- Learning how many calories you burn in a day is essential when wanting to meet certain fitness and health goals.
- If you want to lose weight, then you’ll need to know what your baseline calories should be at rest to maintain your weight. From there, you can determine how to alter your diet and fitness routine to meet your goals.
- While not as common, some people wish to gain weight. If this is the case, knowing how many calories you burn and ways to reduce that burn so you can gain muscle is essential.
- Tracking your food and fitness is the best way to determine what will work better for you as an individual.
Do you know how many calories you burn in a day, with or without exercise? Honestly, most people don’t unless they are tracking this information specifically. If you are looking to lose or even gain weight, knowing how many calories you burn is important.
First, you need to learn how to count calories in your daily food intake. Depending on the amount of weight you have to lose, you can usually lose some with diet changes alone. But there comes a time when changing your activity level is the only way to continue losing pounds.
Today, we’re going to discuss ways to determine how many calories you burn in a day. First, we’ll talk about how many calories you burn at rest. Then, the different methods you can use to determine how many calories you burn.
We’ll also offer tips for those of you who struggle with losing weight or gaining it. Finally, we’ll provide some practical tips you can use to keep track of it all.
How Many Calories Do I Burn a Day at Rest?
While at rest, your body is still burning calories at a slow rate, even when sleeping. This makes sense when you think about the energy needed to keep your organs functioning and maintain breathing.
To determine how many calories you burn a day doing nothing, you can use a calculator or do it manually.
This calculation is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) also referred to as Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). It is used in the formulas that help determine how many calories you should eat and what you need to burn.
Each method has an equation to calculate your BMR that differs from the others. You’ll likely come up with a different number for each equation or calculator. You can choose to use one specific method, or average your BMR across several formulas.
As we discuss the various methods, we’ll point out which may work (or not) for different body types and activity levels. Once you’ve got the BMR/RMR, you’re ready to move on and calculate your energy needs each day.
Before we continue to that next step though, we would like to point out a common misconception. Some people consider the Basal Metabolic Rate and Resting Metabolic Rate to be the same thing. While very close, there is a difference. Let’s take a look at what separates the two before we move on.
BMR vs. RMR
BMR and RMR are also called Basal Energy Expenditure (BEE) and Resting Energy Expenditure (REE). Regardless of the term you use, here are each of them defined:
- Basal Metabolic Rate – the minimum amount of calories your body needs to continue functioning while at rest.
- Resting Metabolic Rate – the number of calories burned while your body is at rest.
As you can see, very similar terminology with slight differences. To make it even more confusing, some sites may refer to BMR/BEE and RMR/REE as one and the same. Here, we will differentiate between the two so you can choose which method works best for you.
Now, let’s see how to determine your daily caloric intake to meet your goals.
How Many Calories Should I Eat a Day?
For some people, this is a question that they struggle with. No matter if you are trying to gain, lose or maintain your weight, it’s good to have a baseline of what to eat.
The best way to determine this information is to use a metabolic calculator. There are several out there to use, and they are all based on formulas.
For most, you’ll need to input the following information:
- Activity level
The BMI most basic that you probably have heard of is the BMI, and we have a calculator for you here.
As your weight and activity level fluctuates, so can the number of calories you’re taking in. Once you get the hang of inputting your stats, getting a calculation doesn’t take much time.
Let’s take a look at some of the different methods used to determine how much to eat and calories burned.
The Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization equation allows you to calculate your Estimated Energy Rate (EER).
It involves a series of equations that help determine how much energy (calories) is being burned during physical activity. Rather than doing this by hand, here is a spreadsheet you can use to input your personal data.
The spreadsheet can also help you determine the calories needed to maintain your weight based on activity. According to this study, the truncation of the formula does not allow for very vigorous activity.
If you are an exceptionally active person who works out for longer time periods, it may underestimate calories needed/burned.
This method has been updated several times since it came out in 1985. Original procedures used would often overestimate daily calories, especially in sedentary people.
According to this study, the use of Dietary Reference Intakes (discussed later in this section) has improved daily energy needs.
The Harris-Benedict Equation
This formula is probably the most common one used to determine energy needs and burn rate. With this formula, you take your BMR and multiply it by a number based on activity level.
There are some things worth mentioning when using the Harris-Benedict equation to determine the calories needed. This formula does not take lean body mass into the equation. Therefore, there are two categories of people who may get inaccurate calculations:
- Very muscular with low body fat – the equation tends to underestimate calories needed
- Overweight/obese people – the equation tends to overestimate calories needed
What’s more, there even seems to be an ethnicity bias. When comparing Caucasian women to African American women, this study determined that there were more degrees of error for African American women. This was made worse if the women were overweight.
In fact, this is a common issue with all the different calculators and formulas used to calculate how many calories you burn in a day. Without taking into account ethnicity and weight history, these calculators can at best be used as an estimate for caloric needs.
With all that said, for the vast majority, the degree of error is minimal and can be used to determine the calories needed.
Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation
- Men: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
- Women: 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161
However, it’s important to note that some of the same issues in the Harris-Benedict equation are also problematic in this one.
Much simpler compared to some of the other equations used, there is also another unique factor to this method. The Katch-McArdle Formula uses lean body mass as part of the equation. This could mean that people who are leaner may find this formula more accurate.
Here is the Katch-McArdle formula:
- RMR = 370 + 21.6(1 – body fat %) x weight (kg)
Of course, you’ll need to know your body fat percentage to use this method. And if you don’t want to do the math, this calculator allows you to choose between the last three methods discussed.
Those who have a lot of muscle mass and less body fat tend to have higher BMR and RMR numbers. This is because muscle burns more energy than fat, consuming a higher amount of calories at rest.
It could be interesting to compare numbers between this formula and other equations. You could even compare burn rates of some of the Golden Era bodybuilders like Larry Scott to see how fast lean muscle consumes energy.
Dietary Reference Intakes
These figures are provided by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Rather than formulas or calculations, they are recommendations for the various dietary intakes you should strive for each day.
These recommendations are a good reference if you are looking to get specific nutrient, vitamin or mineral intake guidelines. The numbers are current through this year and are updated periodically.
If you use the FAO/WHO equation discussed previously, they get their EER numbers from the DRI.
How Many Calories Should I Burn a Day to Lose Weight?
If your goal is to lose weight, then one of the best ways to do that is to eat fewer calories. One pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories of energy. If you want to lose one pound per week, you need to reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories per day.
To lose weight and keep it off, you should try to lose no more than two pounds per week. Depending on your starting weight, you may lose more than that. But you don’t want to go too crazy and lose too fast. You could end up gaining it all back and then some.
Another way to burn calories each day is exercise. Of course, you can hit the weights at the gym. But there are other ways that you can burn calories while completing an activity.
Think about some hobbies you enjoy doing, like:
- Playing with your kids or pets
- Playing sports
- Working in your garden
Activities of daily living also expend some energy, even if it’s not a lot:
- Household chores
- Getting dressed
- Grooming yourself
The MET Value
All of these things have a metabolic equivalent or MET value. The MET value is the amount of energy you expend completing each task or activity. But, how in the world would you ever be able to figure out the MET value of all these daily activities?
Luckily, you don’t have to. The Compendium of Physical Activities has done that for you. You can go through the activity categories to find all the things you do in a day to determine the MET value.
To determine the amount of energy you used, you’ll have to multiply your weight in kilograms by the MET value. For example, someone weighing 66 kg who mopped floors (2.5 MET value) burns 165 calories per hour. If this activity only took 25 minutes, then the calories burned was 68.75 (20/60 x 165).
Using this calculator, you can figure out how many calories you burned in a day, regardless of the task. Then, you can enter it into your food and activity tracker so you can keep track of what you burned each day.
What if I Want to Gain Weight?
Though the number of people who are underweight is small, there are people who struggle to gain weight. For those of you who want to gain weight, there are ways to do this in a healthy manner.
Many of those who struggle with gaining weight tend to have a higher BMR. It isn’t much you can do for this without potentially harming yourself in the long run.
Use the calculators provided to help determine how much you need to reach your goal weight/build. Increasing your caloric intake with healthy foods along with exercise are the best ways to gain weight in muscle.
Initially, you may find it difficult to increase your food intake, especially if you aren’t hungry. Adding in weight training can help.
Resistance training with heavy weights will work faster than using lighter weights. Cardio should be included but your focus should be on heavyweights to build muscle.
Tips for Keeping Track
At first, the amount of information you need to keep track of can be overwhelming. As your weight and calorie needs change, you want to be able to keep conversions and data handy.
Here are some ways to do it.
Use a Notebook
If you don’t have a smartphone or just prefer a pen and paper, a notebook can be a great way to keep organized. Maintain a conversions page for easy reference. This could include:
- Weight from pounds to kilograms
- MET value of common activities
- Calorie amounts for common foods
- BMR/RMR previously calculated
- Body fat percentage
Having this information handy can help as your calorie needs change. You can also keep track of your weight lost (or gained) plus measurements as your body composition changes.
Use a Spreadsheet
If you don’t want to use a notebook, perhaps a spreadsheet is more your speed.
If you love to nerd out, you can set one up with all the formulas needed to calculate your:
- Body fat percentage
- Calories burned
- Calories consumed
For the right user, the possibilities are endless and can be much quicker than writing everything down. Plus, the margin of error is much less when you set up formulas you can reuse over and over.
Use Your Phone
If you prefer to use your smartphone, there are several ways you can use it to stay organized.
Here are some examples:
- Notepad – just like if you were using a paper notebook, you can use the notepad on your phone to keep track of pertinent information.
- Fitness app – if you choose to use a tracker app, get one that tracks exercise and food. That way, you can see everything in one format and make it easier to review each day.
- Web browser – bookmark the calculators for the method that works best for you, along with the MET values. You can also download the MET values in pdf form to review anytime.
You may find that a combination of these tracking methods works best for you. There’s no wrong way to track your progress, but when it comes down to it, tracking is essential. You’ll never be able to truly see how far you’ve come to crush your goals without it.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking to maintain your weight, then your calorie intake likely won’t fluctuate much. To lose weight, you’ll need to reduce the calories you’re taking in. If you need to gain weight, that means increasing the number of calories you’re consuming.
While this seems simple, using the formulas and methods discussed today can help you better understand your body’s specific needs. As you keep track of your progress, you’ll be able to better tweak your nutrition and exercise routine. This is especially beneficial if your goals change over time.
Another benefit of tracking the calories you burn each day is being able to make daily changes if needed. This might mean increasing food intake on heavy lifting days and reducing on low impact and resting days.
And if you don’t get the results you want at the speed you’re looking for, consider a fat burner. One of our most popular supplements is Vintage Burn™, a thermogenic fat burning pill designed to speed up your metabolism without compromising muscle gains.
At the end of the day, what works for some will not work for others. Using these methods and tracking your progress can help unlock the right formula to help you meet your goals.
Have you used any of these metabolic calculators before? Do you have a specific preference? Were you able to better meet your goals once you knew how your body burned calories? Tell us all about it in the comments below!