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TDEE (BMR) Calculator Explained

calculator

The TDEE calculator (ETP calculator) is an important part of our site and when you put it together with Met Flex for Fat Loss you have a pretty good understanding of how to move forward.  The goal however isn’t for you to track calories for the rest of your life it’s just to get you in the ballpark of understanding as it relates to your athletic nutritional requirements.  Also whatever the reading is that doesn’t mean you have to hit that number every day.  You can and probably should look for more of an average or intuitive way of eating.

There’s been some confusion on the Facebook page regarding the BMR/TDEE Calculator, so I wanted to write this article to clear things up.  First of all, let’s clarify what the calculator does and doesn’t do.

What it does do is give you an estimate of what your overall calories are supposed to look like.

What it doesn’t do is spit out a meal plan or a precise ratio of macronutrients; that is left up to the user.

The underlying theme of practically everything we write here is that people need to take the reins and manage their health/nutrition themselves.  It will save you money and teach you a valuable lesson that you can apply to any area of your life.  If you eat whole foods and listen to your body, it’s really not that complicated.

Second, many athletic folks are shocked the first time they run things through the calculator.  The number seems too high.  “How could this be optimal if I want to stay lean?”  Coming from a background of calorie restriction and crash dieting, I’ll admit that it doesn’t make sense at first, but this is not an arbitrary suggestion.  The primary reason we’re telling you to eat closer to the TDEE calculation is because if you’re properly fed, you will have the energy (and hormones) to crush your workouts and that will create a greater energy debt.

We’re not talking about working out excessively to “burn calories” though.  When you under eat, your body holds onto fat and your work capacity decreases as a measure of protection.  This slows your metabolism down and stresses you out.  Eating more + moving more = better body composition and health.



Of course, there is a process of “dialing it in” that needs to happen.  Some people misunderstand that I’m suggesting they count calories.  I’ve said at least a dozen times that I personally do not count (nor does James), and I don’t necessarily want you to either.  All I’m suggesting is that you spend a few days counting calories and getting a handle on what it looks like to eat as much as you need to.  Once you know what “eating enough” looks and feels like, you never have to count a calorie again.  I want you develop intuitive eating patterns instead of relying upon the calculator to “hold your hand”.  This is what I did to get out of the dieting cycle, and it changed my life forever.

Can you use this approach doing Paleo or The Zone?  Absolutely!  You can also use it with a more flexible approach.  I often describe the way I eat as “80% whole foods and 20% eating for joy.”  I believe that this strategy is viable for practically anyone, but it’s especially useful for athletes who want to spend more time eating and training, and less time worrying about their nutrition.

With that said, I hope I’ve better explained what to do with this puppy.  To boot, here’s a primer on using the calculator and a description of its functions.  The “height”, “weight” and “age” fields are fairly self-explanatory; I can’t help you if you don’t know how old you are, how much you weigh or how tall you measure.

Activity

This is the money spot right here.  If you work out, “Moderately Active” probably represents the activity level of a guy/gal who trains 2-3 times a week and works a relatively inactive job.  “Very Active” people CF 4-5 times a week.  “Extra Active” correlates with someone who exercises with intensity and works a pretty active job, or does two-a-days in the gym.

The next two fields, “gender” and “units” are also self-explanatory; you’re either a male or female.  If you live in the United States, select “Imperial”.  If you measure in grams, liters and meters, you will want to switch to “Metric”.

Results

There are two options here:

1)      TDEE (total daily energy expenditure)

or

2)     -10% TDEE

The -10% option is for the people that don’t feel like jumping in head-first, for whatever reason.  There is a bit of a “fudge factor” if you suspect you’ve got a damaged metabolism and you’re trying to work back to a healthy version of yourself.  While you could slowly increase your calories what we have seen is that is person dependent in the Science Lab we walk people through this process.  All I can say is you probably don’t want to just dive right in.  We walk through this process in our book “Your Diet Sucks”.

Protein Calculation

This provides you with two settings:  “1 gram per lb.” and “LBM”.  LBM, or “Lean Body Mass, is based off of the body fat % that you input in the next field.  If you don’t know your body fat %, either select the first option or make a guess; you don’t need to be 100% accurate.  Also, remember that these numbers are just a guide.  This doesn’t mean you can’t eat more than 1 gram of protein per lb., but since most people (especially women) aren’t getting enough protein I think this information is enlightening.

Fats

We recently changed the recommendation on the calculator to solve for fats, this is the message that is actually on the page of the calculator.

Note that many people adjust the carbs lower and end up getting a higher fat number.  This is a mistake.  Try solving for “carbs” using the paramaters below (also note that adjusting protein higher is typically favorable and will keep your carbs at a reasonable level, this is a guide not a rule):

  • Women 50g-75g of fat (I would probably default to 75g in most instances)
  • Men 100g-125g of fat (I would default to the lower number in most instances)

The simple fact is that if you want to kick-start your metbaolism; carbs and protein are better for doing that but you want to try and play with things a bit.  You are in charge, not a calculator on the internet.  The goal is adequate protein (at least 1g/lb. of LBM), enough fat (see above), and moderate carbs (see below).

(See this article on why adding butter and coconut oil to everything probably doesn’t make a ton of sense.)

The calculator can also solve for carbs based upon how much fat you’re going to eat.  Leave the “carbs” field empty and use the “fats” drop-down to select a hypothetical amount of fat.

For example:

On a rest day, you may wish to eat more fat.  You would select (for example) 150g in the “fats” drop-down, and the calculator would spit out your TDEE calculation along with a suggested amount of carbs.

A lot of people want us to come up with a definitive meal plan that they can follow; we don’t offer one right now, and we probably never will.  Your nutritional requirements cannot be estimated with 100% accuracy by a calculator online; you’re going to have to take this guesswork, put it into practice, and adjust from there.  The goal here is to teach you to fish, so to speak.  Like a barbell, this calculator is a tool to allow you to reach your goals, but it doesn’t really do any work for you.  I hope this helps!

Carbs

This gives you a drop-down menu where you choose your “theoretical” carb intake for a day.  That number combined with your protein number allows the calculator to come up with a suggestion for how many grams of fat (not carbs) you need to eat to reach your TDEE goal.  Knowing how many carbs you need can be confusing at first, so we suggest that you shoot for values in this range:

  • Men should go for between 200-300g most days
  • Women should go for between 150-200g most days

See this article on Control Days to get an idea of how to lower your carbohydrate and calories on rest days to accelerate fat loss.

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28 Responses to TDEE (BMR) Calculator Explained

  1. James O'Leary March 26, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Paul:

    I am really happy to have found your blog! I follow the main crossfit site (3 on/1 off) at roughly 1700 calories (170g protein, 200g carbs, 25g fat); I eat all my carbs at night. I am feeling very tired and my strength/performance is slowly decreasing while my fat is stable.

    As per your calculator, I would have to up my fat intake by 1500 calories (from 25g to 200g). How would you approach that level of intake? All at once? 40g of fat per week?

    I feel like upping my fat all at once would be detrimental to my body composition. However, since I am seemingly very underfed, upping should help.

    I know I have to increase fat; I know how much I have to increase fat; I just don’t know how fast I should increase it. Your experienced opinion would really help.

    Thanks in advance.

    James

    • James O'Leary March 26, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      Forgot to mention:
      Male
      30 years old
      5 feet 9 inches tall
      195 pound body weight
      6:00 AM WODs

      My back squat dropped from 285 to 255 – I don’t want to lose any more.

      Thanks in advance

    • Paul Nobles March 26, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

      why wouldn’t you do some combo or carbs and fats? Also you can slowly move up but you probably won’t see the kinds of results until you are actually eating closer to what your body needs. -10% is a good spot to get with a semi-cautious approach. Maybe 50g more carbs and starting eating a lot more 85/15 ground beef and ribeyes. Coconut Oil, MCT oil and Ghee are also great adds. So is coconut milk. Just keep track as you go and honestly you should consider buying CBL or signing up to the science lab later in the week.

  2. phormicola March 26, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    Of course your workouts are suffering. I am a 5’10″ female, 28 years old, 154lbs and I consume 2600kcal a day! 25gr of fat a day is downright unhealthy.
    I would not want to wait a day too long, just start eating according to the calculator, it is much healthier than what you are doing now, you can only improve from here.

    • James O'Leary March 27, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      I plan on buying CBL in the next couple of days. Lately, I was following another version of CBL, which suggested 10-12 calories per pound – that obviously didn’t work out very well…

      Anyway, I upped my protein, carb and fat intake yesterday and saw noticeable results! Last night’s sleep was rejuvenating and this morning’s workout (Nasty Girls) was awesome!

      Given these results, I will eat as per TDEE for the next 2 weeks and see how it goes – I’ll post my results here.

      Thank you very much for the input, it’s really appreciated!

      James

      • Rodney March 27, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

        James

        It was a lot for me to swallow, no pun intended, to eat at the TDEE recommendation. But since I started eating like a predator and not the “grazing” prey, I PR everyday. I’m moving up 5 lbs a week on all major lifts and I’ve claimed my rightful place on that board. LOL

        It was hard for me to trust the science. I never knew I could eat 3000 calories and lose fat, go figure!

        I eat to perform!

        • James O'Leary March 28, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

          Rodney:

          I appreciate your reply; 3000 is the number I have to hit. I think I’ll split it up into 3 meals:

          12:00 PM
          3:00 PM
          6:00 PM

          How do you split up your meals? Do you use shakes or whole food only?

          Thanks for the input.

          James

  3. Jeremy Garza March 27, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    5’10″ 235 lb 28 yr old male
    Average BMR: 2,124 calories
    Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE): 3,663 calories

    Right now I am WODing 5 days a week. I have been going mostly paleo/whole foods and have been happy with the results, but CBL is intriguing given that I like to eat so much. If I try to consume closer to 3,600 calories I will be able to perform better at the gym, and also end up losing body fat as well? I don’t really care what my weight is as much as I care how I look/feel, and how my pants fit.

    • Paul Nobles March 29, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      Yes is the simple answer. I mean you still have to be conscious and you sound like you might want to lose a few percentage points. Be more diligent on the fat part of the day but yeah, buy CBL and take a mostly whole foods approach and look out.

  4. Dave March 27, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    Paul:
    I am somewhat new to CrossFit way of life. I have been doing it off and on between deployments for two years now and I love it. I am really trying to get my all out of it and your CBL article sounds amazing and fits my life style and schedule. I am not very well versed in the diet aspect of it all and i would like to know where to start with the basics.
    I am learning about the Paleo Diet and like it thus far, but I am definitely a novice when it comes to analyzing my food intake. Where would you suggest i start? I honestly have no idea how to understand food breakdowns. All i know is I eat meat and fruit, I hate most veggies and eat minimal breads. I typically do 8 hour eating windows followed by 16 of fasting.
    I know the knowledge base has to start somewhere, but I have no clue where. I want to be able to understand what I need to eat, how much, and when but without counting calories and worrying did I burn enough to counteract what I ingested. I am also in the similar mindset that I would like to enjoy my foods, especially when I am traveling abroad, and not worry about “cheat meals”. Thoughts? Help me Obi Wan, you are my only hope!
    V/r,
    Dave

    • Paul Nobles March 29, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      Pretty simple in your case (though I don’t know when you workout so I am going to assume standard CBL evening workouts kind of deal). Calories high, close to TDEE, fats and proteins throughout the day, workout in the evening and then carbs. Problem is that there are a lot of one off scenarios and that is what the book addresses.

      • Dave March 29, 2013 at 11:39 am #

        My typical workout scheme is M W F I typically run three miles at lunch. I dont run on T TH. Then M-F I typically do the WOD from the CF website. Keeping with IF eating windows I typically dont eat until 11-12. & right now its 0630 and im starving. I had plenty of carbs last night (giant plate of spaghetti) so idk what to do? Should I drop IF?

        • Paul Nobles March 29, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

          If you are hungry you should eat. I doubt it’s the IF that is the problem because I do IF and I don’t have a similar problem. You probably need more fat in your backload for one. Are you a science lab member?

          • Dave March 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

            I am not. I really need to learn the basics of this food science. Does anything you offer cater to a novice/beginner?

          • Paul Nobles March 30, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

            Most of it is drop dead simple. Join the science lab and jump in a seminar, I think you will see what I mean immediately.

            http://eattoperform.wpengine.com/2013/03/23/eat-to-perform-science-lab/

  5. bal9 March 28, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    Hi Paul I found this link on the dangerously hardcore web site I have brought CBL and Carb nite i have strength trained for many years but only in the past three months have started to make gains so I guess I’m a novice lifter.

    103kg – squat 5×5
    65kg – bench 5×5
    150kg dead lift
    OHP – 50kg

    I’m 24 , 5ft 10inches ,180lbs – train 4-5 days a week doing a strong lifts template to put on more muscle and generally improve my health
    Because I had a lot of stress in the last couple of years so testosterone dropped big time so trying to regain my LBM back and my job isn’t sedentary because I work in a warehouse lift and walking all day and try to spend little time sitting down and averaging around 2000 cals.

    Protein 180-200
    Fat 90-125
    Carbs 5-15

    • Paul Nobles March 28, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

      I am not 100% sure what you are asking.

    • bal9 March 28, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      Sorry Paul just re-read my post. The question I was going to ask how would the caulculator represent someone who doesn’t CF but lifts heavy 4 or 5 times a week with far amount of accessory stuff thrown in.

      • Paul Nobles March 29, 2013 at 11:17 am #

        just use the low end of the calculator rather than very active or extra active but just because you lift doesn’t mean you aren’t. The rest of your life matters a bit as well. In the end there is always a dialing in factor.

  6. bal9 March 28, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Sorry and just to add I was always suspect of the calculators online so reading your post on the calculator and eating to perform but still just get nervous to eat more

    • Paul Nobles March 29, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      just add them gradually. I am going to put up a post on the facebook page and ask people their experiences. Take a look in a few hours.

  7. jill March 28, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    I’m a 21 year old female and i’ve had eating issues in the past, which i know wrecked havoc on my metabolism. I’ve basically been on a “diet” for the past 4 years- always trying to get to a point where I love how I look. I started crossfit this past summer and love it. I WOD 4-5x a week and I usually stay after the WOD for about 30-45 min to work on strength. I don’t think I eat enough- I’ve been told (by nutritionists and professionals) to aim for 1200-1500 calories a day. I eat all day and then I feel starving and just want to binge and I’m always sluggish.

    The calculator says I need 2300 calories! I am actually really nervous about eating this much but I figure what can I lose? (except body fat!) But if my metabolism is slow due to my calorie restriction, will I gain weight first and only then start to lose weight when my metabolism gets restored, or will it help me lose body fat immediately?

    Also, I am in college so I usually work out at 9am. EVERYONE has something different to say about Pre-workout meals and Post-workout. I should eat, I shouldnt, I should eat a carb, I should have protein, etc. I am a little lost. and two days I go right to class so I just have my shake and drink it post workout. Do you have any suggestions? THANKS SO MUCH!!!

    • Paul Nobles March 29, 2013 at 11:14 am #

      I’m right, they are wrong. Plain and simple. What you are going to find out real soon is that I have an army of doctors and Phd’ed up folks that agree with me. It’s the “eat less do less model” that is flawed. You may gain weight in the beginning because your muscles are empty most of the time and having to rely on to try and get to where it needs to be. So just be cautious in the beginning. If you pop up 10 pounds you did it wrong. Keep your carbs around 100g in the beginning and ladder up to about -10 approach in the beginning. Trust me, your problem isn’t metabolism it was those morons advice to an active young lady.

      It all works in terms of pre and post suggestions but if you are trying to lose fat the added insulin isn’t helping. If you are hungry in the AM you aren’t eating enough the night before in most cases. You should be mostly fed. That allows you to workout fasted with insulin low. Not going to lie, in the beginning it’s an adjustment. After the workout protein drink with a little bit of fat in it to blunt the insulin, fats and proteins throughout the day and then your carbs at night.

      Does this help?

      • Jill March 29, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

        This does help! :) I appreciate you getting back to me. I am never really hungry in the morning anyway but people always tell me I should eat. So I can workout without eating anything. Is coffee ok?

        I can eat 100g of carbs but I’m confused as to what “ladder up to -10 approach” means. Sorry if that is something I should know from reading your site- I’m new (and love it) so trying to catch up. Or maybe its something common sense I’m just missing!

        For my fat post protein- I can add anything? Almond butter? Or coconut oil/coconut milk? I don’t have a blender- just my shaker bottle.

        Fats/protein during the day, carbs at night. Around 2200-2300 calories a day. I’m gonna give it a try! Nervous.
        It’s definitely been an extremely frustrating journey so I’m hoping there will be some light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks again!

        • Paul Nobles March 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

          coffee is fine, a double espresso shot is better.

          I just meant if you feel a need to be cautious as you up your calories do that. You will see that as you get closer to what your body needs it’s favorable.

          I don’t eat Almond Butter regulary because of the PUFA’s, I prefer Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter instead. Better nutrient profile and it tastes better. Coconut oil and milk are staples at my place.

          Are you a science lab member? Check in with me occasionally and I can walk you through the tricky spots.

          http://eattoperform.wpengine.com/2013/03/23/eat-to-perform-science-lab/

      • jill April 3, 2013 at 2:42 am #

        Hi again Paul, sorry to come back again with questions. I know its your wife’s birthday (happy birthday!) so you’re busy, but if you find time i just have 2 questions.

        is refined coconut oil ok? I already bought it but i can try to return it for “virgin” or something else that is better if refined isn’t good. I don’t know when I should use olive oil and when I should use coconut oil – does it matter? I’m really trying to read everything possible to learn about it but its all pretty confusing to me. and you said almond butter has too much PUFA, does that mean i should limit almonds as well?

        Also, when you say stick around 100 carbs, does that mean net carbs or carbs in total?

        Today’s breakdown – 2010 calories, 108g fat, 134 carbs but 30g fiber, and 170g protein.

        Fats- 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp hazelnut butter, 2 tbsp almond butter, eggs, coconut milk, little bit feta cheese, fourth c. full fat yogurt
        Protein- ground turkey, egg whites, protein powder, tuna
        Carbs- fruit, vegetables, and small sweet potato

        I dont know if i’m doing this right. also I’m singing up now to be a science lab member now- if it is only $5 a month like i think it is. (college=budget)

        • Paul Nobles April 3, 2013 at 11:35 am #

          yes refined is ok, I think you should have that, regular and mct oil (which is liquid). Use Olive Oil cold, it becomes unstable when heated. Yes, limit almonds but no need to eliminate, just add hazelnuts and macadamia and a good nut variety.

          I like it to be net carbs over 100. For people that don’t know what we are talking about it’s carbs – fiber. You really want starches, doesn’t have to be all of your carbs but should be a good bit.

          Yes, good idea on a college budget, I look forward to meeting you. The Foundations PDF you will get is pretty strong info.

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