What Is Energy Expenditure?

How Many Calories Do I Burn in a Day?

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Energy expenditure is the amount of energy (or calories) that a person needs to carry out a physical function such as breathing, circulating blood, digesting food, or physical movement. Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is the total number of calories you burn each day. To prevent weight gain, energy intake or calorie intake must be balanced with energy expenditure.

Energy Expenditure Definition

To understand what is energy expenditure, you need to understand how your body creates energy. To provide fuel for movement and daily functions, your body creates energy in the form of heat. The energy is measured in the form of kilocalories, or calories.  The total number of calories you burn for energy each day is your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE.

Total daily energy expenditure can vary from person to person depending on body size, gender, body composition, genetics, and activity level. The total energy expenditure for a small sedentary woman may be 1800 calories or less per day. But the TDEE for a large man may be 2000 calories or more.

You can estimate your energy expenditure for a specific activity by using an online activity calculator like the one provided by the American Council on Exercise. You can also use online calculators like this one to calculate your calories burned per day:

Energy Expenditure and Weight Loss

To lose weight, you need to learn how to burn more calories than you eat. That means you need to either increase your energy expenditure, decrease your caloric intake, or do a combination of both to create a calorie deficit.  Most experts recommend that you create a calorie deficit of 3500-7000 calories per week to lose 1-2 pounds of fat.

Of course, creating a calorie deficit may sound simple. But trying to lose weight is hard. Learning to change your daily habits to eat less and move more is challenging.  For many people, eating less is easier than trying to increase energy expenditure because the amount of exercise needed to create a calorie deficit is fairly high.

How to Improve Your Energy Expenditure

The good news for dieters is that exercise is not the only way to increase your energy expenditure. There are pills and supplements that claim to help increase your metabolism or help you burn more calories each day. Many of these diet pills are either unsafe or ineffective so they are generally not recommended unless prescribed by your physician. 

But there are two other ways to increase energy expenditure without going to the gym:

  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Scientists use a fancy name to describe the calories burned from all of the movement you do during that day that is not exercise. It's called non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT and it can make a big difference in your weight loss program. You can take simple steps to boost your NEAT with easy changes to your routine.
  • Thermic effect of food. You also expend energy when you eat. Certain foods burn more calories than others. Scientists call this the thermic effect of food or TEF. Unfortunately, eating alone won't burn enough calories to make a noticeable difference in your weight loss program, but you can choose foods that burn more calories to give your TDEE a little boost.

A Word from Verywell

Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain weight or maintain a steady weight, your energy expenditure plays an important role. Finding balance is the key. Of course, every day won't be perfect, but over the long term you want your energy expenditure and your energy intake to match. Modify your food intake and your TDEE to change your body for good health and long-term wellness.

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