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TDEE vs. BMR: Optimizing Nutrition and Exercise for a Balanced Life

10/14/2019
By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS

Managing your diet and exercise is vital to maintaining good health and a positive body image. Calculators have become very popular in helping people to organize their routines. Do you know the best and most efficient way to either get started or move forward? Here’s a hint: one way to start is by comparing TDEE vs BMR.

TDEE Meaning and Relevance to Your Lifestyle

Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE, is an important metric. Use it to decide how much food you should eat and what kinds of foods you should be focusing on.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) Explained – Lifestyle Medicine

There are many factors involved with optimizing your routine. Consider how and where you burn calories. This information can help you maximize your results so you can achieve your goals faster.

Metabolism and the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Most people don’t put much thought into their metabolism. They know generally if they have a high or a low metabolic rate. Furthermore, they know that the higher your rate, the more you can eat without gaining weight. But for those who want to improve their fitness level or change their body composition, a closer look at metabolism can make a big difference. Even people who like where they are at can benefit from a deeper education regarding their metabolism. Let’s start by defining TDEE and BMR.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the major component of your TDEE and represents how much energy you burn when you are at rest and doing nothing. Your TDEE is your BMR plus all of the calories burned to do other activities throughout your day.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

When you compare TDEE vs. BMR, you’ll come across important considerations when planning your diet and exercise routine. Your TDEE will fluctuate with your activity level. It goes up when you’re more active. Predictably, it goes back down when you do less. But your BMR stays relatively constant under most conditions.

Your BMR is an important general consideration. However, when planning your lifestyle, the total energy you expend in a day is the more important value.

How to Calculate BMR

The higher your BMR, the more calories you will burn at rest. In order for your body to function properly, you need to maintain a constant internal environment called homeostasis, or the condition of keeping your body temperature close to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and your blood pressure, chemistries and pH levels inside a tight enough range to maintain health and wellness. Your Basal Metabolic Rate is the measure of how much energy you have to expend to maintain homeostasis.

Fitness Tips: How To Calculate A BMR – eHow

Your BMR is regulated by the thyroid. You can consider the thyroid to be a complicated kind of thermostat. Understanding your BMR is important because a significant change in BMR can indicate issues with your thyroid, so if you detect a substantial change in your BMR you should make an appointment and consult with your primary care physician to ensure you are not developing a medical condition.

Body Mass and BMR

The rate your body burns calories at rest is a complex function dependent upon your genetics and body composition. For most people, the primary consideration is your total muscle mass. The higher your total muscle mass, the higher your BMR climbs. For most people, the BMR declines about 2% per decade after the age of 20 due to loss of lean muscle mass, but this rate varies greatly based on the individual and their lifestyle.

For people who do not have unusual thyroid conditions, BMR can be estimated using the Harris-Benedict Equation, which takes into account most of the relevant factors that influence energy expenditures. Actually measuring the BMR is a complicated and involved process and has little utility for people looking to get in shape, lose weight, or improve their body image.

Choosing Your TDEE Calculator

When you compare TDEE and BMR, the difference is in how exercise fits into the equation. Your TDEE is an estimate of your daily caloric burn rate that includes exercise and all of your supplemental activities.

Most TDEE calculators start with a BMR estimate multiplied by an estimated activity level. The result should not be considered as anything more than an approximation as it starts with two estimations, but for the average person, it should be more than adequate.

Which TDEE calculator you use is less critical than the fact you are using one. Many exercise sites have one embedded, so you should find one that is convenient for you and then check to make sure it follows the TDEE guidelines set down by the National Institute for Health.

Integrating Your Metabolism and Daily Activity to Optimize Your Diet and Exercise

Once you know how to calculate your TDEE and BMR and understand what they are, you can start to integrate that knowledge into your daily schedule for diet and exercise.

Your BMR is sufficient to formulate a foundational caloric range for your week. You can consider this to be “free food” that you don’t have to work for, but any additional calories have to be burned, too.

At this point, your fitness goals come into consideration. Are you looking to maintain your current status, or do you want to change your body composition? When most people say they want to lose weight what they really mean is that they want to change their body composition. Specifically, they want to reduce the fat percentage and in some cases replace it with muscle.

Reducing Fat or Building Muscle?

The diet you choose is dependent upon your long term fitness goals, but regardless of your goals, it is important to get enough protein. Weight loss starts in the kitchen, but the same can be said for building muscle, and no matter the course you take, finding the right protein is essential.

Your exercise routine also depends on your long term goals. You should include both cardio exercises and strength training in your routine, but how much, when, and how often depends on what you want to accomplish.

An Afro American man doing medicine ball workout.
The Diet You Choose Is Dependent Upon Your Long Term Fitness Goals. (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Once you know how much and what kind of exercises you want to do, how you organize your routine can vastly alter your results. You should arrange your exercise routine to maximize the results you want. Do the same exercises in a different order for profoundly different outcomes.

No matter your goals, it can help to introduce new rituals to your life. These will produce incremental boosts to your fitness and burn more calories. Take your dog for a morning walk, pr use the stairs instead of the elevator at work. In addition, schedule time to enjoy a sunset hike with someone you love. These are all great ways to “hide” additional exercise and help you build a happier, healthier lifestyle.

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