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A Simple and Accurate TDEE Calculator (and How to Use It)

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A Simple and Accurate TDEE Calculator (and How to Use It)

If you want to gain mastery over your weight and body composition, then you want to know how to calculate your TDEE. This article breaks it all down.

 

“How many calories should I eat?”

That’s a question I hear a lot.

And my answer is…it depends.

Are you trying to lose weight? Gain weight? Maintain your current weight?

  • If you want to lose weight, you’re going to need to eat less energy than you burn.
  • If you want to gain weight, you’re going to need to eat slightly more energy than you burn.
  • And if you want to maintain your current weight, you’re going to need to eat more or less the same amount of energy you burn.

These fundamental rules of dieting are based on the laws of energy balance.

They aren’t negotiable. There’s no way around them.

No matter how “clean” you eat, if you feed your body more energy than it burns, you will get fatter.

And, as a corollary, no matter how “dirty” your diet is, if you feed your body less energy than it burns, you will lose fat.

Don’t believe me?

Well, Professor Mark Haub lost 27 pounds on a diet of protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and Little Debbie snacks…

…and you could do exactly the same if you wanted to (not that you should though–nutrition does matter).

So, proper dieting starts with knowing how much energy you’re burning.

And that’s where accurately calculating your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) comes in.

The TDEE Calculator

tdee calculator

I’m going to start this article with the calculator in case you’re already familiar with what TDEE is and how it relates to dieting and so you can get back to it easily and quickly in the future.

If you don’t quite understand TDEE, how it’s calculated, and how to use it to create meal plans that actually work, though, then keep reading!

LBM
BMR
TDEE

Oh and in case you’re wondering, this calculator uses the Katch-McArdle equation. If you don’t know what that is/means, read on. 🙂

 

What is Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)?

what is tdee

Total daily energy expenditure is exactly what it sounds like:

The total amount of energy you expend every 24 hours.

It’s often expressed in calories, which is a measurement of energy. One calorie is the amount of energy it takes to heat one kilogram of water one degree Celsius (also called a kilocalorie).

For example, I’m 31 years old, 6’2 and 190 pounds, and I lift weights for about 4 hours and do high-intensity interval cardio for about 1.5 hours per week, and my TDEE is about 3,000 calories.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

How Do You Calculate Your TDEE?

calculate tdee

Your TDEE is comprised of your basal metabolic rate (BMR) plus additional energy burned through physical activity and the food you eat.

Let’s review each of these points separately.

1. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body burns at rest.

It’s the minimum amount of energy it costs to stay alive.

2. When you move your body, it costs energy.

No matter how large or small or long or short an activity is, it burns energy. Simple enough.

3. When you eat food, it costs energy to digest and absorb.

This is known as the thermic effect of food, or TEF.

Research shows that TEF accounts for about 10% of total daily energy expenditure, with amounts varying based on the macronutrient composition of your diet.

So…when you sum the energy your body burns to stay alive (BMR) and the energy burned through physical activity and digesting and absorbing food…you arrive at your TDEE.

And if that sounds complicated, don’t worry. It’s not. You don’t have to dust off your college algebra or take an Excel tutorial.

Metabolic researchers have already done all the heavy lifting for us and boiled it down to simple arithmetic.

The first step in calculating your TDEE is calculating your BMR.

There are several equations for that but I recommend the Katch-McArdle variant, which looks like this:

Katch McArdle bmr calculator(where LBM is the lean body mass in kg)

The reason I recommend the Katch-McArdle over other formulas such as the Harris-Benedict or Mifflin-St Jeor is it accounts for differences in body composition.

This matters because muscle is metabolically active whereas body fat isn’t.

That is, two people can weigh the same but if one has a lot more muscle, his basal metabolic rate will be quite different.

Once you have your BMR, you need to account for the additional energy expenditure as noted above.

Instead of tracking every step you take and noting readouts from cardio machines (they’re inaccurate anyway), the Katch-McArdle equation includes multipliers that you can apply to your BMR based on your general activity level.

This will give you a good starting point for determining how many calories you should eat, and then you can adjust based on how your body actually responds.

(And here’s how you do that when you’re wanting to lose weight. Here’s how to do it when you’re wanting to gain weight.)

Now, here are the standard Katch-McArdle multipliers:

1.2 = sedentary (little or no exercise)

1.375 = light activity (light exercise/sports 1 to 3 days per week)

1.55 = moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3 to 5 days per week)

1.725 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week)

1.9 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week and physical job)

There’s something you need to know about activity multipliers, though:

They will probably overestimate the actual amount of energy you’re burning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t have any research to directly back that statement up but I’ve worked with thousands of people and consistently found it to be the case. It’s also common knowledge among experienced bodybuilders.

Simply put, if you use the above multipliers, you’ll probably place yourself in too small of a calorie deficit when cutting (resulting in less-than-optimal fat loss) and too large of a surplus when bulking (resulting in more-than-optimal fat gain).

And that means generally diminished returns on your efforts over time.

This is why I recommend you just use lower activity multipliers when calculating your TDEE.

Here’s how I do it:

1.1 = sedentary (little or no exercise)

1.2 = light activity (light exercise/sports 1 to 3 days per week)

1.35 = moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3 to 5 days per week)

1.45 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week)

1.6 to 1.8 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week and physical job)

Those multipliers should give you a more accurate starting point, and they are what are built into the calculator below.

Then, as noted above, you adjust intake based on how your body actually responds.

How Does TDEE Relate to Weight Loss?

weight loss activity calculator

As I noted earlier, the thing that most dictates whether you gain or lose weight is energy balance.

Energy balance is the relationship between the energy you feed your body and the energy it expends.

You see, the scientifically validated, “boring” reality is this:

  • Meaningful weight loss requires you to expend more energy than you consume.
  • And meaningful weight gain (both fat and muscle) requires the opposite: more consumption than expenditure.

If you’re shaking your head, thinking I’m drinking decades-old Kool-Aid, let me ask you a few questions.

Why has every single controlled weight loss study conducted in the last 100 years…including countless meta-analyses and systematic reviews…concluded that meaningful weight loss requires energy expenditure to exceed energy intake?

Why have bodybuilders dating back just as far…from Sandow to Reeves and all the way up the line…been using this knowledge to systematically and routinely reduce and increase body fat levels?

And why do new brands of “calorie denying” come and go every year, failing to gain acceptance in the weight loss literature?

The reality is a century of metabolic research has proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that energy balance, which operates according to the first law of thermodynamics, is the basic mechanism that regulates fat storage and reduction.

That doesn’t mean you have to count calories to lose weight…but it does mean you have to understand the relationship between calorie intake and expenditure and weight gain and loss.

 

The Bottom Line on TDEE Calculators

tdee calculator accurate

When it comes to calculating your TDEE, keep it simple and remember it isn’t 100% accurate, nor is it supposed to be.

You’re looking for a starting point for your meal planning, not a definitive judgment on your energy expenditure.

You’ll probably find through actual experience that your body burns a bit more or less energy than formulas predict.

That’s just part of the game.

So, use this TDEE calculator to determine a baseline for your caloric intake, turn it into a well-designed meal plan, adjust as needed, and you’ll reach your goals.

 

What’s your take on TDEE calculators? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

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  • Eunice

    Is above TDEE the calculator applicable for both men and women?

    • Yup!

      • Samuel Mago

        Isn’t it different for men since they carry more muscle mass = higher daily energy expenditure ?

        • That’s where the BF% comes in.

          • Samuel Mago

            That’s what I thought. Thanks man. Btw those other calculators are wrong as F… ! 😉 Can’t imagine my girlfriend eating like 2500 kcal/day … 😀

          • That would be a lot! Unless she’s really working out that much.

  • Steven Scott

    Is that photo for “the bottom line” title meant to be a visual pun, or just luck? 🙂

  • Kerry

    Thanks for the article and calculator! I am currently a little confused about wether I should continue cutting or start bulking. I was trying to cut until ab definition came in, but I am starting to think that my abs simply aren’t developed enough to show much definition and would be better off focusing on building muscle at this point. I am currently in a mild deficit and take Phoenix. I am 5’11” 160 pounds 34 years old. My waist measures 31.5″ at navel and with accumeasure I get around 7-8mm suprailiac skinfold. On one hand I am not as lean as I would like to be, but on the other I think I need to build more muscle to work with. I attached a couple photos. If you could steer me in a direction I would really appreciate it.

    Thanks!

    • Hey man!

      Yeah I think it’s a bit of both–bf% and lack of core development.

      Given your measurements I think you’re in a good place to start bulking.

      IMO reverse diet first:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/reverse-diet/

      And then get to work with this:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/bulking-up/

      • Kerry

        Thanks Mike! I had read the bulking article already it not the reverse dieting article. I was pretty scared of bulking because I don’t want to end up fat again. Looks like proper reverse dieting is the solution! Thanks again, hopefully I’ll have some good results to share down the road.

        • YW. Okay great! Sounds good. I look forward to seeing your results. 🙂

          Talk soon!

  • Hey Mike,

    Here’s an online (Excel) calorie counter for cutting. You enter body weight, TDEE, calorie deficit (%), grams fat/lb, grams protein/lb, food information. It then calculates totals for each meal, for the day, and shows you how much more/less of each macro you need to fit your daily computed totals.

    I think it will make it much easier for people who want to plan meals.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1r67DmG49YFjYkyQvl0B_EMKBvgRliwxQNBV0EG10LLI/edit?usp=sharing

    I think I appropriately shared the Google Drive file. I hope you are allowed to edit the file and see how it works. If not, let me know and I’ll fix it.

  • Nate

    Hey Mike. I’m following the Bigger Leaner Stronger program and I’m currently bulking. During the week long rest period between phases, should I adjusted my calories intake lower or just keep it at the same level?

    • Glad you’re rolling on the BLS program. Hope you’re enjoying it!

      Keep the cals the same during the rest week!

  • Joe DaSilva

    Hi Mike in the article you mention TEF is about 10% but then it’s not used in your calculator.

    • The TEF is included in the activity multiplier to get the TDEE.

  • Angel Gongora

    Hey Mike a big fan of all your post, wanted to ask a question though . I input my info and my tdee is at 2179 , and states my bmr is roughly around 1614. Now if I do a 25% deficit which you recommend , that brings me at 1634 , very close to bmr already, now if I stop losing weight and you recommend to drop it about 100 calories that already brings me below bmr which on your podcast you have recommended not to go under bmr necessarily for periods above a week? Am I missing something ? Thank you so much for your time hope to hear back soon , really need help .

    • I understand the issue.

      In your case, I recommend increasing your activity level so your TDEE is higher and/or starting with a 20% calorie deficit.

      What do you think? Happy to help!

      • Angel Gongora

        Okay I will try that , my enegery levels are still good and my lifts are still progressing from the progressive overload method you suggest, I do IF everyday do a 18hour fast, 6hour feeding. It’s going on 5weeks now, but now I’m starting to feel a bit more hungry so Thats why I ask . Thank you .

        • Sounds good. Great to hear you still have energy and are gaining strength. That’s great.

          Cool you’re doing IF.

          Let’s bring up the activity and/or reduce to a 20% deficit and see how you do.

          Happy to help!

  • Phillip

    Hey Mike!
    Another question…..but before I ask, I am so impressed with all of your work! been going strong and really seeing a difference in my body! SO COOL!!! Just out of curiosity, I am trying to get a more accurate idea of my TDEE multiplier. So I am following BLS. I am currently doing a cut. I lift 5X/week and do HIIT 4X/week. What would my multiplier look like?

    Also, I am about to start my bulk plan, so would the multiplier remain the same if I lift 5X/week and do HIIT 2X/week?

    • Hey man!

      Sorry I missed this somehow.

      I would go with a 1.45 and see how your body responds for the cut and probably 1.4 for the bulk.

  • Lauren✨

    Hi there, Ive been counting my calories, doing hiit 3x a week and weight lifting the other 2 days. I thought I was eating the right amount but now i think i was over eating as i havent lost any weight at all in the past 4wks.. nor have i lost inches :/ I got my TDEE, 1573-so does that mean i need to eat about 1258cals? Im worried about eating to little and then again im worried about eating to much :/ I have about 10lbs of FAT that i need to get off.. I know i shouldnt worry about the scale.. but i def have fat i need to lose regardless..

  • Kal-El

    Hey Mike,
    I need your help..I’m confused!
    I weigh 143 lbs(16%) and I’m cutting now.
    According to BLS, my macro ratios should be:
    Carbs-143, protein-172, fat- 28 which adds up to 1520 calories.

    According to this formula, my TDEE is 2232 which means I should eat 1785 calories to cut.
    That’s a difference of 250+ calories!!
    Which one should I follow?

    • Cool, no worries. Let’s go with the 1800 and see how your body responds. Just add 20 grams of fat to your current intake.

      • Kal-El

        Is it okay to add those calories in carbs or proteins?

        • You could add to protein but there’s no need. Carbs and/or fat are fine.

          • Kal-El

            I’ve been following the BLS formula for the last 3 weeks. I’ve lost 5 pounds till now. I think another month of cutting will do the job

          • Nice! Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • pbryd

    Someone hasn’t told my metabolism to slow down now I’m in my 40’s.

    At 43, 130lb and 5’6″ – I’ve been gaining 1-2lbs per month on 2600 calories daily.

    All the calculators say I should have a TDEE of 1800, so 2600 is a much larger calorie figure than I thought I’d need.

    So always take the calculators as a guide and adjust for your own personal circumstances.

    • Lucky. 🙂

      That’s exactly right. They’re pretty accurate for the most part, but everyone is different. Adjust intake accordingly based off results.

  • Khoa Tran

    Hi Mike,

    I’m 97lb, 5’4 with about 11% BF. So clearly underweight.
    I’ve been using the myfitnesspal calorie counter app saying I should gain 1lb a week with 2,450 calories. But I’ve been gaining 0.4 – 2lb a day instead.

    However using your calculations with TDEE x 1.35 (for 3-5 workout days). Says I should be eating 1,650. I feel like that’s really low for a bulk. But right now, i’m bulking too fast and afraid i’ll just become ‘skinny fat’. But gaining 0.5 – 1 lb in weight a week would feel slow especially because i’m underweight and feel like I need to catch up in a sense?? And have a long way to go before I look normal never mind ‘big’.

    Should I go down to the slow bulk of 1,650 and gain only 0.5 – 1lb a week or compromise with the fast bulk and add on a couple hundred more calories to speed it up? e.g. 2,000.

    • pbryd

      You have to experiment with your calories until you’re gaining weight at the speed you like. If 2450 is too much, drop it to 2200 or 2000 and give that a try.

      I’m aiming for 2lb gain per month, yes it’s painfully slow but it beats gaining too much fat on my waist.

    • I get where you’re at.

      The goal while bulking is to gain 1/2-1 pound a week.

      You need to add an additional 10% after your activity multiplier to get your bulking cals. Check this out:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      I understand wanting to gain faster, but any faster and risk putting on fat quickly. Let’s stick with the slow bulk. You just get to bulk longer my friend!

      Thoughts?

  • Glenn Deol

    Hey Mike,

    When it comes to the activity multiplier I’m not entirely sure which to go by because I’m mainly sedentary throughout the week (sitting on computer), but I do about 3 hours of total workout time during the week. It’s mainly low reps, (1-5) and I only do 3 sets of each exercise. Squats, Weighted Pull-Ups, Bicep Curls, Deadlifts, Shoulder Press, Bench Press and Incline Bench Press. That’s basically all I do in a week, 3 sets of each exercise per week, so should I go with 1.1 or maybe something a bit higher or ? I also do about 3mins of rest between sets so that does add up as well.

    Thanks!

    • I hear you, Glenn.

      Let’s start with a 1.2 activity multiplier and see how you do.

      Talk soon!

      • Glenn Deol

        You read my mind exactly, I thought that I’d play it safe with 1.2 since I’m trying to shed some pounds because 1.1 seemed a bit too low. As of right now it seems as though I’m feeling good and things are working out, but we’ll see how things go. Thanks for the input, much appreciated 🙂

        • Glad we’re on the same page. 🙂

          Sounds good. My pleasure!

  • Junior

    whats up Mike!Monday, Wed, Friday I do full body-workout days averaging about 80 mins per workout. Tues, Thurs and Satur. I just do 15 min HIIT cardio sessions. I weigh 140.0 Ib and 13% body fat. Is 1,400 Calories a day fair for a cut?

  • Will

    Hey Mike – I hit you up on email too, but realized you probably get a million of those and this might be easier. No need to reply to both.

    I have been working out and eating at a deficit for the last 7 months or so and have lost about 28 lbs and have put on a good bit of muscle. I am 5’10”. Currently weigh about 178-180. Body fat anywhere from 11-14% (depends on who’s telling me – the inbody machine at the gym or my withings scale).

    Here’s my question: I have been using a fitbit surge (wrist HR monitor) to determine my total calorie burn. Overall I really like the device. However, some days I feel like the total calorie burn it’s giving me could be a bit high and I want to check if you agree.

    My average calorie burn over the last 28 days, per fitbit, is 3,620. My highest is 4,393. I workout every morning. 3 days a week I lift heavy for an hour (basic lifts – bench, deadlifts, squats, pullups), and 4 days a week I do a 1 hour HIIT group class (spin, tabata, insanity, etc.). During the week I’m at a desk job. On weekends, I am pretty active just doing normal life stuff (errands, doing stuff with my kids, and just going-going all day), again, with a morning workout as well. The really high burn days (over 4K cals) are always on a weekend day where I worked out in the morning and then ran errands or did stuff on my feet all day.

    Do those numbers seem reasonable to you, or does it look like they too high?

    I eat (according to those numbers) at a 1000 calorie deficit, which still leaves me plenty of calories to eat well. Things have been going well since July when I started, (have dropped about 5-10% body fat), however, am starting to hit a plateau, so I really need some assurance that my total calorie burn, per fitbit, is accurate, or if I need to adjust to hit my calorie deficit goals.

    Also, second question: I’m sort of stuck wondering if I need to keep cutting right now or do a bulking phase. I’ve basically been cutting for 7 months. Is it good to give the body a rest and bulk up a bit? Here’s a current photo. That belly fat and lower back fat need to go!

    Thanks again for all the great info you provide. It’s amazing.

    • If I haven’t already, I’ll get to your email and answer all your questions there. 🙂

      I run a few days out due to the sheer volume, but I do answer all of them!

  • Tyler

    Hey mike, wondering if age has anything to do with TDEE and metabolism.

    • Hey Tyler! It won’t affect much. Check this out:

      https://legionathletics.com/fitness-at-any-age/

      LMK what you think.

      • Tyler

        Thanks Mike really enjoyed the article! Great stuff! Thought metabolism declined solely because of age, surprised/glad it only drops 1-3% per decade. Thanks for presenting the truth about fitness! And thanks for everything you do!

        • My pleasure, man! Yep, not bad at all. 🙂

          Happy to do it! Talk soon!

  • GREG__B

    Hey Mike,

    I’m 46 and weigh about 188, 14-16% BF with a TDEE of about 2,600. My goal is to add muscle but I’ve decided to take your advice to reduce my BF to about 10% first, which brings me to 2,340.

    When increasing or decreasing calories, should macros be adjusted proportionally across the board (i.e., increase or decrease all 3 by the same percentage)? Or should I always start with 1g protein per lb of body weight and adjust the others accordingly?

    Also, if I keep fat at 20% my carbs usually end up around 45-50%, which seems high to me. Is this ok?

    Thanks in advance for your reply.
    Greg

    • Thanks for all the info! I like your goal. Good call on getting to 10% BF first. 🙂

      To set up your macros for cutting or bulking, use this:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      From there, when adjustments are needed to get results, take/add from carbs.

      Yep, when bulking that many carbs isn’t unusual.

      My pleasure! Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Bryan

    Hey Mike,

    Not much of a question but maybe more of an FYI and maybe others have had similar experiences. I know i have heard you talk on your podcast about not trusting gadgets such as fitbits or other calorie calculators, but I have been using one with a heartrate monitor for the past 6 months through both bulking in cuts. I use it in conjunction with the app Lose It to track my food intake (fitbit integrates my calories burned by exercise automatically) and have found it very simple. Through both bulks (adding 0.5lb/wk and cuts -1.5lbs/wk) I have found it to be very accurate versus using the tdee calculator above. Maybe i am in the minority, but I am now 6’3″ and 183lbs at roughly 13%bf. With a 1.5 multiplier (which I know you say not to go above 1.35) above it says my TDEE is around 2900 calories. I have been losing weight on a 750 calorie deficit with eating almost 2800 calories per day. I exported the data over the last two months and I have averaged 1.6lbs/wk after the first two weeks (higher from switch from bulk). I do 5 workouts a week, go for a 20 minute walk almost every day, take the stairs and stand at work. Fitbit is showing an average of around 25k calories burned. Maybe I just have a high metabolism, but I can’t really explain it any other way, than it is accurate for me. Thoughts? I have tried to roll all your same principles from BLS and your meal planning into my method.

    Thanks again for all that you do for the community and you personal responses. I don;t know of many people who would put in the time and effort that you do for the greater good.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bryan!

      Glad you have found the monitor useful and accurate! Unfortunately, it isn’t for a lot of people. For most, they’re better calculating their intake using the calculator and then adjusting based off results.

      Yep, it definitely sounds like you have a fast metabolism! And hey, if the monitor is accurate for you and you’re getting results, keep using it!

      My pleasure. Thanks for the kind words and support. 🙂

      Talk soon.

      • Bryan

        As a bit of a follow up question: I am coming toward the end of my cut soon and will be taking your advice and reverse dieting back up to bulking cals. Since beach season is coming up and I have reservations about putting on too much fat before summer (yet still want to make gains), will I be able to build adequate muscle on a 175-200 calorie a day surplus? Or would I be better off working with your suggested 10% surplus which would put me closer to 350 cals/day, then do a small cut before June? My TDEE seems to be around 3500ish given my weight loss so far. Sorry for all the questions.

        • Cool on your plan to RD when you’re done cutting. Smart move.

          It’s up to you really, you can stay around TDEE and prevent fat gain and make slow gains, or you can do a proper 10% surplus bulk to build some muscle (and inevitably some fat) and then cut again before beach season.

          You’ll make gains faster with the bulk, but if you stick to TDEE, you won’t have to cut again.

          If you do decide to maintain, calorie cycling is a good idea:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com/calorie-cycling/

          Thoughts?

          • Bryan

            I definitely think I will bulk and try to cut right before the beach trip. That being said, is increasing calories by 200 a week for my reverse diet out of a 1.5 lb/wk deficit too much too quick? I see where you recommend and increase of 150, and obviously the slower the better, but time is of the essence 🙂 I have definitely seen a relatively dramatic drop in calories burned over the last couple of weeks so I believe my body is telling me it is done this time around.

          • Sounds good.

            Increasing by 200 cals a week shouldn’t be a big deal. Try it out and see how it goes.

            Yep, sounds like you should do a deload week!

  • Angel Gongora

    Hey Mike so I use to weigh 150 lbs and my tdee was roughly around 2200 cal . I went on a cut and now weighing 140 lbs about to reverse diet . But do I reverse diet back to 2200 cal or do I now have a new tdee since ive lost 10 lbs . Hope to hear from you soon . Thanks

    • You should recalculate your TDEE. It’ll have changed with your change in weight and composition.

      YW. 🙂

  • Lance

    Hey mike, just got your book ! i have a question about tdee though. is doing your UItimate Workouts for 4-5 days 1 hour a day counted as moderate exercise?

  • Matt Morse

    Hey Mike. I’m 44 and have FINALLY started my journey for the body I’ve always wanted since I was 17! I’ve nearly finished your BLS book (very inspiring), got meal plans underway, signed up for your newsletter and even signed up for Stacked (which looks awesome by the way) – so everything’s in place and I’m ready to go! But I’d like to ask one question to make sure I’m setting off on the right foot: Should I cut, bulk or maintain? I’m a slim 144lbs (but with a bit of a belly!), 15.7% body fat, LBM 121, BMR 1561, TDEE 2108 and new(ish) to weight training. From what I’m reading in your book, I’m assuming I need to cut to aim for the 10% BF but as a slim guy already is that right?

    Cheers!

    • Hey Matt! Cool you’re on the program and finally working towards your goals!

      Thanks for picking up my book and awesome you signed for STACKED. 🙂

      Good question. Yep, as the book says, I recommend you start with a cut. Here’s why:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/the-best-way-to-gain-muscle-not-fat/

      LMK what you think!

      • Matt Morse

        Thanks a lot for replying and clarifying where I should start – much appreciated! Now I can put the correct foot forward with confidence. All the best.

  • Kate

    Hey Mike. I’m Katie. I am 6 foot tall, 155 pounds, and I’d guess around 25-27% body fat. I would consider myself “skinny fat”. I have lost 20 pounds recently but I still have squishy body fat (especially in my stomach/love handle/saddlebag area). I have very little muscle tone-I can’t even do more than 1 real push up.. I am not sure whether I should continue to cut to lose more body fat, or if I should try bulking to build some muscle (although the excess calories scares me). Or do you think I can lose fat and build some muscle at the same time since I’m such a newbie? (I’ve read your article on this…) What would you recommend?

  • Dustyn Iwamoto

    So I’m looking to start getting back into working out in a month or two. I used to workout 5 days a week with a personal trainer 4 years ago but stopped when I started my own business (took a lot of my free time!). I’ve told my family about this plan and my mother would also like to start with me. Here are my questions:

    1. I’m at about 19% BF by estimation (160 lbs, 5’8”)…but I’m waiting for thr calipers you recommended to come in for a more accurate reading. Judging by this, I should cut first correct? I want to purchase the cut stack and a couple meal plans to rotate during my cut.

    2. My mother is about 35% BF at 170 and 5’6”…could we use the same meal plans but just change amount of food so that we are not cooking different meals? Also, what recommended exercises should she do as she recently had surgery to fix her ACL (she played two sports in college and 25 years as a police officer…her knee is shot…she will most likely go for a cartilage replacement shot in a couple months as she has almost no cartilage in one of her knees).

    I’ve built my business up enough that I have my monthly expenses covered while working less than 5 hrs a week. Leaves me time to help my mother take care of my grandmother and coach high school girls basketball with my mother (something we’ve been doing since I was born). I’ve got enough to cover suppliments and gym memberships…and my business is still growing steadily. I’d like to get the both of us active and healthy so that we can enjoy life and travel once I bring on a few more clients…but her medical condition makes me hesistant to recommend any type of exercise. Help!

    • Awesome! I hear you on the time the business takes, haha. Cool your mom wants to start training too.

      1. Yep, cut first!

      2. Yeah, you technically could, if you’re both okay with eating the same exact things. The portions would have to be adjusted and possibly some foods to make sure everything fits in her cals/macros.

      Regarding exercises post-surgery, that’s something she should check with the doc on.

      Awesome job on getting your business to that point! That’s great. Awesome on everything you and your mom are doing too. Let’s get you both fit and healthy!

      Again, check with the doc on the exercises she can do! LMK how it goes.

  • Tanya

    Hi Mike,

    First of all thanks for your great articles, they have been very helpful to me. I am 112 lbs and about 22% body fat. I want to calculate my TDEE and not sure what to use for my activity multiplier. I work out in the gym to build muscle 3 times a week, about 40 mins each. (I would say I push myself pretty hard there) I also do 25 mins of HIIT cardio twice a week. What should I put for my activity level?

    • Tanya

      a correction: after carefully calculating I realized that I do 1 hour of working out 3 days per week and I do HIIT cardio 25 mins each on another 2 days of the week.. Looking forward to your reply!

      • Hey Tanya! My pleasure! Happy to hear that. 🙂

        Thanks for all the info. I’d go with the 1.2 activity multiplier and see how you do. Remember, the goal is to lose 1-2 lbs a week when cutting and to gain 1/2-1 lb a week when bulking so adjust intake based off results.

        Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • aviA

    Hi there, loved your article! I would like to know what I should use for my activity multiplier as I’m kinda confused about this right now, some help would be much appreciated.
    I workout(weight lifting) 5 days a week for about 2.5 hours each day.
    I go pretty hardcore, since I have different muscle groups each day. I barely do any cardio(about 15 mins on the bike during leg day and 3 days of 10 minute ab workouts per week)
    I’m a 20 year old male, I had 30% fat and was 164 lbs 2 years ago and now I weigh 138 lbs and has about 16.4% body fat, and I’m kinda short 5ft 6in lol.
    FYI I’m concentrating on gaining lot of muscle but I also want to get my fat to 10% some help please 🙂

  • LC

    Love all your articles! What are your thoughts on a ketogenic diet vs IIFYM? Based on the recommendations above, my breakdown would be about 52% from CHO, 28% from pro, and 19% from fat. I am 5’0 and weigh 122lbs. I haven’t had my bf checked in some time, but based on the photos, it looks like I may be coming in at 24%. I lift moderate to heavy three times a week (workouts take about 75 minutes), cycle and run the other three (about an hour each time), and play basketball about 4 hours a week. Any help/feedback would be greatly appreciated 🙂

  • Maddie Mae Page

    Hi, would love your help and insights! For the majority of my life I was a competitive swimmer, and then for a while after that I was a cardio junkie. I typically did weight training 2-3x per week, but kept getting random injuries that would cause me to stop. 3 weeks before my wedding (in an effort to get super slim) I went from 142 to 134 by doing an hour-hour and a half of cardio daily and eating between 1600-1800 calories.

    I’ve recently decided to start incorporating weight training again (weight training for 30 minutes 5x a week + 30-45 minutes of cardio 6x a week). For the first month, my weight stayed the same (140 ponds) and I was eating between 1450-1600 calories a day, but was starving all the time. I upped my daily caloric intake to 1700-1800 calories, kept weight and cardio the same, but I’ve gained 4 pounds the past month. I’m doing the same amount of “cheating” on weekends as I was doing before, which is just 1 cheat meal on Saturday plus maybe one more on Sunday if it was a special occasion (like Mother’s Day). All the weight I’ve gained is around my stomach, and though my arms/legs/butt are much more toned and I love how they look, I’m super self conscious about my stomach. When I was 134 I had a beautiful six pack and now I have a two-pack and love handles at 144. Can you please offer some insight? I’ve kept my carbs in check using the macro calculator. I feel like I need to stop weight training and go back into a cardio frenzy to achieve my ideal physique. Please help!

  • Kevin Brammeier

    So what is your take on fitbit and other heart rate and calorie expenditure trackers?

    According to mine my total daily expenditure for the last 3 months is around 3200 calories a day.
    I’m 30, male 6’2″ 236lbs, 24-28%Bf, police officer who walks 3-7miles a night plus 3 days weight training and light cardio if I have the energy. Not really loosing fat though.

    • Hey Kevin! They’re cool for tracking various stats, but they can be very inaccurate when it comes to measuring calorie expenditure. That’s why I don’t recommend using them to determine your intake. Instead you should use a good calculator to get an idea and then adjust based off results. You can calculate your intake here:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      To help make sure you keep the weight moving, check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/not-losing-weight/

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Chris

    Hi Mike!
    Your book recommends a slightly different macro setup than this calculator. I’ve been on 1.2P, 1C, .2F for about 4 months, have lost ~25 lbs, down to about 12% now with 10%bf being my goal.

    Any harm in switching it up a little to the 40/40/20 breakout of the calculator? I weigh about 173 now and lessening the protein a bit in exchange for more carbs and fats sounds like heaven. Fasted training and cutting have worked great but the reduced carbs are weighing on me, even with a refeed every other week or so. Would it be ok to make the macro switch while keeping my overall caloric deficit roughly the same?

    Thanks!!

    • Hey Chris! Awesome on the weight you’ve lost!

      The formula in the book is a simple, workable formula. The one on the site, takes more info into account and is generally more accurate. So, if you’d like to switch to the 40/40/20, that’s totally fine.

      I like the goal. Let’s make it happen!

      I hear you. Gotta love carbs. 🙂

      Up to you on switching.

      Welcome! Talk soon.

  • 溫宇謙

    Hi mike, I’ve been following the mild surplus/deficit method listed in BBLS, trying to maintain now.

    However I’ve found that my weight fluctuates a lot, gaining like one pound after each training day, then lose them back after two consecutive rest days.

    I’m doing only one HIIT session per week, weight training 5days.

    Is that normal or maybe I’m doing things wrong?

    • Day to day weight fluctuations are normal. Water weight, stomach/bladder contents, whether or not you used the restroom, time of day, etc. all contribute to the fluctuation.

  • Ricki Salvo

    Hi Mike! I follow your three day workout split and walk for an hour on an incline on all other days of the week (imo, I’m not entitled to a full “rest day” since I’m only lifting weights thrice weekly. Please correct me if I’m off base here!). According to your activity multiplier, am I working out three or seven days per week? It’s almost a 500kcal difference daily ( tdee of: 2349 vs 2838).
    Please advise! Also, thanks for all the thorough articles! Keep up the good work sir…

  • Triston Metoxen

    Hey Mike, thanks for all the information, love your stuff. Quick question though, I work a very active job, MyFitnessPal calculates I burn about 700-800 calories every time I work. I work around 8 hours in a fasted state. Say I burn 1800 calories at rest. Is it as easy to just add that 700 & 1800 together to about get my maintenance calories a day? Thank you.

    • Hey Triston! My pleasure. Glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂

      Eh. Nah, the numbers from MFP can be really off. Instead, I recommend you use the calculator in this article and just adjust the activity level number based off results.

      LMK how it goes. Welcome!

  • andria12000

    Hi, I maintain my weight on roughly on 300 kcal/day more than what the calculator above calculates. I thought that was supposed to be an accurate calculator?

    • Hi Andria,
      The calculator is pretty accurate when given good inputs. Still, it is in the end, an approximation and you should adjust depending on measurable results.

  • Nicky

    Hi Mike,

    Please help me choose what to put for activity multiplier: 1 hour resistance weight lifting x 4 times a week, 30 min HIIT cardio x 2 times a week.
    I am also planning on running for 30 min twice a week. What do I put without the running? And if I do the running, what will I put then?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Hey Nicky, try 1.3-1.35 and adjust TDEE based on results.

      • Nicky

        Thank you for answering! is it based on hours I spend exercising per week?

        • No problem at all. Yes, it’s based on your exercise. I would skew lower towards the 1.3 end to start. My week looks similar to yours with 4-5x weights and 2 HIIT.

          • Nicky

            Sounds good to me. What I meant tho, is that in the calculator, you would choose hours, and it gives the number based on that. Here in the article it gives days and how hard the exercise is.. So I’m kind of confused. I am trying to cut right now, and set my numbers to 20% deficit. Should I see if I am losing about 1lb per week and then decide if I need more or less? Will weighing myself once every week at the same time be accurate for this?

          • I see what you mean. Use both of them as guides to hone in on your activity multiplier.

            Yes, set to 20% deficit and adjust based on results. I measure my clients daily so I have many data points to work with and that lets me spot trends faster so I can make corrections. Weekly is fine too.

  • Anatoly Motin

    Hi Mike! How my office hours should be taken into account to calculate my TDEE?

  • razerx

    Trying to dial my TDEE in, will have no way of weighing myself so adjusting will be hard.
    Have had 1000 calories surplus I guess since I am up 4kg in 4 weeks so I really want to find my maintenance to not get more of that weight gain while I am away for the next months.

    My day will consist of about 12500-17500 steps a day, weights 4-6 times a week depending on the location of that week, but gym 4x a week and if no gym the other 2x days I will do some bodyweight stuff probably.

    Male: 30ish years
    183cm
    75kg

    Any idea about my activity level? I have no idea what to input there

  • Sarah Haeni

    What would you recommend for someone like myself who has always eaten at very low calories in an attempt to lose fat. We’re talking just slightly above my BMR. Fat loss is still the goal but progress has stalled to say the least.

    • Hey Sarah,

      How long have you been doing that? If it’s been a long-term low-cal intake around BMR, then I recommend that you reverse diet, then cut:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/reverse-diet/

      Also, check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/not-losing-weight/

      • Sarah Haeni

        Thanks for replying!

        Honestly, probably years. I usually average around 1350. I can’t say I’ve ever deliberately gone over 1500 (my calculated TDEE is just about 1800 – BMR is 1276). The only time I’m ever probably high is if I go out to a restaurant. How long should I reverse for or spend raising my calories before doing a proper cut? I feel like I can’t lose any more fat at this point because I’m starving if I cut my food any lower.

        • NP!

          Gotcha. Yeah, let’s do a quick RD by following the protocol above. It’ll take a little over a month. Once you’re at TDEE, stay there for a week or two, then do a proper cut.

  • sakib800

    I am kind of confused, i am 18 around 139 or 140 ish lift weights or try to, about 4 days a week of about 30 minutes or more. (Lmao i try to do RPT) I also work at subway 3-4 days of the week around 4 hours each of those days.

    I wast doing cardio recently but decided to start doing at least 15-30 minute moderate intesity cardio maybe around every other day

    The thing is i feel like eating 1900 calories as it suggested here will leave me feeling hungry. Sometimes i feel hungry on a 2000 calorie diet.

    So, I ate 2000 calories for a week before and stayed around 140-141 and didnt really gain any weight or lose weight. So does that mean thats my idel range of calories or is there a thing where you slowly add fat. And if you eat maintenance are you supposed to feel hungry?

    Lol sorry for so many questions

  • ahma

    I play football x3 per week for 1 hour and weight lifting x6 per week for 1 hour and i am lightly active on a normal day so, what is my

    “Activity Factor” ?

  • Juan F Garces

    Hi, you use the Katch-McArdle formula but do you have any concerns with the Cunningham Formula? ( = 500 +22*LBM). The cunningham gives you a bit higher BMR but it doesn’t seems to be significant; I get 1,855 with the Katch and 2,013 with the Cunningham (a mid size apple difference). What about averaging the two?

    That’s what I’m doing. The average gives me a 2,109 limit; but also I’m using a 10 days weight average to eliminate fluctuations, training 6-7 hrs wk but only using 1.35 factor.

    Thanks —

    • I like the Katch-McArdle formula and find it more accurate. Either way is fine though. Just make sure you adjust intake based off results.

      • Juan F Garces

        Great, Thanks for replay and the great articles.

  • YF

    Hi Mike,
    Since I train hard 4x/week, each session lasting 1-1.5 hours, I used the 1.35 multiplier to calculate my TDEE. However, this number is considerably lower (by about 500 calories) than what I have empirically determined my maintenance calories to be through weekly weighing. It’s a bit concerning that the values differ so dramatically! Any thoughts on what could account for the discrepancy? Thanks.

    • Hey, the formulas are pretty accurate for the general population, but there will be outliers. If in your experience, you require more cals for maintenance, then keep that in mind when using the calculator. Also, I recommend double checking how accurate your calorie tracking is, and the accuracy of your calorie references–just to be sure.

      • YF

        Thanks. Yes, I’ve been using MyFitnessPal religiously to track calories. What matches my maintenance calories far more accurately is the formula (which I’ve seen in several places online): Bodyweight (in lbs) x activity multiplier, which ranges from 10-16. Since I train hard >6 hours a week, I go with the upper multiplier of 16 and that nails it.

  • csiyaoe

    Hello thanks for all the help you provide. My question is after calculating your TDEE and start loosing weight, do you need to recalculate TDEE after loosing a certain amount? I hope that’s not confusing. I’ve read to recalculate after loosing around 5 lbs, but not positive if it is needed. I work out 5 days a week heavy weights, and 30 min cardio 4 x a week. I’m 6’3″ and weighed 205 when I started. I got down to 196, but then went back up to 198 after a couple of days. My cal intake is strict and exercise is staying the same. So to sum up my question, after a certain amount of weight loss do I need to recalculate my TDEE?

    • Nah. No need. Recalculate once you’ve reached your goal, and adjust calories when weight loss plateaus. Ideally, increase your physical activity before dropping cals.

      • Csiyaoe

        Thanks! 🙂

      • John Sanew

        Sorry Mike, but I disagree. Recalculating is never a bad idea. Someone who weighs 200 LBS at 30% BF has a LBM of 140. 140 x 13.8 gives that person a BMR of 1932. That same person could weigh in 3 weeks later at the same 200 LBS, but down to 25% BF. That person now has a LBM of 150. 150 x 13.8 gives that person a BMR of 2070. By not recalculating, you could end up not providing your body with enough fuel to power your workouts, and you may actually start plateauing early, as your body draws upon muscle instead of fat for energy.

        • I hear you. That’d just go back to adjusting intake based off results. That not only applies to when weight loss stops or slows down, but also if you’re losing faster than you should.

          You’re right though, if you’re in too big a deficit that will affect performance and you risk losing muscle.

          So, if you’re not losing fast enough lower intake and/or increase activity level. If you’re losing too fast, lower activity level and/or increase intake. You can recalculate your TDEE more regularly if you like, but if you adjust intake accordingly based off results, there’s no need.

  • sakib800

    HEy what if i feel hungry even when eating on maintainence?

    And what if lets say i do 15 minutes of weightlifting vs 15 minutes of HIIT.

    those two exercises vastly different so wont that affect my maintenance. SInce in weightlifting i take long rests and dont even move much so they dont burn much calories. ?

    • That’s pretty normal to feel hunger…

      Pick foods with more fiber, bulk, and water content. Drink more water.

      A HIIT session done properly will burn more cals.

  • Christian Ouellet

    Hi! Have a question! My LBM is 176 lbs, my BMR 2098 and my TDEE is 2830 (train 4-6 hours /week). If i understand well, i need to eat around 2830 cal/day? In the book, it said that: if we want to cut, we can “cut” around 20%-25% cal on the TDEE (2830-20%=2264). is it correct? Thanks in advance! Great book!

    • That’s right!

      • Christian Ouellet

        Good! but i think it’s too much food for me! it’s hard for me to eat 2260 cal/day… yesterday, i finished my day with 2000 cal and i was full. :-O

  • sakib800

    So you count weightlifting (with 3 minute rests) as excercises too? i mean those burn way fewer calories…

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