Which BMR/TDEE Calculator Is Best For Calculating My Calorie Needs?

Your daily calorie intake is a key component of your diet. In fact, when it comes to losing fat or gaining muscle, it’s THE key component. Plenty of other stuff matters too, of course. It’s just that calories matter the most.

That’s why the very first step to putting together a diet that is designed to support your goals is figuring out how many calories you need to eat per day to reach those goals. Obvious, I know.

To help you do this, there are tons of different calorie calculators and fancy equations out there to help you calculate your BMR and/or TDEE.

The question is, which calculator is the best and most accurate of them all?

BMR vs TDEE vs Maintenance Level

First, let’s define some stuff:

  • BMR: Your BMR is your Basal Metabolic Rate, which is the amount of calories your body burns at rest just keeping you alive and functioning. So, imagine the number of calories you’d burn if you just stayed in bed all day not moving (or digesting food). That amount of calories is your BMR.
  • TDEE: Your TDEE is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, which is your BMR calories + all of the other calories you burn per day through every additional thing your body does (e.g. normal human movement, exercise, digestion/the thermic effect of food, NEAT, etc.). So it’s all of the calories your body burns per day doing everything.
  • Maintenance Level: Your maintenance level is essentially the same thing as your TDEE, only from a slightly different perspective. Basically, when you consume the same number of calories that you burn… you’re at your maintenance level. So if your TDEE is 2500 calories, and you eat eat 2500 calories per day, you’re at maintenance and 2500 is your maintenance level. I bring this up only because “maintenance level” tends to be the term I most often use in the stuff I write.

Methods Of Calculating Your BMR/TDEE

The most popular methods (or at least the first few that come to my mind) include…

  • The Harris-Benedict Equation
  • The Katch-McArdle Equation
  • The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation
  • The Cunningham Formula

There are a few others as well, not to mention a few “less official” methods that various people have developed on their own based on their own experience. But I’d say that whenever you’re using some kind of calculator, there’s about a 99% chance it’s using one of these equations.

For me personally, The Harris-Benedict Equation has always been the closest. However, I’ve always had WAY above-average calorie needs, so if a specific equation is accurate for me, chances are it’s going to be inaccurate for most other people.

That’s part of why the calculators I’ve created/recommended over the years (like the one used here) use The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation instead. I can also vaguely remember seeing a study once years ago showing that it was the most accurate equation out of the group it was compared against, with the only downside being that not all of these methods were actually in that group.

Which means, we still have no definitive proof as to which one is “the best” in terms of accuracy.

That is… until now!

Which Method Is The Best? The Definitive Answer!

After TONS of research, plenty of experimenting and untold hours of careful consideration, I have finally come to a definitive conclusion for which calorie calculator is the best.

The winner is… it doesn’t matter.

Here’s why.

The only reason these calculators and equations exist is to provide you with an estimated starting point. That’s it.

It’s NOT a completely accurate starting point, and it’s NOT a guaranteed end point. It’s just a quick and easy way of getting a number that should (usually) be within at least some sane distance of the number you truly need.

Thinking of it as anything more than that causes two problems. First, it will drive you crazy wondering if you picked the right calculator or filled in your info correctly. You’ll wake up in a cold sweat thinking about how you said you were 5’11 when you’re really more like 5’10 and half. Or how you selected a “moderate” activity level when it could just as easily be considered “light.”

And second, it will make you think the number you got is definitely the number you need. So when weeks/months/years go by without your body changing like it should be, you’ll think it’s the “bad carbs” or “not eating frequently enough” or some other nonsense that has nothing to do with anything.

In reality, the estimated figure the calculator gave you was off by a bit and needed to be adjusted. That’s the thing about estimates… they are sometimes off. But when you’re thinking of it as guaranteed perfection rather than an estimation, you’ll fail to see that as being a possibility.

Which brings me to my SIPOTA… aka my Super Important Point Of This Article.

The Most Important Step Comes After The Calculator

Using some calculator to estimate your BMR/TDEE is just the first and least important step.

The second step – which is really the step that is the key to everything you’re trying to do – is putting that estimated calorie intake into action consistently, monitoring what happens, and then, if needed… making the necessary adjustments.

I really couldn’t care less what method you use to get that initial estimate. Hell, I don’t even care about how accurate that estimate ends up being. It barely matters at all.

All that truly matters is that you END UP with the right calorie intake… not START OUT with it.

So if the estimated amount you got from your favorite calculator causes your body do exactly what it should be doing at the ideal (and realistic) rate it should be… then awesome! You’ve struct gold and found your ideal calorie intake on the very first try. Keep eating that amount of calories each day from this point on (or until an adjustment needs to be made).

But if the estimated amount you got fails to make your body do what you want it to do at the ideal (and realistic) rate it should be doing it… then relax. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a problem. It’s not something you should be angry or worried about.

It simply means that the estimated number the almighty calorie calculator gave you was off by a bit and needs to be adjusted.

So if you’re trying to put yourself into a caloric deficit to cause fat loss, and you ended up maintaining or even gaining weight over the next 2-4 weeks, you need to lower this calorie intake a little bit. A reduction of 250-500 calories is a good place to start.

If you’re trying to put yourself into a small caloric surplus for the purpose of building muscle (without gaining excess fat), and you ended up maintaining or even losing weight over the next 2-4 weeks, then you need to increase this calorie intake a little bit. Superior Muscle Growth contains my specific recommendations for exactly how to do this.

In either case, the next step is exactly the same as it was before. Monitor what your body does over the next few weeks when eating this amount of calories. Is it now doing what it should be doing at the rate it should be doing it? If so, cool… you’re good. If not, then do another round of adjusting and monitoring until it finally does.

Above all else, THIS is what matters most.

And honestly, whether you started this process off using the best or worst calculator or picked the wrong activity level or lied about your height and weight… it really doesn’t matter.

As long as you monitor progress and adjust when/if needed based on what actually happens in the real world, you’re always going to end up with the exact calorie intake you need.

52 thoughts on “Which BMR/TDEE Calculator Is Best For Calculating My Calorie Needs?

52 Comments

      • Hi
        Many thanks that I stumbled across this wonderful site. I was sick of listening to all the conflicting bullshit out there. Since I started weight training I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t losing weight. After a bit of tweaking since discovering this website I went for 16/8 method as I feel better for skipping breakfast than eating through the day. I don’t count calories but made a few tactical changes to what I was eating to lower the calories and invested in some whey protein. What a difference. Since I weighed myself on January 2nd I was 15st 3, at my last weigh in last week I was 14st 9. I’ve just gone a new hole in my belt size about an inch. I’m delighted with the progress, the bulk muscle I gained before is starting to to rip on the cut. Still got a about 1 and half stone to go to my goal. I’m mixing up my workouts with strength and size rep ranges. I’m 42 years old and getting into the best shape of my life.
        Many Thanks for your honest advice

  1. Why do I get so excited every time there’s a new blog post?? Because you make so much sense! Thanks for another great article.

  2. It probably ignores the point of your post to ask this, but i always get a little stumped with the calculators (like the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation form you linked to / created) when they ask about your activity level. If we follow one of your workout routines and, for example, have 4 weightlifting sessions at 45-60 minutes per session but we sit at a desk job the rest of the day, is that Moderate activity? Or should we just pick Sedentary and then adjust for the workouts afterwards? As you say, once you pick a number and then start making adjustments based on your experience, it probably doesn’t matter, but i’d love to start out with a more accurate number.

  3. Hi, Thanks for article; other things I think worth noting:

    1- Your metabolic rate will not be same all the time, it changes due to your genetics, body state, internal and environmental factors. even ambient temperature has significant influence on your metabolic rate.

    2- You should definitely track your calorie and nutrition INTAKE, but even basic single-ingredient natural foods(e.g. fruits) around the world won’t have exactly same composition specified in US NDB. even fruits within single tree have difference in chemical composition (as almost all of our foods are body of another living and just like us their body composition varies because of internal and external factors); also how much of each nutrient needed, will be absorbed and goes through various biological pathways varies among people and depends on exact body state.

    You should definitely calculate and track your input, output and body, but don’t be too paranoid.

    • Be as consistent as realistically possible with your intake/output, track progress and adjust when/if needed. That pretty much cancels out any potential problems that may arise with accuracy.

  4. Jay, thanks to your simple and to the point articles on fat loss, being that one has to create a caloric deficit in order to lose fat. I am finally seeing the results I want and LOVIN’ IT!!! I had gained so much fat going on a bulk, and keep on eating like I was on a bulk for a total of 5 months. I gained a lot of body fat around my abs, hips and buttocks (it’s a woman thang…) and realized I was taking in more calories then I was burning, even thought I was lifting 5 times a week and doing HIIT 2-3 per week. Still, my caloric intake was too high, so I dropped my calories by about 500 calories per day and whadda ya know?? Off comes the body fat!! I can see my abs again and I look GREAT!! I have 10 more pounds to go but, I’m on my way! Thanks, Jay for keepin’ it real, Baby!!

  5. Yep, another clear article – always straight to the point and easy to understand. I value your articles so much Jay.
    Thanks again!

  6. I was just finishing up the last chapter of “Superior Muscle Growth” and was saying to myself “great I have an awesome bulk program now, wouldn’t it be great if he wrote a cutting book called “Superior Fat Loss”.

    Then a few seconds later I kept flipping and found the secret chapter and what do you know.

    He read my mind.

  7. I will probably answer my own question, but after doing pull-ups is it necessary to do warm-ups leading to the overhead shoulder press? I mean they do play a part in pull-ups. I try to progress on my shoulders, however it seems that when I do lead ups to my necessary weight my shoulders are dog ass tired and can’t get the desired reps. Does that make sense?

    • Yes I am replying to my own comment, but I think I need to be more clear with my question.

      I am currently doing the 3 day – upper/lower split routine outlined on your site. Upper body workout B starts off with wide grip pull-ups then goes to overhead shoulder press, which I do warm-up sets for both. The question is, are they (warm up sets) really necessary before the overhead press since you incorporate shoulders with pull-ups?

    • Yes, you should do some degree of warm-up sets for overhead pressing. And if you’re significantly fatigued from those warm-up sets, you’re most likely overdoing it or just not doing it properly.

  8. Just discovered your articles about a week ago. That’s when I decided to make a life change. Not a diet but a whole new way of eating for life, right now I am doing a calorie deficit to lose fat… the scale said 200 my heaviest when I decided to drop all these diets and change. Only eating fresh foods and maticulously counting calories now. And of everything out there on the Web your information has been the most straight forward and helpful. I still am confused about what percent of what I am suppose to eat (fat, sugar, protein) but right now I figure eating fresh healthy food is good enough for now and I will figure it out as I go.

  9. What are your thoughts on which activity level to choose? I am not working out regularly right now (baby steps!) but I do have a 5 year old and 2 year old at home. I work a desk job though so I am sitting most of the day. Do I choose “No activity” or “Light Activity”?

    • The answer provided in this article would apply exactly the same to your question of which activity level to choose. Just take your best guess and adjust as needed based on what happens in the real world.

  10. Just wanted to thank you for the articles. Haven’t read them all yet, but you can be sure I will. I’ve got about 115 pounds to shed (and hopefully this time keep off). In the past I’ve dropped 50 just “working out”, then 85 following the TNT plan (which worked great, but was unsustainable as my spouse was not at all on board with “eating like that” as she put it – 2 separate meals for us along with the time I spent in my home gym in the basement – instead of with her in front of the TV – made my home life hell).
    Of course, both times the weight came back, and then some – currently topping out at 302 lbs.
    My Dr. (a wise man, apparently) has been telling me “calories in vs calories out” for years, but I HATE the whole calorie counting tedium. Your articles ring true, however, and I need to suck it up and get back to work. Getting old sucks, but getting old and fat sucks SO much more. No excuses, it’s all mine.
    Thanks for the inspiration and the no-nonsense information.

  11. Okay, so I’m so sorry if I have missed this in your blogs.

    First of all, the articles you post are amazing. I’m a Personal trainer myself and wanting to carry on increasing my knowledge no other articles have done it like yours. So seriously, thank you!

    Secondly, my apologies if I’ve missed it but my weak point is nutrition.

    From what Ive read, I was exactly like you… A super skinny ectomorph and new my fair bit of nutrition but not into the detail of a calorie deficit. Anyway, like you I ate loads and put shit load of fat on.

    Right now, I’m slowly managing to cut it off but for the next bulk I’m going to do it from what you say but… Here’s the biggie:

    Because I’m so skinny, because my genetics make it hard for me to put on fat, because I have a high metabolism. How much many more calories do I need to have over my calorie deficit?

    I’ve bookmarked I few of the calc’s you’ve suggested but I just wanted to find out from messaging you. If you could possibly message me back with a reply or link me forward I’d be so grateful.

    Thanks a lot

  12. As a beginner I’m aware that building muscle and losing fat is, to some degree, possible. Now if I wish to take advantage of this, how do I adjust my calorie needs? Deficit to TDEE loses weight and surplus adds, but what about if I’m trying to do both. Do I just start with my TDEE unadjusted and see what happens? I know that the benefit won’t last forever so getting it as close as possible from the start would obviously be the best thing to shoot for.

  13. Hello Jay,

    I’m having a lot of trouble to adjust the estimation. I was cutting for several months after an injury and now I don’t know my mantinence weight. Now I want to bulk.

    I started with an estimation of 2800kcal, but in one week I went from 139 pounds to 140.6549, so I got scared and went to 2500kcal. After a week I weighted139.7731, so I added 150kcal, up to 2650, and after a week I weighted even less, 139.3321lbs. Then I mantained and this week I weight 141.3.

    To sum up, the scale is giving me random numbers and I have no idea if my caloric intake is good or bad. It depends a lot of what I ate the day before I think.but I certainly can’t expect to weight diferences of 0.5 lbs per week. In the gym I’m making progress but I think I could build faster. in the mirror, I look as lean as when I started bulking (~11% bodyfat).

    Do you have any tips for me?

    • Your problem is that you’re making adjustments based on what your weight does in a single week. You should wait 2-4 weeks before adjusting anything otherwise you’re just going to end up making change based on normal short term fluctuations in body weight (which is what you’re doing).

      • I quite solved that by weighting me more often.
        Now I realized I have a problem with my calorie intake needs. My calories out vary in a significant way from week to week, because I have a phisically demanding job and I don’t work the same number of days each week. There’s weeks I barely work and I gain weight (good) but some weeks I work a lot lose weight and I do no progress (eating the same amount of calories each week). How would you solve that?

  14. Hey Jay,

    I read your article on cheat meals and wanted to know your thoughts on refeeds. If in a caloric deficit, is it necessary to refeed every couple days or once a week to get glycogen back up? I mean, do you use refeeds? By refeed I mean that a person would increase carbohydrate and calories to some level (either at maintenance or above) to restock glycogen.

    And if you do suggest a refeed, then by how much should a person increase carbs and calories?

    Thanks!
    Matthew

  15. This info is straigh forward and makes a lot of sense. Love your blog, thanks for all the accurate info without needing to have written-in-stone-rules for everyone 🙂

  16. I feel so stupid saying this but your article brought tears to my eyes. I’ve spent TWO weeks trying to figure out where I should start. Stalling, procrastinating, not sure if THIS time around will be the last round of unsuccessful weight loss. This time will be different because this time I’m making it for me, based on my history and my own patterns..not following a “Don’t eat any…” or Only juice diets. My take away…plug in the numbers, take a deep breath and start.

    Thank you. See you on the lean side.

  17. So, out of curiosity, how inaccurate can BMR/TDEE calculations actually be? And, is there a way I can get some more accurate reading for mine than an equation could give me? Like asking my doctor? I’m asking for the following reason: I’ve begun to suspect I have an unusually slow metabolism.

    I know, everyone says this, which is what I thought at first. I told myself, “you’re a nerd, sure you walk everywhere because you don’t have a car, but you spend your free time doing nothing but watching Star Wars, reading comics and playing video games.” I was a little overweight in college for a while and then decided to drop weight and did so through sheer caloric deficit, but I was eating (and I am not exaggerating, I was counting calories) about 750-900 calories a day. But I didn’t FEEL bad. Sure, I was hungry sometimes, but I never felt light-headed or weak, still walked everywhere, did my usual physical activities (I was in a dance group and had a retail job) and continued making the same high grades I always had in my classes. I ate a balanced diet and other than occasional hunger felt no ill effects of what should have been an insanely low calorie intake.

    So, after being this sort of average weight (I gained back to my high school average after being super thin for a while due to moving back home and, frankly, over-eating) for a few years I’ve decided to lose weight again, but I wanted to build muscle also because I hated how weak and small I felt when I was thin (unusual for a woman, I know but, to use a Star Wars reference, I’d rather be Captain Phasma than Padme Amidala any day).

    And I thought, “this time I’m not going to just tank my calories as low as I can with no ill effects, that seems reckless, I’ll buy a Fitbit and see what it thinks I’m burning.” My Fitbit thinks I’m burning 2700 calories on workout days and 2350 or so on normal days. Now for the kicker, I have cut calories from my norm, but I went back and started calculating what I used to eat, which was about 1400-1700 calories.

    So, I went down to eating about 1000-1100 (1300 on workout days) now and am losing weight. I’m mainly concerned because soon my fat burning stage will be over and I will move onto what I really care about, which is trying to gain muscle, and I’m just wondering if there is ANY way to find out how much I need to be eating besides random trial and error, since my starting point as given by my Fitbit (and other equations give me similar estimations) seems so wrong given what I know.

    Should I start with my old maintenance calories of about 1400-1700 and add to that? I think I’d actually have a hard time eating much more than that, so I’m worried if I have to do so. Protein makes me feel really full, and eating protein throughout the day (I naturally eat on a fasting cycle, have since I was 12, never even knew there was a name for it until about a month ago), makes me feel sleepy and sluggish, particularly more than about 200 calories at a time.

    Also, I am pretty sure I am not underestimating my calories, I eat very little, so it’s easy to track, and if anything I tend to err on the side of overestimation when I make recipes that incorporate a lot of ingredients, just in case.

  18. Hi. Can I get stronger with eating only maintenance calories?

    At the moment, I don’t want to lose yet because I’m still trying to get stronger (not wanting to gain any more weight either though). Also since it’s only November, I don’t want to start a cutting phase that I will be on through summer. I’m sure I’ll get lean but I want to gain as much strength as possible before I start this.

    Thanks for your help!

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