What you do in the kitchen and what you do in the gym are intrinsically linked. Nutrition for athletes is the physical fuel behind everything from bodybuilding workouts to finally cracking the strength code to learning how to deadlift 500 pounds. For many athletes, getting stronger is intimately tied to their meal planning and food choices.
Nutrition impacts every goal you have on the platform. For example, a huge component of understanding how to gain muscle is knowing what foods to eat and in what quantities to give your body the fuel it needs to make growth happen. That’s where TDEE — total daily energy expenditure — comes in.
To fuel your gains most precisely, it helps to know how much energy you’re using each day. That way, you can know how much energy (food) to give yourself for optimal performance. Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about TDEE: what it is, how to calculate it, and more.
- What Is TDEE?
- How Do You Calculate TDEE?
- How Can You Increase Your TDEE?
- How Does TDEE Impact Nutrition and Training Programs?
- Your Takeaways
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It refers to how much energy you need each day due to the most basic body needs (like digestion and blood circulation) combined with how much physical activity you’re doing.
Your TDEE is represented in calories, which is the unit of measurement that indicates a specific amount of energy. In the case of nutrition, the number of calories contained in a food or drink refers to how much potential energy it contains for the body. When people refer to “burning” calories, what they’re talking about is using a particular amount of energy.
Since TDEE depends on your movement, it fluctuates from day to day based on your activity level and — to a certain extent — what kind of food you’re eating. Your body will need more fuel on a day you go for a walk and do a tough CrossFit workout than it will on a day when you’re watching the highlight reels from every winner of the CrossFit Games all day at home.
What Are Calories?
If you want to get technical, a calorie is the precise amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celcius. So when you say, “My TDEE is 2,000 calories,” you’re saying that you need 2,000 calories of energy to get you healthily and sustainably through your day.
Pro tip: If you ever see kcal, or kilocalorie, instead of c or calories, don’t panic. They’re different words for the same unit of energy. So, 100 calories is the same thing as 100 kilocalories.
What Is BMR?
You’ll often see TDEE described as your BMR plus the number of calories you need to fuel your physical activity. Your BMR refers to your Basal Metabolic Rate, or how much energy you need to complete your body’s daily tasks like blood circulation, digestion, and keeping your heart pumping and organs working.
Thinking, breathing, digesting, and all the cellular processes that your body does to keep you alive all contribute to your BMR.
That amount of calories — energy — you require for your BMR is the bare minimum of what you need. It’s your baseline number for basic survival. Your BMR is the number of calories you need to live without any additional movement. Any other movement — from fidgeting to bodybuilding workouts — requires more calories (AKA energy).
If you want to get an idea of your BMR, check out BarBend’s BMR calculator below:
Editor’s Note: The research this calculator is based on made no note of transgender and nonbinary participants. Depending on your particular circumstances, you might opt to select your sex assigned at birth for the calculator. If you’re receiving hormone replacement therapy, you might want to check in with your endocrinologist as to how that might impact your BMR.
What’s the Difference Between TDEE and BMR?
Your TDEE and BMR are intimately related. Individuals with a higher BMR — whether due to genetics or body type — will have higher overall caloric requirements, even assuming the same level of physical activity as someone with a lower BMR.
However, the numbers are not the same. In many ways, you can think of your BMR as the amount of energy it takes to do involuntary movements that your body does automatically, including digestion. The rest of the energy you need each day — from moving around to make a sandwich and lifting a barbell overhead — adds to your BMR to make up your TDEE.
What Is TEF?
The thermic effect of food, or TEF, refers to the amount of energy (AKA calories) that it takes to digest food. After you eat, your body experiences a temporary increase in metabolic rate — that’s the thermic effect of food. (1)
The thermic effect of food is impacted by factors like age, the kinds of meals you eat, and your physical activity level. (1) Research suggests that TEF might be higher after big meals, eating protein and carbs, and consuming low-fat vegan diets. (1)
What Is NEAT?
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, refers to the amount of energy used by moving around during the day (not including exercise). Think: cleaning, cooking, dropping your kids off at school, and even fidgeting throughout the day. (2)
If you’re employed, this is the factor that is most impacted by the type of job you have. For example, if your occupation has you moving around a lot to accomplish your tasks, your NEAT is going to be much higher than someone who is sitting at a computer all day.
When someone is said to have a sedentary lifestyle, it means they’re likely not moving around all that much during the day. Their NEAT, in this case, isn’t all that high.
What Is EAT?
Exercise activity thermogenesis, or EAT, is all about the energy you use during deliberate exercise. This might include the ways you balance running and strength training, your powerlifting workouts, or the time you spend cycling through the best barbell exercises.
Your EAT is about the hustle you put in at the gym. This is important because your body responds to the food you eat in relation to the physical stimuli you give it.
For example, if you’re breaking down muscle with all those deadlifts and pull-ups, you need protein to help those muscles build back up and stimulate hypertrophy. And to fuel those intense workouts to begin with, you need carbs to help you keep your energy up.
What’s the Difference Between NEAT and EAT?
Yes, you can have a sedentary lifestyle even if you have a high EAT from going to the gym for upwards of an hour a day. In short, EAT is about the time you spend in the gym or on the track, while NEAT is about the other 23 or so hours each day. So even though you might spend more active time thinking about exercise activity thermogenesis, NEAT generally has much more of an impact on your TDEE.
Some activities may be on an unclear threshold — taking a brisk walk with your dog might be many folks’ preferred form of exercise, while it might just be part of a regular morning routine for others. It’s okay if there’s ambiguity here: you don’t have to neatly delineate between the two.
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Instead, use NEAT and EAT as a framework to think about your daily activities. You might feel very physically fit because you work hard in the gym five days a week. But working to increase your NEAT with low-intensity movements like getting up from your computer to pace around the apartment every 30 minutes can also increase both your physical fitness and TDEE.
While your BMR stays fairly consistent from one day to the next, pretty much every other factor about your TDEE will fluctuate daily. Are you going to the gym today? If so, it might be a structured active recovery day or a HIIT workout (high-intensity interval training).
You might be doubling down at work in your office, staying more still than usual for hours on end. Or, this might be a travel day, and you’re walking quickly through an airport to get to your destination. How you’re eating during all this will impact your TDEE, too.
Overall, your TDEE is calculated by adding the following:
- BMR (basal metabolic rate)
- TEF (thermic effect of food)
- NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
- EAT (exercise activity thermogenesis)
BarBend’s calorie calculator can give you an estimate here:
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A relatively simple way to think about all this is to consider what you’re doing every day that builds on top of your BMR.
Are you eating big meals with high protein and carb intake (potentially raising your TEF)? Maybe you’re in the office all day, but fidgeting a lot more than usual (impacting your NEAT). And today might be an intense training day at your CrossFit box (which affects your EAT).
Put all those factors next to each other, and you’ll be able to get a rough idea of how today’s TDEE compares to yesterday’s.
You might want to increase your TDEE if you’re looking to alter your body composition and lose weight. If that’s the case, you may want to figure out small ways to raise each component of your TDEE. You can influence some factors easier than others.
You have less control over increasing your BMR than you do over NEAT and EAT. But you can still slightly alter it over time. For example, consider that muscle mass uses more energy than stored fat in your body — so, gaining more muscle mass may help increase your BMR over time. (3)
Your TEF doesn’t contribute that much to your TDEE overall in comparison to your BMR, NEAT, and EAT. However, eating more protein and carbohydrates may help raise your TEF. (1)
In terms of upping your NEAT, consider integrating more ways to move more during the day into your routine. You might incorporate five-minute mobility workouts or — if you have a desk job — simply set an alarm to remind you to get up, stretch, and walk around a little bit every half hour or so. These little changes can make a big difference to your overall TDEE.
Increasing your EAT is perhaps the most straightforward way to raise your TDEE. You can exercise a little bit more and a little bit harder. There’s no need to suddenly hike your exercise frequency and training intensity. Instead, opt to increase your training levels gradually, using the principles of progressive overload to guide you.
Little by little, add a couple of minutes to your morning run. As it fits in with your program, slide a few extra weight plates onto the barbell or add more training volume to your sessions. These changes will help raise your EAT, which in turn will impact your TDEE.
Your nutrition informs your training capabilities. You need energy (which you get from food) to fuel your efforts in the gym. Without sufficient energy, your athletic performance is likely to suffer. (4)(5)(6)
On the other hand, if you know how much energy your body needs, it’s easier to keep yourself fueled up.
[Read More: How Much Protein Do You Need for Bodybuilding?]
It’s easy to either over- or underestimate how much food you need to keep your body functioning at peak capacity. That’s why it’s helpful to understand your TDEE, how it fluctuates daily, and the components that are either impossible to control (like age) or within your grasp (like activity level).
By getting a grip on these processes, you can craft a nutritional approach that makes the most sense for your body.
While TDEE may seem like a forbidding acronym — that comes with a whole set of other acronyms attached — the concept of your total daily energy expenditure is fairly simple. Add what your body needs to rest and digest together with your daily activities (both casual and deliberate exercise), and you’ve got how much energy you need in a day.
In a pinch, here are the most important parts of TDEE to understand:
- TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, is the sum of how much energy your body needs in a single day. It is represented by calories, which is a unit to measure energy.
- BMR, or basal metabolic rate, is a measure of how much energy your body needs to perform basic functions like pumping your blood, maintaining your organs, and digesting.
- TEF, or thermic effect of food, is how much energy your body needs to digest your food.
- NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, is how much energy you use moving around each day (not including intentional exercise).
- EAT, or exercise activity thermogenesis, is how much energy you use deliberately exercising each day.
- Your TDEE is calculated by adding your BMR, TEF, NEAT, and EAT each day.
- You can raise your TDEE by gaining more muscle mass, eating foods high in protein and carbs, moving around more often during the day, and exercising more intensely and often.
More Nutrition Content
You’re an expert in TDEE now, but you’re still hungry for more nutrition content. That’s alright. BarBend’s got you covered. Here are some other juicy nutrition articles to check out.
- How to Eat for CrossFit — A CrossFitter’s Guide to Nutrition
- Intuitive Eating for Strength and Physique Athletes
- Your Ultimate Guide to Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition
- Calcagno M, Kahleova H, Alwarith J, Burgess NN, Flores RA, Busta ML, Barnard ND. The Thermic Effect of Food: A Review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019 Aug;38(6):547-551.
- Koepp GA, Moore GK, Levine JA. Chair-based fidgeting and energy expenditure. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2016 Sep 1;2(1):e000152.
- Speakman JR, Selman C. Physical activity and resting metabolic rate. Proc Nutr Soc. 2003 Aug;62(3):621-34.
- Wroble KA, Trott MN, Schweitzer GG, Rahman RS, Kelly PV, Weiss EP. Low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet impairs anaerobic exercise performance in exercise-trained women and men: a randomized-sequence crossover trial. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2019 Apr;59(4):600-607.
- Burke LM, Whitfield J, Heikura IA, Ross MLR, Tee N, Forbes SF, Hall R, McKay AKA, Wallett AM, Sharma AP. Adaptation to a low carbohydrate high fat diet is rapid but impairs endurance exercise metabolism and performance despite enhanced glycogen availability. J Physiol. 2021 Feb;599(3):771-790.
- Burke LM. Ketogenic low-CHO, high-fat diet: the future of elite endurance sport? J Physiol. 2021 Feb;599(3):819-843.
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