The TDEE calculator (ETP calculator) is an important part of our site and when you put it together with Met Flex for Fat Loss you have a pretty good understanding of how to move forward. The goal however isn’t for you to track calories for the rest of your life it’s just to get you in the ballpark of understanding as it relates to your athletic nutritional requirements. Also whatever the reading is that doesn’t mean you have to hit that number every day. You can and probably should look for more of an average or intuitive way of eating.
There’s been some confusion on the Facebook page regarding the TDEE Calculator, so I wanted to write this article to clear things up. First of all, let’s clarify what the calculator does and doesn’t do.
What it does do is give you an estimate of what your overall calories are supposed to look like.
What it doesn’t do is spit out a meal plan or a precise ratio of macronutrients; that is left up to the user.
The underlying theme of practically everything we write here is that people need to take the reins and manage their health/nutrition themselves. It will save you money and teach you a valuable lesson that you can apply to any area of your life. If you eat whole foods and listen to your body, it’s really not that complicated.
Second, many athletic folks are shocked the first time they run things through the calculator. The number seems too high. “How could this be optimal if I want to stay lean?” Coming from a background of calorie restriction and crash dieting, I’ll admit that it doesn’t make sense at first, but this is not an arbitrary suggestion. The primary reason we’re telling you to eat closer to the TDEE calculation is because if you’re properly fed, you will have the energy (and hormones) to crush your workouts and that will create a greater energy debt.
We’re not talking about working out excessively to “burn calories” though. When you under eat, your body holds onto fat and your work capacity decreases as a measure of protection. This slows your metabolism down and stresses you out. Eating more + moving more = better body composition and health.
Of course, there is a process of “dialing it in” that needs to happen. Some people misunderstand that I’m suggesting they count calories. I’ve said at least a dozen times that I personally do not count (nor does James), and I don’t necessarily want you to either. All I’m suggesting is that you spend a few days counting calories and getting a handle on what it looks like to eat as much as you need to. Once you know what “eating enough” looks and feels like, you never have to count a calorie again. I want you develop intuitive eating patterns instead of relying upon the TDEE calculator to “hold your hand”. This is what I did to get out of the dieting cycle, and it changed my life forever.
Can you use this approach doing Paleo or The Zone? Absolutely! You can also use it with a more flexible approach. I often describe the way I eat as “80% whole foods and 20% eating for joy.” I believe that this strategy is viable for practically anyone, but it’s especially useful for athletes who want to spend more time eating and training, and less time worrying about their nutrition.
With that said, I hope I’ve better explained what to do with this puppy. To boot, here’s a primer on using the TDEE calculator and a description of its functions. The “height”, “weight” and “age” fields are fairly self-explanatory; I can’t help you if you don’t know how old you are, how much you weigh or how tall you measure.
This is the money spot right here. If you work out, “Moderately Active” probably represents the activity level of a guy/gal who trains 2-3 times a week and works a relatively inactive job. “Very Active” people CF 4-5 times a week. “Extra Active” correlates with someone who exercises with intensity and works a pretty active job, or does two-a-days in the gym.
The next two fields, “gender” and “units” are also self-explanatory; you’re either a male or female. If you live in the United States, select “Imperial”. If you measure in grams, liters and meters, you will want to switch to “Metric”.
There are two options here:
1) TDEE (total daily energy expenditure)
2) -10% TDEE
The -10% option is for the people that don’t feel like jumping in head-first, for whatever reason. There is a bit of a “fudge factor” if you suspect you’ve got a damaged metabolism and you’re trying to work back to a healthy version of yourself. While you could slowly increase your calories what we have seen is that is person dependent in the Science Lab we walk people through this process. All I can say is you probably don’t want to just dive right in. We walk through this process in our book “Your Diet Sucks”.
This provides you with two settings: “1 gram per lb.” and “LBM”. LBM, or “Lean Body Mass, is based off of the body fat % that you input in the next field. If you don’t know your body fat %, either select the first option or make a guess; you don’t need to be 100% accurate. Also, remember that these numbers are just a guide. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat more than 1 gram of protein per lb., but since most people (especially women) aren’t getting enough protein I think this information is enlightening.
We recently changed the recommendation on the TDEE calculator to solve for fats, this is the message that is actually on the page of the calculator.
Note that many people adjust the carbs lower and end up getting a higher fat number. This is a mistake. Try solving for “carbs” using the paramaters below (also note that adjusting protein higher is typically favorable and will keep your carbs at a reasonable level, this is a guide not a rule):
- Women 50g-75g of fat (I would probably default to 75g in most instances)
- Men 100g-125g of fat (I would default to the lower number in most instances)
The simple fact is that if you want to kick-start your metbaolism; carbs and protein are better for doing that but you want to try and play with things a bit. You are in charge, not a calculator on the internet. The goal is adequate protein (at least 1g/lb. of LBM), enough fat (see above), and moderate carbs (see below).
The calculator can also solve for carbs based upon how much fat you’re going to eat. Leave the “carbs” field empty and use the “fats” drop-down to select a hypothetical amount of fat.
On a rest day, you may wish to eat more fat. You would select (for example) 150g in the “fats” drop-down, and the calculator would spit out your TDEE calculation along with a suggested amount of carbs.
A lot of people want us to come up with a definitive meal plan that they can follow; we don’t offer one right now, and we probably never will. Your nutritional requirements cannot be estimated with 100% accuracy by a calculator online; you’re going to have to take this guesswork, put it into practice, and adjust from there. The goal here is to teach you to fish, so to speak. Like a barbell, this calculator is a tool to allow you to reach your goals, but it doesn’t really do any work for you. I hope this helps!
This gives you a drop-down menu where you choose your “theoretical” carb intake for a day. That number combined with your protein number allows the calculator to come up with a suggestion for how many grams of fat (not carbs) you need to eat to reach your TDEE goal. Knowing how many carbs you need can be confusing at first, so we suggest that you shoot for values in this range:
- Men should go for between 200-300g most days
- Women should go for between 150-200g most days
See this article on Control Days to get an idea of how to lower your carbohydrate and calories on rest days to accelerate fat loss.