How Many Calories Do I Burn a Day?
Calories describe units of energy that fuel your body, keep your internal organs working, and aid in muscle development. They provide the energy you need to survive each day. Your body stores calories as muscle tissue and fat as a backup energy source. When you eat fewer calories throughout the day, your body burns stored energy.
To lose weight, you need a negative energy balance, also known as a calorie deficit. This means you need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day. If you consume the same amount of calories you burn, you will maintain your weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Therefore, you need to know how many calories you typically burn each day to adjust your weight.
Throughout this article, we explain how to calculate your daily calorie burn. We also break down how to determine your daily calorie needs. Knowing this information can help you build a daily routine centered around your fitness goals.
Calculating Daily Calorie Burn
The amount of calories you burn each day is often referred to as your total energy expenditure (TEE) or total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This number is based on the following factors:
- Basal metabolic rate (BMR) or resting metabolic rate (RMR): ~60 percent of your TDEE
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): ~20 percent of your TDEE
- Thermic effect of food (TEF): ~10 percent of your TDEE
- Thermic effect of activity (TEA): ~10 percent of your TDEE
Your basal metabolic rate (BMR), also known as your resting metabolic rate (RMR), is the amount of calories your body burns carrying out essential functions, such as breathing and circulating blood. However, this number does not include the energy you expend during exercise. Your BMR accounts for roughly 60 percent of your TDEE and is calculated using your sex, body weight, height, and age.
Those who weigh more and have more muscle mass have a higher BMR. This means they burn more calories each day during essential bodily functions. It also means they require more calories from proper metabolism.
During weight loss, calorie needs typically decrease. However, gaining muscle may increase your BMR and, in turn, your calorie requirements. This is because muscle naturally burns more calories even when you are not working out. A pound of muscle burns 4.5 to 7 calories per day, while a pound of fat burns only 1 to 2 calories per day.
The following formula is part of the Harris-Benedict Equation and can be used to calculate your BMR:
Men: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kilograms) + (4.799 x height in centimeters) – (5.677 x age in years)
Women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kilograms) + (3.098 x height in centimeters) – 4.330 x age in years)
Later, we explain how to use your BMR to determine your calorie needs based on your activity level.
Your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) accounts for roughly 20 percent of your TDEE. This number includes calories burned during our daily lives, such as walking, standing, reaching, and performing tasks. Those who move more frequently will naturally burn more calories than those who live a sedentary lifestyle. A higher NEAT percentage can also increase your overall metabolic response.
For more information, check out our article “How Many Calories Do You Burn Walking Per Mile or Kilometer?”
Ten percent of your TDEE or daily calorie burn comes from digesting the food you consume. This is called your thermic effect of food (TEF). Your body needs energy to process and metabolize your food. Different foods are more thermogenic, meaning they require more calories for digestion. For example, protein uses up to 30 percent of calories consumed for digestion, while carbs use only 5 to 10 percent.
Eating a variety of foods with different thermogenic ratings will keep your overall TEF around 10 percent. While eating more thermogenic foods may slightly increase your metabolism, it will not significantly change your TDEE.
TEA or TEE
The thermic effect of activity/exercise (TEA/TEE) refers to the number of calories you burn during exercise. These activities account for roughly 10 percent of your overall TDEE. Of course, this percentage can change depending on the intensity and duration of your workout.
Calculating Calories Burned in Exercise
Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) can help you determine the number of calories you burn without exercising. However, the more you exercise, the more calories you burn throughout the day. The best way to determine your energy expenditure during exercise is by using metabolic equivalents (METs).
METs are used to measure the amount of energy expended when performing different activities. The baseline used when measuring METs is the amount of energy you expend at rest, which is calculated based on body weight and oxygen intake.
For example, an activity with a MET of 2 means you used two times the energy to perform the exercise than you would when at rest. The more intense your workout, the higher your MET, and the more calories you burn.
Knowing your MET can provide you with a rough estimation of the calories your body burns per minute when performing certain activities. This formula uses your MET and body weight.
METs x 3.5 x (your body weight in kilograms) / 200 = calories burned per minute
A person who weighs 150 pounds (about 68 kg) and goes hiking (6 METs) should use the following formula:
6 x 3.5 x 68 / 200 = 7.1 calories per minute. If they hike for 1 hour, they will burn roughly 426 pounds.
Calculating Calorie Needs
For weight loss, your calorie intake should be less than you burn. Calculating your daily calorie needs based on your activity level can determine the number of calories you should consume each day.
Several equations can calculate your calorie needs based on your activity level. The most well known is the Harris-Benedict Formula. This formula multiplies your BMR by an appropriate physical activity level (PAL) to estimate the calories you should consume per day.
BMR x PAL
Based on this formula, a sedentary person who performs little to no exercise during the day should multiply their BMR by a PAL of 1.2. For example, a BMR of 1745 x 1.2 equals 2094. This is the number of calories they would need to consume to maintain their weight.
The following lists the various Harris-Benedict physical activity levels (PALs):
- Sedentary (little to no exercise): 1.2
- Light activity: 1.375
- Moderate activity: 1.55
- Very active: 1.725
- Very hard/demanding activity: 1.9
Once you know the number of calories required to maintain your weight, you can adjust your calorie intake to reach your goals. Experts suggest lowering your calorie intake by 500 per day to lose weight. However, you should not consume less than 1000 calories below your maintenance level.
The Harris-Benedict Equation does not account for the fact that your activity level may change from day to day. It also does not account for lean body mass. Those with more muscle mass and less body fat need more calories because they burn them quicker.
In addition to the formulas we have outlined above, there are also several online activity trackers to help you determine your daily energy expenditure. The Cornell University METs to Calories Calculator considers your body weight, activity level (MET), and activity duration to determine the number of calories a person burns performing various exercises.
You can also use many online calorie calculators to track the number of calories consumed each day. These tools are ideal when trying to maintain a caloric deficit for weight loss.
Many wearable devices digitally monitor your daily activities and provide an estimated calorie burn for the day. Although these devices are not 100 percent accurate, they are an effective way to gauge your TDEE.
Frequently Asked Questions
For most people, it is not possible to lose a pound per day. This is because to do so, you would need to burn 3,500 calories a day, which is difficult. Since most of us consume 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, even burning 3,500 a day would not create enough of a calorie deficit to lose a pound of body weight.
However, professional athletes who consume well over 3,500 calories per day (between 8,000 and 12,000) and then burn 3,500 calories may lose a pound a day.
The number of calories you burn per day without exercise depends on several factors, including your resting metabolic rate (RMR) or basal metabolic rate (BMR), non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and thermic effect of food (TEF).
Your RMR determines the number of calories your body burns when carrying out essential functions, such as breathing, building tissue cells, and circulating blood. Your NEAT determines your calorie expenditure when performing everyday tasks, such as sitting, standing, and walking. Lastly, TEF is your energy burn when digesting foods. Some foods require more calories to digest, thereby increasing your daily energy expenditure.
The amount of water you need to drink per day for weight loss depends on your body weight and metabolism. You should drink between half an ounce to an ounce of water per pound of weight each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should consume roughly 75 to 150 ounces of water.
Of course, your climate also affects how much water you need to drink. Colder temperatures require less water intake, while hotter climates require more.
Believe it or not, you do burn calories while sleeping. The number of calories you burn while dozing depends on your body weight and metabolic rate. In general, a person who weighs 125 pounds burns 38 calories per hour when sleeping. A person who weighs 185 pounds burns around 56 per hour.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most women naturally expend roughly 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, while men expend between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day. If you live an active lifestyle, you will expend even more energy. Walking at a slow pace on level ground for 45 minutes burns around 100 calories for a person who weighs about 150 pounds.
All calorie counting and energy expenditure is an estimation, not an exact science. However, keeping track of the foods you eat and the intensity and duration of your workouts is a great way to maintain a healthy weight. When we are more aware of caloric input and output, we are less likely to develop serious health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.