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Skeptical of TDEE calculators.


Antimony

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When I wasn't exercising, the TDEE I got from these calculators on the sedentary setting seemed to be more or less on the nose. When I ate 1400 calories, I didn't gain or lose weight. Now that I've started working out regularly I want to know how many calories I need now, since obviously 1400 will not be enough anymore. I'm working out with moderate intensity 3 days a week, and these calculators are all giving me 1600 calories. I'm a very small person, I doubt I'm burning 200 calories in a single workout, and I think it's ridiculous that I'd burn any extra calories on the 4 days a week I'm not working out. Is there some sort of residual calorie burn going on that I don't know about, or are these calculators just plain inaccurate for active people?

 

I know I need to eat more to gain muscle, I'd just really like to have an accurate baseline so I know if I'm actually in a deficit or surplus, and how big it is.

 

Thank you!

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10 hours ago, Zorch said:

I'm going to quote myself from another thread, because it's highly relevant to this topic:

 

 

The TDEE calculators are just a point to start.  Even if they're off, if you're smart with how you use your data, you can correct for them and get to where you need to be.

 

If you track your weight over time, +/- 1 lb per week is a surplus/deficit of 3500 calories per week, or 500 per day.  This means that regardless of whether your TDEE calculator is correct. if you're smart about how you use data(I found the most straightforward way was to weigh first thing in the morning every day, and then take the average of my last 7 days to take the noise out of the system), you can use longer-term trends to figure out what your real TDEE is, assuming you're tracking your intake.  Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks to begin getting a good estimate of this - be patient, and look at the longer-term trend rather than the small day-to-day variations.

 

If you're willing to simply use the calculated TDEE as a starting point and adjust your numbers based on data you collect over time, you should be fine - it'll take at least a few weeks to get dialed in.  It's not perfect, but it's as good a point as any to start from - but to be successful you're going to have to be willing to use data to refine your own understanding of what is actually an appropriate caloric intake for you.

 

 

 

Good idea, thanks! I sort of used that proccess to figure out my sedentary TDEE, I'm just at a loss as to where the extra 200 calories every day comes from if I'm only burning maybe 100 3 days a week.

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Why don't you think you would burn 200 calories during exercise? Not sure what your workout is but strength stuff burns a bunch of calories. Not just for the time you are doing the workout sets, but the rest time in between sets you are burning calories too. Since you are looking to build muscle, I would count it as the 200 calories, then weigh and measure yourself after a week and see what your measurements say, and then you can tweak your calories depending on those results.

 

I used to way undercount calories from exercising, now I use Myfitness pal, I plug in the total time I spent on exercising in the cardio section under vigorous effort and use that for calories burned.

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7 hours ago, Elastigirl said:

Why don't you think you would burn 200 calories during exercise? Not sure what your workout is but strength stuff burns a bunch of calories. Not just for the time you are doing the workout sets, but the rest time in between sets you are burning calories too. Since you are looking to build muscle, I would count it as the 200 calories, then weigh and measure yourself after a week and see what your measurements say, and then you can tweak your calories depending on those results.

 

I used to way undercount calories from exercising, now I use Myfitness pal, I plug in the total time I spent on exercising in the cardio section under vigorous effort and use that for calories burned.

 

I'm a short, underweight woman, and while I'm definitely challenging myself during workouts, I'm not soaked with sweat or completely burnt out at the end of my workouts. I know MFP (and cardio machines themselves) WAY overestimate calories burned, and I've read that the average 30-minute weight session burns 90 calories for a 125 lb person, which is 30 lbs heavier than me. I just don't see how someone of my size could burn 200 calories with a little bit of cardio to warm up/cool down and relatively tame weight sessions. 

 

Even assuming if I'm burning 200 during my workouts, that's only 3 days a week. Do I really need those extra calories the 4 days I'm sitting on my ass? I guess I'll answer my own questions with a few weeks of experimenting, I'm really just curious about the logic/science behind these calculations since I really just don't see where it's coming from.

 

Thank you for your input though!

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1 hour ago, Antimony said:

 

I'm a short, underweight woman, and while I'm definitely challenging myself during workouts, I'm not soaked with sweat or completely burnt out at the end of my workouts. I know MFP (and cardio machines themselves) WAY overestimate calories burned, and I've read that the average 30-minute weight session burns 90 calories for a 125 lb person, which is 30 lbs heavier than me. I just don't see how someone of my size could burn 200 calories with a little bit of cardio to warm up/cool down and relatively tame weight sessions. 

 

Even assuming if I'm burning 200 during my workouts, that's only 3 days a week. Do I really need those extra calories the 4 days I'm sitting on my ass? I guess I'll answer my own questions with a few weeks of experimenting, I'm really just curious about the logic/science behind these calculations since I really just don't see where it's coming from.

 

Thank you for your input though!

 

Actually those calculations are averaging your TDEE over the course of the week, so that you would be losing weight in workout days but gain it back on non-work out days. In other words your calorie expenditure and consumption wont match up on any given day of the week, but will line up for the week overall.

 

What that means is that they actually think you are burning (200x7)/3=466.6 calories per workout. There is a bit of residual burn from working out, but its not huge. It probably isn't enough to justify the 466 cal per workout number if you already don't think you are burning 200 per workout. The words these calculators have for workout intensity are inexact and there are relativly few categories of intensity, so some inaccuracy is inevitable. 

 

You are probably best off doing what you have already said, experimenting for a few weeks to find the right number of calories a day. @Elastigirl mentioned MyFitnessPal above, which is a great tool for tracking workout calories and applying them only to workout days. Starting your experiments by maintaining your 1400 a day on non-workout days, and then adding whatever calories MyFitnessPal tells you you burned on workout days will probably help you find your TDEE with a minimum of experimentation. 

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2 hours ago, Antimony said:

 

What do you mean? I thought it was common knowledge that MFP overestimates calorie burn by like 50%.

 

Nope.

 

Enter a sustained calorie surplus with the specific goal of gaining weight.  You will find MFP's entries to be quite good (except for the silly underestimates like "strength training" or silly overestimates like "cleaning").

 

Virtually everyone using MFP is trying to lose weight.  Accuracy issues tend toward underestimating food intake (main culprit = not counting everything), fudging your exercise cals low counteracts this problem.

 

Everything is reversed when trying to gain.  You feel like you are eating too much (and/or are afraid of overgaining), which leads you to overestimate food.  Combine this with the losing weight herd's mentality regarding exercise, and it all of a sudden becomes very hard to gain weight in a sustained way.  I haven't been to the MB's there in a while, but exercise underestimation used to be the #1 cuplrit for "why can't I gain".  No lifting weights for an hour (for a 200 lb male) does not burn 100 calories.  It burns closer to 700 calories.

 

I figured out the exercise issue so to speak after I had been losing weight for about 3 months.  I hadn't missed any days counting, and I weighed daily, along with daily exercise.  But I followed the common knowledge that MFP dramatically overestimates exercise cals.  And I found I was losing weight much faster than I expected to be, a "problem" that was getting worse (indicating it was not a BMR issue, which should be expected to be relatively static).  Most people wouldn't consider this a problem, but I'm a very data driven individual, there had to be a why.  I figured out that the "problem" was scaling with my exercise, as I got fitter, exercising longer and with more intensity, the problem was getting worse.  I switched to using MFP's exercise entries at face value and results were brought exactly in-line with expectations.

 

Accuracy varies of course per activity, but you can count on steady state cardio like walking and running to be quite accurate.  Strength training is very intensity dependent, but the high effort calisthenics entry is pretty good for average strength training, with the low effort more suitable for warrmup type stuff.

 

If you are marathon training, you absolutely need to "eat your exercise cals back", especially since its no biggie to go out for a 1500 cal run (again, 200 lb male), failure to do so will kill your performance.  MFP's running #'s are very good.

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Listening to Waldo's advice was what helped me nail the calorie count for MFP. I was trying to maintain weight, but really undereating,  due to the fact that I always hear how much MFP underestimates calories. 

Wisdom 15.5   Dexterity 11   Charisma 12   Strength 14  Constitution-11

Elastigirl:Just Living Life , Part II - Current Challenge: February 14 to March 20 - Nerd Fitness Rebellion

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song, above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world" J.R.R.Tolkien

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5 minutes ago, Elastigirl said:

Listening to Waldo's advice was what helped me nail the calorie count for MFP. I was trying to maintain weight, but really undereating,  due to the fact that I always hear how much MFP underestimates calories. 

 

I'll try that for a month or two, maybe I'm underestimating how hard I'm working but I'm still a little wary of gaining too much fat since I'm still at ~22% despite being underweight.

 

Thank you to everyone who posted, all of your input is useful!

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Most people do underestimate how much they eat. They try to "eyeball" their food and almost always under guess. You may think you have been eating 1400 calories a day but it could be anywhere from 1400-1600 truly. So a TDEE estimate of 1600 might not be off the mark that much. 

 

Even if you weight and measure all of your food, it is hard to be precise. 

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19 minutes ago, fitjulia said:

Most people do underestimate how much they eat. They try to "eyeball" their food and almost always under guess. You may think you have been eating 1400 calories a day but it could be anywhere from 1400-1600 truly. So a TDEE estimate of 1600 might not be off the mark that much. 

 

Even if you weight and measure all of your food, it is hard to be precise. 

 

I don't eyeball. I weigh everything I eat, and since my diet is very high in fiber and protein I'm not absorbing all the calories I log (although that loss is negligible). My TDEE is obviously not exactly 1400 and varies day to day, but I really doubt I've ever eaten an extra 200 calories without at least acknowledging I screwed up somewhere.

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