).

And that means generally diminished returns on your efforts over time.

This is why I recommend you just use lower activity multipliers in the TDEE calculator.

Here’s how I do it:

1.15 = Sedentary (little or no exercise)

1.2 to 1.35 = Light activity (1 to 3 hours of exercise or sports per week)

1.4 to 1.55 = Moderate activity (4 to 6 hours of exercise or sports per week)

1.6 to 1.75 = Very active (7 to 9 hours of exercise or sports per week)

1.8 to 1.95 = Extra active (10+ hours of exercise or sports per week)

Those multipliers should give you a more accurate starting point, and they are what are built into the calculator below.

Then, as noted above, you adjust intake based on how your body actually responds.

How to Use Your TDEE to Lose Weight

tdee calculator to lose weight

As I noted earlier, the thing that most dictates whether you gain or lose weight is energy balance.

Energy balance is the relationship between the energy you feed your body and the energy it expends.

You see, the scientifically validated, “boring” reality is this:

  • Meaningful weight loss requires you to expend more energy than you consume.
  • And meaningful weight gain (both fat and muscle) requires the opposite: more consumption than expenditure.

If you’re shaking your head, thinking I’m drinking decades-old Kool-Aid, let me ask you a few questions.

Why has every single controlled weight loss study conducted in the last 100 years—including countless meta-analyses and systematic reviews—concluded that meaningful weight loss requires energy expenditure to exceed energy intake?

So, the bottom line is: A century of metabolic research has proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that energy balance is the basic mechanism that regulates weight gain and loss.

All that evidence, however, doesn’t mean you have to count calories to lose weight, but it does mean you have to understand how calorie intake and expenditure influences your body weight and then regulate your intake according to your goals.

Luckily, this isn’t hard.

How Many Calories You Should Eat to Lose Fat

As you know, you must be in a calorie deficit to lose fat, but how large should that deficit be? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Larger?

In other words, should you eat 90 percent of the calories you burn every day? Eighty percent? Less?

Some fitness folk advocate a “slow-cutting” approach where you use a mild calorie deficit and lax workout schedule to whittle down fat stores over the course of many months.

The advantages of this are claimed to be less muscle loss, more enjoyable workouts, and fewer issues related to hunger and cravings. And there’s some truth here.

Slow cutting is at least slightly easier and forgiving in some ways than a more aggressive approach, but the upsides aren’t all that significant in most people, and they come at a steep price: duration.

Namely, slow cutting is, well, slow, and for many dieters, this is more troubling than eating a bit less food every day.

For instance, all things being equal, by reducing your calorie deficit from 20 to 10 percent, you’re halving the amount of fat you’ll lose each week and doubling the amount of time it’ll take to finish your cut.

This is a problem for most people, because the longer they remain in a calorie deficit of any size, the more likely they are to fall off the wagon due to life commotion, dietary slipups, scheduling snafus, and so on.

Furthermore, when you know what you’re doing, you can maintain a significant calorie deficit that results in rapid fat loss without losing muscle, suffering in the gym, or wrestling with metabolic hobgoblins.

This allows you to enjoy faster results without having to sacrifice anything but calories, and this in turn allows you to spend more time doing the more enjoyable stuff (maintaining and lean bulking).

Therefore, my recommendation is an aggressive but not reckless calorie deficit of about 25 percent when cutting.

In other words, when you’re cutting I recommend that you eat about 75% of your TDEE.

I didn’t pick this 25 percent number out of thin air, either. Studies show that it works tremendously well for both fat loss and muscle preservation when combined with resistance training and high protein intake.

For instance, a study conducted by scientists at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) split national- and international-level track and field jumpers and sprinters with low levels of body fat (at or below 10 percent) into two groups:

  1. Group one maintained a 300-calorie deficit (about 12 percent below TDEE).
  2. Group two maintained a 750-calorie deficit (about 25 percent below TDEE).

After four weeks, the first group lost very little fat and muscle, and the second group lost, on average, about four pounds of fat and very little muscle. Neither group experienced any negative side effects to speak of.

These findings are also in line with what I’ve experienced working with thousands of people.

When combined with a high-protein diet and rigorous workout routine, a calorie deficit of about 25 percent allows for speedy fat loss and considerable muscle gain without any serious side effects.

You can calculate this number by multiplying your TDEE from the calculator by 0.75, or you can use a back-of-the-envelope formula for arriving at this number:

10 to 12 calories per pound of body weight per day.

This may seem unsophisticated, but it’s what most people “in the know” use to set their cutting calories.

This simple formula will give you a number that’s around 75% of your TDEE without the hassle of using a TDEE calculator for weight loss.

A few notes on how to use this formula:

  • If you’re a woman, new to lifting weights, and/or you work out less than 3 hours per week, then I recommend you multiply your body weight in pounds by 10.
  • If you’re a man or woman, you’ve got two to three years of lifting under your belt, and/or you workout 3 to 6 hours per week, then multiply your body weight in pounds by 11.
  • If you’re a man, you’ve got 4+ years of lifting under your belt, and/or you work out 6+ hours per week, then multiply your body weight in pounds by 12.

For example, using the TDEE calculator we established that my TDEE is 2,800 calories, so when I cut, I should drop my calories to about 2,100 (2,800 x 0.75).

Here’s what the math looks like using the simpler method:

I’ve been lifting over 15 years and I work out about 5.5 hours per week, so I’ll want to multiply my body weight by 11 to estimate my daily cutting calories.

195 x 11 = 2,145—almost exactly what I get when I multiply my TDEE by 0.75.

Due to the accuracy and ease of use of this formula, this is now what I recommend in my books for men and women.

To lose fat without losing muscle, you want to eat 75% of your TDEE every day. The easiest way to find this number is to simply multiply your body weight by 10 to 12 calories per day.

How to Use Your TDEE to Build Muscle

tdee calculator to gain muscle

In order to build a meaningful amount of muscle, you need to maintain a calorie surplus over time.

This has been confirmed in a number of studies that show a calorie surplus boosts muscle protein synthesis, increases anabolic and decreases catabolic hormone levels, and improves workout performance.

All of that adds up to significantly better muscle and strength gains over time.

You don’t want to eat too many more calories than you’re burning, however, because after a point, increasing food intake no longer boosts muscle growth but just fat gain instead.

So, how large should your calorie surplus be to maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gain?

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any research that gives a tidy answer, but I’ve spent enough time in the natural bodybuilding scene and worked with enough people to know that the point of diminishing returns is somewhere around 110 percent of your TDEE.

That is, you’ll likely gain just as much muscle eating about 110 percent of your TDEE as you would eating 120 or 130 percent but a lot less fat.

And so that’s my recommendation for lean bulking: eat about 110 percent of your TDEE.

For me, this would mean eating about 3,100 calories per day (2,800 x 1.1). And again, this is exactly what I do when I want to start a lean bulking phase, and it results in slow and steady muscle gain with minimal fat gain.

Once again, instead of using the TDEE calculator you can also use a back-of-the-envelope formula of . . .

16 to 18 calories per pound of body weight per day.

A few notes on how to use this formula:

  • If you’re a woman, new to lifting weights, and/or you work out less than 3 hours per week, then I recommend you multiply your body weight in pounds by 16.
  • If you’re a man or woman with two to three years of lifting under your belt and/or you workout 3 to 6 hours per week, then multiply your body weight in pounds by 17.
  • If you’re a man, you’ve got 4+ years of lifting under your belt, and/or you work out 6+ hours per week, then multiply your body weight in pounds by 18.

I’m in the middle, so here’s how the math works out for me:

195 x 17 = 3,315

From experience I know this number is a little high for me, so I typically go with the more conservative multiplier of 16 calories per pound of body weight at the start of my bulks.

Here’s what that looks like:

195 x 16 = 3,120—again, almost exactly what I get when I multiply my TDEE by 1.1.

To build muscle without gaining boatloads of fat, you want to consume 110% of your TDEE every day. The easiest way to find this number is to simply multiply your body weight by 16 to 18 calories per day.

The Bottom Line on the Best TDEE Calculator

TDEE stands for total daily energy expenditure, or how many total calories you burn per day on average.

The best TDEE calculator uses your body fat percentage, weight, and activity level to give you a very accurate estimate of how many calories you burn each day.

If you consistently eat more than your TDEE over time, you’ll gain weight. If you consistently eat less, you’ll lose weight. And if you consistently eat your TDEE over time, you’ll maintain your weight.

The three main factors that contribute to your TDEE are how many calories you burn at rest, or your BMR, how many calories you burn through activity, and how many calories you burn through digesting and absorbing food.

Our TDEE ebbs and flows depending on how much we move on a day-to-day basis. Fortunately, however, we only need to pay attention to our TDEE for our purposes, or the amount of energy we burn every 24 hours on average.

Once you have your TDEE, you can either lose or gain weight by subtracting or adding to it, respectively.

If you want to lose weight, you want to eat 75% of your TDEE every day. To find this number, multiply your body weight by 10 to 12.

If you want to gain weight, you want to eat 110% of your TDEE every day. To find this number, multiply your body weight by 16 to 18.

Once you have your cutting or lean bulking calories figured out you can adjust them up or down depending on how your body responds.

And that’s all there is to it!

After figuring out your daily calorie intake for cutting or lean bulking, the next step is to set your macros for cutting or bulking.

Check out this article to learn how:

A Simple and Accurate Macronutrient Calculator (and How to Use It)

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What’s your take on TDEE calculators? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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