Should I Use Active or Total Calories for Weight Loss?

Mariah Brown

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Mariah Brown

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Are you confused about whether to focus on active or total calories for weight loss? Well, you’re not alone. With so much information out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out the best approach to shed those extra pounds. But fear not! In this article, we will break down the differences between active and total calories and provide you with clarity on which one you should focus on to achieve your weight loss goals.

When it comes to weight loss, it’s essential to understand the role that calories play in your journey. Calories are the units of energy that our bodies need to function. Whether you’re running on a treadmill or resting on the couch, your body is constantly burning calories to carry out basic metabolic processes.

should i use active or total calories for weight loss

Now, let’s dive into the two types of calories – active and total – and understand how they impact weight loss.

The Difference Between Active and Total Calories

Active calories are the calories your body burns during physical activity. Whether you’re going for a run, attending a fitness class, or lifting weights, your active calories are the energy expended during these specific activities. Active calories contribute to your daily energy expenditure and can help you create a calorie deficit, which is necessary for weight loss.

Total calories, on the other hand, encompass both the active calories burned during physical activity and the calories burned at rest, also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR represents the energy your body needs to perform essential functions such as breathing, circulating blood, and regulating body temperature.

Calculating Active Calories

To calculate active calories, you can rely on a fitness tracker or wearable device that monitors your heart rate, steps, and overall activity level. These devices use algorithms to estimate the number of calories burned during activities based on your personal data. By tracking your active calories, you can get an idea of how many additional calories you burn during exercise.

Calculating Total Calories

Determining your total calorie burn involves a combination of factors, including your BMR and your activity level throughout the day. The Harris-Benedict equation is commonly used to estimate your daily calorie needs, taking into account your basal metabolic rate and activity level. By determining your total calorie burn, you can have a more comprehensive understanding of how your body utilizes energy.

Which Should You Focus on for Weight Loss?

When it comes to weight loss, the key factor to consider is the overall calorie balance. To shed pounds, you need to create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you burn. Both active and total calories play a role in achieving this deficit, but they serve different purposes.

If you’re specifically looking to monitor your progress during exercise and build an active lifestyle, focusing on active calories can be beneficial. It can help you gauge the intensity and effectiveness of your workouts. Tracking your active calorie burn can provide motivation and reinforcement, especially if you enjoy engaging in various physical activities.

On the other hand, total calories give you a broader perspective on your overall energy expenditure. By understanding your total calorie burn, which includes your BMR and active calories, you have a more accurate representation of your daily energy needs. This knowledge can help you plan your meals and create a sustainable calorie deficit that promotes consistent weight loss.


Q: Should I only focus on active calories if I want to lose weight?

A: While active calories are important for monitoring your progress during exercise, focusing solely on them may not provide a complete picture. To effectively lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, which involves considering your total calorie burn, including your BMR and active calories.

Q: Can tracking active calories help me stay motivated?

A: Absolutely! Tracking your active calories can provide tangible evidence of your efforts and progress during exercise. It can serve as a motivating factor and encourage you to keep pushing yourself during workouts.

Q: How can I determine my basal metabolic rate (BMR)?

A: There are several formulas available to estimate your BMR, such as the Harris-Benedict equation. These formulas take into account factors like your gender, age, weight, and height. You can also use BMR calculators available online to get an estimate.

Q: Should I create a calorie deficit solely through exercise or also focus on my diet?

A: While exercise can contribute to a calorie deficit, it’s important to remember that weight loss primarily depends on your overall energy balance. While physical activity burns calories, creating a sustainable calorie deficit typically involves a combination of exercise and a well-balanced, calorie-controlled diet.

Q: Can focusing on total calories help with long-term weight maintenance?

A: Absolutely! Monitoring your total calories helps you develop a better understanding of your energy needs. By focusing on long-term habits and creating a balanced calorie deficit, you can not only achieve your weight loss goals but also sustain your results in the long run.


When it comes to weight loss, the choice between active or total calories depends on your goals and preferences. While active calories are essential for tracking exercise progress, focusing on total calories gives you a comprehensive understanding of your overall energy expenditure.

Remember, weight loss is not a one-size-fits-all journey. It’s important to find an approach that works best for you and aligns with your lifestyle and preferences. By creating a sustainable calorie deficit and incorporating regular exercise into your routine, you can achieve your weight loss goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

For more valuable fitness and weight loss tips, be sure to check out our other articles. Happy calorie burning!

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