What Is Energy Expenditure?

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

Energy Expenditure Defined

To understand energy expenditure, you must understand how your body produces energy. To provide fuel for movement and daily functions, your body makes energy in the form of heat.

The energy found in food is measured in kilocalories, or calories as we commonly refer to them. Technically speaking, a kilocalorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. The total number of calories you burn for energy each day is your total daily energy expenditure.

Total daily energy expenditure varies from person to person, depending on body size, sex, body composition, genetics, and activity level. The total energy expenditure for a small, sedentary woman, for example, might be 1800 calories or less per day. The TDEE for a large, active man, on the other hand, can easily be over 2000 calories. Because the man in this example has more muscle mass, a higher daily activity level, and is a larger person, his TDEE is greater.

Energy Expenditure Calculator

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. Online calculators also allow you to calculate your calories burned per day with the same formulas that are used in clinical settings.

It's important to keep in mind that energy expenditure calculators provide an estimate of your daily calorie burn. The number is based on the data that you provide. This data (such as your activity level) may change from day to day.

No one's energy expenditure is exactly the same every single day, so to get the most out of your energy expenditure calculations, use them as a guideline for your daily calorie intake. Adjust the numbers as needed based on changes in your activity level or changes in your weight.

Energy Expenditure and Weight Loss

To lose weight, your body must use more calories than you eat. That means that you either need to increase your energy expenditure, decrease your calorie intake, or, ideally, do a combination of both to create a calorie deficit. Most experts recommend creating a total calorie deficit of 3500–7000 calories per week to lose 1–2 pounds of body fat per week.

You may come across websites, diet companies, and even "experts" who say you should ignore energy expenditure when weight loss is your goal or perhaps you feel like the calories in/calories out method has failed you in the past. But it's important to note that even if you get your calories from nutritious foods, you still need to reduce your total intake in order to lose weight.

Creating a calorie deficit may sound simple on paper, but trying to lose weight can be a challenge. Learning to change your daily habits 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 Boost Energy Expenditure

Being physically active in your day to day life offers a host of health benefits beyond its impact on energy expenditure. Exercise reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease, and it's a natural mood and energy booster. Although regular exercise is the most effective way to increase your energy expenditure, there are a couple of other proven methods.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Scientists use a fancy name to describe the calories burned from the little movements you do during the day, not including exercise. This expenditure is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT. It includes things like fidgeting, carrying in the groceries, and standing up from your desk. Believe it or not, NEAT can make a big difference when it comes to weight loss. You can take simple steps to boost NEAT with easy changes to your routine.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

It may sound counterproductive, but you also expend energy when you eat. The process of chewing and digesting food requires effort and energy from your body. And 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 to give yourself every advantage, choose foods that burn more calories to give your TDEE a little nudge.

The Role of Pills and Supplements

There are several pills and supplements that claim to help increase your metabolism, allowing you effortlessly burn more calories each day. But many of these diet pills are either unsafe or ineffective. Diet pills and supplements are generally not recommended unless prescribed by your physician. Unfortunately, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. It's always better to be safe than sorry if you're thinking about experimenting with diet pills.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight, your energy expenditure is the ultimate regulator, and finding the right balance is key. Not every day will be perfect, but matching your energy intake to your energy expenditure over time and on average will help you maintain a healthy weight long-term. If you need to change your weight to improve your health, modify your food intake and TDEE together to improve your body composition while feeling your best.

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