How Accurate Are Online Calorie Calculators

How accurate are online BMR or TDEE calculators? Let’s find out.

Last updated on October 23rd, 2020 at 09:07 pm


I have been noticing this widely used fitness trend to calculate the BMR or TDEE before going on a fat loss or bulking diet. To my surprise, many fitness trainers are also using the same basic calculators to predict the daily calorie expenditure of the clients. 

How accurate are BMR or TDEE calculators?

Frankly speaking, a good trainer would never totally rely on these online calculators to predict the caloric expenditure. 

All the online calculators are using very basic details to predict the person’s daily BMR or TDEE, which makes them very insufficient to determine the caloric needs. Here are some of the other factors that play an important role in your calorie-burning which these online calorie trackers are completely ignoring: 

  • Lean body mass and Fat %: Per pound of muscle mass burns 3 times more calories than per pound of fat. So how much calories you burn throughout the day majorly depends on the actual muscle mass.  
  • Diet composition: What kind of food you consume through the day determines the calorie burning too. Complex to digest food items definitely requires more energy to be broken down. 
  • Genetics: Everyone has his different ability to burn calories at different rates. That’s the reason some people gain weight even after not eating a lot of food. Fixing the metabolic rate can certainly help. 
  • Hormonal balance: There are a number of hormones that have a direct impact on your body’s ability to produce energy and burn down calories. 
  • Temperature: Your body burns calories differently at different temperatures. 
  • Medication: your current health status and medication you are taking can conflict with the body’s tendency to produce maximum energy. 

So now we know that those online calorie calculators are not the best options to predict the daily caloric expenditure. In the later part of this article, we are going to discuss some practical tips to find your accurate caloric requirements. 

I had a client of mine who weighed 265 lbs with a height of 6”3’. An online BMR calculator suggested the BMR of  2480 CALORIES/DAY. This guy has an actual calorie requirement of 1900 because of the high-fat percentage, low muscle mass, and low activity levels.

Do we totally oppose the online BMR calculator? 

Sometimes I do suggest the use of these calorie estimators. It actually helps in determining the starting position. 
Once you get an estimate of daily calorie requirements based on your age, higher and weight, you get the starting point of your fitness journey. 
Create a diet plan to stay within the estimated calorie range. Follow that diet plan for a week and see what happens. 
If you lose weight too fast then you need to increase your calories a little bit, if you are seeing no difference then you need to lower it down by at least 200-300 calories. 

Practical tips to lose fat faster: 

Follow the simple math:

  • You eat more calories then you burn = you gain weight
  • You eat fewer calories than you daily quota = You lose weight

Step 1: Track your daily calorie intake

Just to get the baseline information of your daily caloric consumption you need to start tracking your daily caloric intake. 

You can use many apps that can make you aware of the caloric content of any food items. Calculate the number of calories you are consuming on a daily basis. 

Step 2: Track your daily activity levels

Calculating the basal metabolic rate (BMR) is usually useless. Why ? because BMR is a minimum number of calories required for basic functions at rest. BMR totally skip the calories burned through different activities like cooking, walking, playing, etc. 

Tracking down the daily activity levels can help you track your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). Tracking the steps (with fitness tracker) is an easy and efficient way to keep an eye on activity level. 

Step 3: Clean up your diet

Once you recognize the number of calories you are eating on a daily basis and the volume of your activity, its time to clean up all the junk from the diet. 

Cleaning up the diet is a great way to initiate a fitness journey, many people lose a few initial pounds just by eliminating junk food from their plate. 

Step 4: Optimize the macro ratio

Counting calories are not enough, you need to achieve the acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDR). Sometimes an imbalance in the macro ratio is a real reason behind not experiencing positive changes in the body. 

Just because you have estimated your caloric requirement you cant fulfill your caloric needs with the crappy fast food and beer. Counting calories is just the first step to your fitness journey, the next thing you need to specify is the distribution of macros. 

  • What is the best macro ratio for fat loss? Even while following a fat loss diet its essential to pay emphasis on consumption of healthy fats. Try this range of macro ratio for weight loss: 20% carbs, 50% protein, 30% fat. 
  • What is the best macro ratio for mass? Training for mass will require you to maintain maximum muscle glycogen. A typical macro breakdown muscle gain is 40 percent protein, 25 percent fat, and 35 percent carbs. To pack on muscle mass you will require to eat more calories than you burn. 

Step 5: Start to notice changes

So now you have tracked your daily calorie consumption, fixed your diet, optimized your macro-nutrients; now its time to evaluate the results and make changes to strategies according to the results. 

  • Gaining weight? 
  • Losing weight?
  • Gaining strength?

Now you got all the data to play with. Don’t trust any calorie calculator, this is the data you need to predict your exact calorie requirement. 

Now as per your goals, you can start to play with results. But how? 

  • If you are NOT experiencing the fat loss then its time to bring down 300 some calories. 
  • As you lose weight, your daily caloric requirement goes down as well, so you stop to lose weight after dropping a few pounds. 
  • Upgrade 1: Introduce yourself with 20 min of additional cardio sessions while continuing to strength training.
  • Upgrade 2 (after 4 weeks of upgrade 1): Introduce yourself with HIIT and increase the number of step counts on a daily basis. Strength train 3 days a week and do HIIT training in the other 3-days. 
  • Upgrade 3 (After 4 weeks of upgrade 2): Introduce yourself with good fat burner supplements to boost up metabolism. A good fat burner should be able to boost up your metabolism by 200-400 calories. I personally love the results of Vintage Burn by OldSchoolLabs.
  • Upgrade 4 (After 4 weeks of upgrade 3): Bring your calories further down by 200 calories (by cutting down food) while still being regular with the cardio and strength training. 

Important note: don’t forget to refeed your body on a regular basis, just to prevent your body from getting adapt to a low-calorie diet. Within a matter of 16-20 weeks, you will be able to reduce a good amount of body weight. 

What did we learned from the above process? We are trying to ditch the plateau by constantly introducing calorie deficit after every 3-4 weeks.

Best way to track daily calorie burning? 

For me, famous fitness trackers are the best way to make close prediction about the daily calorie burning. 

The reason is, these trackers are not totally based on basic BMR formulas, these trackers helps in tracking the activity level, blood pressure, and other factors to deliver close to reality calorie burning. 

All fitness trackers are not able to provide accurate details but they are still a lot better than online calculators. In my personal experience, fitness trackers were efficient enough to track the calorie-burned while doing daily chaos. 

Is Calorie counting the best way to lose weight?

Without counting calories, you will not be able to keep track of progress. 

If you don’t track how much you eat, how would you track the reason behind not being able to bring down the weight? 

A regular workout doesn’t give you a license to eat any amount of food; You will gain weight if you eat more calories than required, even if you train daily and eat clean food. 

Are treadmills accurate for calories burned?

No, most of the treadmills are providing just an estimate. How to deal with this problem? 

Treadmills might not give you accurate information about calorie burning but it is surely providing an rough estimate. Use those estimates to track the progress. If you are burning 200 calories on treadmill, you should be targeting to burn 300. 

Using different treadmills can surely mess with your calorie counting since they might have different algorithms to calculate calorie burning. Solution? If you have a home treadmill then you have nothing to worry about variation in stats but if you are training at the commercial gym then its recommended to use the same models.   

Additionally, burning 200 calories on the treadmill is not the same as burning 200 on elliptical, since both the machines are going to calculate the calorie burning in different ways. 

Thanks for reading. Questions are welcomed in the comments as always. 

This site contains affiliate links as well as general health and fitness information. Please read my Medical Disclaimer and Writing Disclaimer for more information.   

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top