How Much Should I Eat?
Understanding TDEE for True Health

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The human body is like a machine, you can think of it like a car. To get where you need to go, your car needs to be serviced properly: gas, oil changes, adjusting your tire pressure. Driving around will use up gas, and the more you do, the more gas gets used. It’s the same for the human body. This is known as the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) - what you expend energy on, and how much energy needs to be consumed to replenish it, per day. 

In this article, we’re going to cover the basics of the TDEE including the four main components. This will help to give you an understanding of energy expenditure, weight regulation, and fueling your body correctly for your daily activities. So that you can feel, function, and perform at your best. 

Why is understanding your TDEE important? 

In exercise and nutrition science, your caloric needs are based on your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which refers to how many calories (energy) you burn each day. Energy balance is the difference between energy intake and the TDEE, i.e.: how many calories you are consuming versus how many you are burning. Energy balance occurs when calories in matches calories out. 

 

Source: http://resource.download.wjec.co.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/vtc/2015-16/15-16_21/eng/section1.html 

It is important to know your TDEE so that you can regulate your caloric intake and thus, achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Research shows, this is particularly important for individuals who: 

  • Have an unhealthy body weight - either over or under-weight 
  • Perform a high amount of exercise - like athletes 
  • Have specific fitness goals - like building muscle 
  • Environmental stressors - heat, cold, or altitude 
  • Have a health condition affecting their weight - like thyroid diseases 
  • Consume a processed diet which affects the function of certain hunger and satiety hormones so often over or under-eat

All of these variables affect either: your ability to self-regulate your body weight or food intake, or require extra attention to fuel the body correctly. For these specific individuals, understanding your TDEE is critical to having good health.  

It allows you to set caloric and macronutrient targets for yourself to lose or gain weight. If you eat more than your TDEE, you will put yourself in a positive energy balance and gain weight, and if you eat less than your TDEE you will be in a negative energy balance and lose weight. 

 

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What are the four components of TDEE? 

Based on the most up to date research, our TDEE is comprised of four main components: 

  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is how many calories you burn just performing essential functions like sleeping or breathing. Iit makes up the largest portion of your TDEE - 70 percent.
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) which includes hand gestures, fidgeting, cooking, walking around the house and any activity that is not exercise-based, and makes up 25 percent of your TDEE 
     
  • The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of calories burnt from digesting the food you have consumed throughout the day, accounting for 10 percent of your TDEE 
     
  • Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT) is the amount of calories burnt during exercise, accounting for only 5 percent of your TDEE 

Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Components-of-total-daily-energy-expenditure-TDEEBMRbasal-metabolic-rate_fig1_260397860 

How is your TDEE calculated? 

To calculate how many calories you burn in a day, you can visit a TDEE calculator, like this one. TDEE calculators will ask you key information like your age, height, weight, gender, and activity level. These are the variables that your TDEE depends on: for example, the heavier you weigh, the more energy you burn. 

That being said, basic TDEE calculators don’t factor in specifics like the role of muscle mass compared to fat mass. If an individual is heavy because they are muscular, but are very lean, they will require more energy than someone who is heavy because they have a high portion of fat. This point was examined in a 2017 study published in Obesity Reviews. 

Other than using a TDEE calculator, you can also use a TDEE formula. The Harris-Benedict equation is the gold standard in nutrition science. This is the formula: 

W = weight (kg) H = height (cm) A = age (years) 

  • BMR men = 66 + (13.7 x W) + (5 x H) – (6.8 x A) 
  • BMR women = 655 + (9.6 x W) + (1.8 x H) - (4.7 x A) 
  • This is in kcal/day - convert your value to MJ/day (multiply by 0.004184) 

After you get your BMR, you can then multiply it by your physical activity level (PAL) to get your TDEE: 

Lifestyle 

PAL 

Calculation 

Sedentary or light activity 

1.53 

BMR x 1.53 

Active or moderately active 

1.76 

BMR x 1.76 

Vigorously active 

2.25 

BMR x 2.25 

 

So… calories in versus calories out, right? 

Not exactly. Unfortunately, the fitness industry tends towards simplifying nutrition science. It’s not as simple as calories in versus calories out. As mentioned, eating a heavily processed diet can affect your body’s homeostatic processes like ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates the appetite. 

For example, brown rice and candy are both types of carbohydrates. So based on the energy balance theory, you’d guess that 100 calories of brown rice is the same as 100 calories of candy. But in reality, fructose (a specific type of carbohydrate found in candy) increases ghrelin levels meaning it stimulates hunger despite satiety, which can not be stimulated by glucose (the specific type of carbohydrate found in brown rice). Glucose increases circulating satiety hormones - leptin - making you feel full, whereas fructose does not. 
 
That being said, TDEE is still very useful to understand for the average person looking to improve their health. 

Whats the takeaway? 

How much energy you burn in a day can be helpful for individuals who exercise heavily or for those looking to lose or gain weight. While it’s not a perfect science, it’s a good place to start. 

If you’re looking to start your fitness journey, or you’re a fitness junkie looking to take it to the next level, subscribe to the FitMyFoot blog for more fitness bites to help you on your way. 

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