How Many Calories Am I Burning?
This is the most popular question I get as a health coach and the answer is really simple; know how much you eat. Your activity varies day to day which means so does your overall calorie expenditure. However, you can still get a solid average that will help you understand how much food you need for any desired goal. Unfortunately, there is a lot of garbage to dig through to get a straight answer so allow me to lay it all out for you in a really easy step-by-step method.
Why You Shouldn’t Listen to Your Electronic Calorie Counters:
Did you know your Apple Watch and Fitbit have a 40% minimum error rate? Yep. They’re all 40% or more incorrect. That’s because the only data they’re using is your height, weight and heart rate. There are a plethora of other factors that have an effect on your daily expenditure; body composition (your fat to muscle ratio), VO2 Max (how much oxygen you can utilize during exercise), thermic effect of food (how many calories it takes to digest and absorb food) and those are just a few examples that your fitness watch doesn’t even consider.
What Factors Make Up Total Daily Energy Expenditure?
BMR: Basal Metabolic Rate (Rate of energy used when the body is at rest; breathing, warming)
TEF: Thermic Effect of Food (Calories expended during food digestion/absorption)
TEA: Thermic Effect of Activity (Exercise)
NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (Cleaning, shopping, mowing the lawn)
As I said before, these numbers are going to vary depending on what you did that specific day. Whether you had a workout at the gym, a rest day, had a lot of chores to do, more activity at work than usual, etc., that number is going to change.
So how do you know exactly how much to eat? Let's get into it!
Find your estimated TDEE. There are quite a few TDEE calculators online that will give you a good estimate of where your maintenance calories are. These calculators will ask for a bit of data from you and come up with a maintenance calorie number. Your maintenance calories are the calories you need to eat to maintain the weight you are currently at. This is what I like to call a foundation- once you know how much you need to eat to maintain, you can decide which route to take to either gain or lose weight, whatever your goal may be.
Below I linked the one I used:
Track and eat the amount of calories the TDEE calculator gave you for 4 weeks straight using a calorie counting app like Myfitnesspal. Weigh yourself every day at the same time using the same scale and record your weight each day. Every 7 days, add your weight up and divide by 7 to get a weekly average. This is an important key factor because a weekly average is going to be much more accurate since you will rule out daily weight fluctuations. These fluctuations can vary from 3-5 pounds and include an intense workout, stress, lack of sleep, PMS, sodium intake and MUCH more. If you only weighed yourself once per week, you could get a very inaccurate representation of where your true weight is.
Note any patterns in your weight. There are three things that could have happened:
1- Weight increased. This means the TDEE calculator estimated calories for you that were too high and you are in a caloric surplus. If this is the case, drop calories by 100 for a week or two or until weight starts to even back out.
2- Weight decreased. This means the TDEE calculator estimated calories for you that were too low and you are in a caloric deficit. If this is the case, increase calories by 100 for a week or two or until weight starts to even back out.
3- Weight stayed the same. This means the TDEE calculator estimated calories that was a good average for daily expenditure. If this is the case, you are right on the mark!
Now that you either know, or have a rough estimate, of how many calories you need on a day to day basis, you can either stay right there or move that number up or down if you want to target muscle gain or lose fat.