Your TDEE stands for your Total Daily Energy Expenditure and makes up the Calories out portion of the CICO model of weight loss (Calories in, Calories out).
The CICO model of weight loss is the most accepted weight loss model and is built off of the premise that Calories in VS Calories out is what governs whether we lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight.
Where Calories in exceed calories out, we gain weight.
Where calories out exceed calories in, we lose weight.
Where calories in are equal to calories out, we maintain weight.
Now, it’s important to note that you weight is made up of more than just your fat mass and lean mass, and that there’s more to the mechanisms behind this model than the simple idea suggests (i.e., what drives and influences each side of the model). The nitty gritty elements of CICO are covered and coached with my Nutrition Coaching clients.
However, all of that is beyond the scope of this article and we will focus on your TDEE which is huge factor that the majority of people should be focusing on.
Your TDEE makes up the best part of what is considered to be your metabolism, which is characterized by the chemical processes and systems in motion that make your metabolism function how it does.
Each person’s TDEE will vary as there are multiple components at play which are affected by lifestyle, genetics, activity level, fat mass, lean mass, eating habits, dietary history, age, socioeconomic status, culture and more!
The 4 components of your TDEE are:
Resting metabolic rate (RMR)
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT)
Thermic effect of food (TEF)
Here we’ll look at overview of each component, why it matters and where you should focus your efforts to create an impact.
Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
RMR is your resting metabolic rate, not to be confused with BMR which is your basal metabolic rate.
BMR is the minimum level of energy we need to use to maintain vital functions of the body. Imagine sleeping with no food in your stomach, and your body is doing the bare minimum to keep you alive.
Whilst that number is nice to have, it doesn’t reflect real people with real lives.
RMR paints a more accurate picture as it takes into consideration things such as digestion, small movement and how we actually live.
Your RMR by far creates the biggest energy expenditure day to day, accounting for 50-70% of your TDEE (depending on the individual). 60% is the generally accepted figure, which is still a huge portion of your TDEE.
The reason it accounts for so much is simply because it’s hard work being a human and the vital functions of our body require a lot of energy.
Despite what some people believe, your metabolism also isn’t “damaged” and you can learn more about why in this excellent article by Precision Nutrition
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
A fantastic tool and powerful driver for fat loss, your Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is what accounts for all your daily movement and physical activity that isn’t “purposeful exercise”.
Think of those slow burning, low intensity things you do that all require calories.
This includes things such as:
- Fidgeting, pacing etc
- Playing with children
NEAT can be a powerful tool because it accounts for up a massive 30% of your TDEE and is something that you can directly impact.
Activities that are considered NEAT are also low fatiguing, require no skill, fit into your daily life and can often be upscaled if needed.
Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT)
EAT stands for Exercise activity thermogenesis and is what would be considered “purposeful exercise”
Exercise comes in many forms and some people are more active than others, so the the amount at which your EAT contributes to your TDEE will depend on what exercise you do, how long you do it for and how often you do it.
People considered “sedentary” will expend up to 10-15% of their TDEE through exercise, whereas more active people (such as athletes) can expend up to 30%.
Whilst EAT is a useful tool, time spent doing purposeful exercise each week tends to be limited for the majority of people.
Whilst the three separate workouts you do each week feel hard, in the grander scheme of things the time spend during these activities is overshadowed if you live an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
Your body will also generally become more efficient at using energy for EAT, and it’s often overestimated how much this contributes to a personal TDEE.
Having said that, purposeful exercise has a whole host of other benefits and secondary outcomes that will further improve your life, physical and mental health.
Not to mention the direct implications forms of exercise such as resistance training have on lean mass and body composition. Both of which can alter your RMR and TDEE in the longer term.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
The thermic effect of feeding accounts for the increase in metabolic rate from the processes of digestion and absorption.
Digesting and absorbing food doesn’t come for free, and ironically it costs us energy to break down food for energy.
TEF accounts for up to 10% of your TDEE, and this figure is affected by the macronutrients that you consume.
Each macronutrient will have different thermic effects, with protein producing the highest TEF with 20-30% of these calories being used for digestion and metabolism.
Just for comparison:
Carbohydrates have a TEF of 5-10% and Fats a TEF of 0-3%
Ever wonder why you get the meat sweats scoffing that tomahawk steak? Well, all that protein takes a lot of energy to process!
Can I Change My RMR?
For the most part, your RMR is what it is and will change and adapt as your body does.
In general, an increase in lean mass will increase your RMR (as lean tissue requires energy), but fat levels may also increase it.
Your RMR is largely impacted by the metabolically active tissues of the body, with the highest energy demand coming from the heart & kidneys, then the brain and then the liver. The amount your skeletal muscle and fat mass contribute pales in comparison to these tissues.
It’s important to also note that people with the same body composition may also differ in their RMR’s naturally, so trying to change your RMR shouldn’t be a focus.
If you’re looking to lose weight, then the use of resistance training may be the most beneficial thing you can do as you can build lean mass, reduce fat mass and improve your body composition.
This may help you to maintain RMR or even increase it as you lose weight/maintain weight.
With a higher or even similar RMR but a lower body weight, you can reduce the risk of putting on weight and therefore fat.
What To Focus On
Instead of focusing your attention on your RMR, focus on what you can impact.
Your EAT, NEAT and TEF can all be impacted by your actions.
Here are simple ways that you can impact each and increase your TDDEE:
TEF: Eat more protein and less processed foods
NEAT: Walk more (7-10k steps is a good starting point), stand at your desk, do more household chores.
EAT: Participate in 3-4 purposeful exercise sessions per week (ideally resistance based).
As always, the main thing is finding what you can do consistently.
These numbers are variable and provide a general guideline to what contributes to your TDEE.
RMR can differ between people significantly, as can a person’s NEAT, TEF AND EAT.
Any calculator you use will give you an indirect method of measuring your TDEE and should be taken with a pinch of salt. Even the most direct methods of measuring metabolism don’t take into consideration how someone actually lives their life.
Use numbers and information like this as a starting point which is then guided by the outcomes of your actions.
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