“Steve, how many calories should I eat every day? I have goals!”
Knowledge is power. So today, we are going to make you more powerful by calculating your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
Of course, “knowing is half the battle.”The other half is using your newfound knowledge to achieve your goals!
Fortunately for you, we’ve helped thousands of Online Coaching Clients lose weight and get healthy, and TDEE is just one of many factors we consider when building a specific strategy for somebody’s goals.
Okay FINE, I’ll share the other factors and strategies below too.
Simply click on the section below for quick reading, though I’d recommend you read the whole enchilada to properly apply TDEE to your life:
Whew. It’s a lot to cover. Even just typing out the Table of Contents was exhausting.
But hang in there!
You’ll learn how to do Keto right, plus I’ll share cute animal gifs to make sure you’re still paying attention, like this one:
If you don’t have a lot of time, but do want an exact plan to follow, I got you. Since this is a MASSIVE article (the longest published on Nerd Fitness!), if you’d rather read it in a snazzy digital guide form, you can download our Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Dietfree when you sign up in the box below:
Because I’m a mind-reader, I know your next question is likely…
Does Calorie Counting Work? (CICO and Weight Loss)
In principle, CICO works.
In practice, it becomes a little more complicated.
Okay, fine, A LOT more complicated.
That’s because a lot of things influence “calories in.”
Ditto for “calories out.”
Let’s break some of this down.
Here are some of the things that impact “Calories In:”
Appetite: how hungry we are is going to drastically affect how many calories we consume. Hormones, body composition, and our tastes and preferences will all impact our appetite.
Calories absorbed: the preparation of food will affect the bioavailability of calories. For example, cooking starches (like potatoes) generally increases the calories available. Your own individual gut microbe can also influence the amount of energy extracted during digestion. So will the macronutrient content of the food you eat.
Psychological considerations:your stress levels, sleep quality, and certain conditions like PCOS can all impact the regulation of hormones, which can influence your metabolism and appetite.
Oh, and all of the above assumes we’re actually tracking calories accurately. Which pretty much nobody does. Ever. But I’ll get to that shortly.
And remember, this is only half of the equation.
Here are some of the things that impact “Calories Out:”
Energy burned while resting: your Basal Metabolic Rate is a count of how many calories you burn at rest and will be controlled by your age, weight, height, biological sex, muscle composition, etc.
Energy burned through Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): do you fidget a lot? That increases your NEAT, or the energy you burn doing stuff other than exercising. Think tapping your feet, twirling your hair, using your hands when speaking, etc. Even just an hour of this kind of movement can accumulate an extra 300 calories burned.
Exercise:of course, how much you intentionally exercise will impact your calories out, although perhaps not as much as most people think (more on this later).
This is only scratching the surface on what determines “calories in, calories out.”
The important thing to consider here is that none of the above invalidate the basic premise of an energy deficit being necessary for weight loss.
These factors will just influence one end of the equation or the other.
For example, let’s chat about protein and CICO:
Eating plenty of protein has been shown to help keep people feeling full and satiated. So lots of protein can help folks lose weight, not because it changes the requirements for weight loss, but because it might allow them to get through the day less hungry (lowering their “calories in.”)
Adequate dietary protein can help with building and maintaining muscle. The more muscle someone has, the more calories they’ll need to maintain it (raising their “calories out.”)
To recap this section: from a biological perspective, eating fewer calories than you burn is 100% necessary for weight loss.
But all sorts of things impact the number of calories we eat and the number of calories we expend.
This is going to lead us to…
The Problem With CICO (Humans Are Bad Estimators)
The majority of the problems people have with CICO is that it allows nutrient-deficient food to enter the diet, only limiting “how much.”
They’ll argue that people should be eating fruits and vegetables, lean protein, avoiding processed foods, and blah blah blah…
We all know this.
You don’t need someone else telling you to eat your veggies.
This isn’t the problem with CICO.
The problem with CICO is it’s really hard to estimate “calories in” and “calories out.”
Like, REALLY hard. We humans are TERRIBLE at it.
Take “calories in” or how much we eat: people generally UNDERestimate how many calories they consume by about 30-40%. Even dieticians, who are specifically trained in nutrition science, underestimated how much they eat.
“That may be true Steve, but don’t worry about me. I read the label on everything I buy so I know exactly how many calories I’m eating.”
Well, are you aware that the FDA allows a 20% leeway on total calories identified on packages? Meaning that 100 calorie drink of Orange Juice might actually be 120?
If you’re a food manufacturer, which way are you going to lean towards? Especially when you know people might scrutinize the calories of your nutrition label in an effort to lose weight.
This isn’t just paranoia: this study found that packaged snack food generally contains MORE calories in it than advertised.
Yeah…and remember, this is only half of the equation.
It’s about to get even worse.
People are also really bad at estimating “calories out.”
When folks self-assess how many calories they burned by exercising, they’re generally WAY OFF, by as much as 50%!
Oh, and those fitness trackers we wear?
They’ve been shown to be inaccurate, some by up to 90%!
That’s why we made this infographic on tracking “calories out”:
This is the main problem with CICO: we’re stuck with educated guesses for “calories in” and “calories out.”
So we underestimate the calories we eat by 40%. And then we overestimate how many calories we burn by 50%.
No WONDER we think our metabolism is broken if we can’t lose weight! The truth is we’re unknowingly eating too much, and/or moving too little.
Heck, even how many calories you need a day (your baseline or Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is an estimate, something we acknowledge in our calorie calculator, which you can play with right here:
THE NERD FITNESS CALORIE CALCULATOR
In summary: balancing “calories in against calories out” is really all quite messy when you get right down to it.
I know what it’s like to hate exercise, and ALSO want to lose weight and see results. Ugh.
We’ve built an entire company and community around helping people overcome these obstacles – our Online Coaching Program helps people find exercises they love, and also how to make the right nutritional choices.
We are all on a unique journey and we’d love to help you with yours!
The tutorials ahead are from our premium course Nerd Fitness: Handstands, which you gain access to under a Nerd Fitness Prime membership. I would encourage you to check out if you like what you see here.
Alright, brace yourself to get flipped-turned upside down.
If you’re interested in starting a HIIT practice (which you are, ’cause you’re here), you may want to try our new app! It contains a fun adventure that will take you from sitting on your couch to a full HIIT workout – with plenty of benchmarks in between for you to find your groove. No guesswork needed, just jump into the app and follow it’s next steps.
You’ve come to the right place, because this is what we do!
This guide covers the exact weight gain strategies I’ve used to go from my “before” (on the left above) to reach my “after” (on the right above). Believe it or not, that “before” photo is me after a DECADE of strength training and trying to get bigger.
It’s the stuff in this guide that finally allowed me to actually get results (the after).
It’s also exactly how we help our online coaching clients: nutritional guidance and workout plans that line up with their goals.
Oh, and if you sign up in any of the yellow email boxes throughout, you can download our “Gain Weight and Build Muscle” Shopping List and Cheat Sheet to hang on your fridge!
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The Nerd Fitness "Get Bigger" Shopping List
Bulk like the Hulk with our rules for getting bigger
Let’s start putting on weight right NOW.
These are the 12 lessons I wish I knew when I started trying to get bigger (click to jump right to that lesson):
If you have been struggling with your weight (and having too high of a body fat percentage) for a while, I know how frustrating that can be.
It’s why we built our popular 1-on-1 Online Coaching program, so this time things can be different. Your NF Coach will help you track the right metrics (like body fat percentage) and set the right goals.
Do you find your grip a limiting factor in the gym (I see you chin-ups and deadlifts)?
Or in everyday life (looking at you, pickle jars)?
If so, don’t worry! We’ve got a handle on this (pun 100% intended).
As the lead trainer of our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program, I’m going to outline a number of helpful, handy (sigh) stretches and exercises to help eliminate pain and build you some powerful, useful hands and a strong grip.