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Maintenance & Step Count  What is behind maintenance calories and working out your deficit?

Maintenance & Step Count What is behind maintenance calories and working out your deficit?

Maintenance & Step Count

What is behind maintenance calories and working out your deficit?

By Fiona Tanner // Follow on Instagram here // Find out more info on the Website here.

In order for to set your calories/macros so you loose weight or gain weight or stay the same I need to determine your maintenance calories.

We use your TDEE to work out your maintenance calories - the amount of calories you need to just keep as your are.. then we take away a % to put you in a calorie deficit (weight loss) or add a % to put you in a surplus when you want to build some size & make some gains! Or we keep you as is - maintenance!

What is that TDEE thing? Total Daily Energy Expenditure?

Have you heard of this before?

I am going to say this a few times and I've said it before…. No. Matter what “diet” you follow: keto, low carb , high carb, Intermittent Fasting if you loose weight - its because you are in a calorie deficit!

Calories in are food: Calories out is your TDEE

TDEE is made up of:

  • BMR
  • NEAT
  • EAT
  • TEF

 Lets discuss these in more detail.


Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) refers to the calories your body needs to stay alive (e.g.; to survive in a coma). Every process in our body costs us energy without even thinking about. You use around 70% of calories doing ‘nothing’

For example, our organs – particularly the brain and liver – require a large amount of energy to run. Your BMR is the most important in relation to TDEE. 

NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis) This refers to our incidental activity: the calories we burn each day outside of training e.g. walking, typing, fidgeting, standing. This is the most adaptive component of metabolism. NEAT is the most variable factor in relation to TDEE and easy to adjust. This is why we set a daily step target.

When you are in a surplus, your NEAT can increase significantly and when you are in a deficit it will decrease. Why? Less energy going in. Around 10% -15% of total calories.

Highly active people can burn up to 3 times more than sedentary

Daily Scheduled Activity or EA Exercise activity thermogenis This is the calories we burn during planned exercise. This will account for the lowest amount towards TDEE. Around 5% -10% of your daily calories is used here… not that much hey! So don’t kick yourself for missing a training session…get out and some steps in. I have already recommended this during COVID!


The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy required to extract energy, digest and process the food you eat. Around 10 % of your calories Our digestive system requires a large amount of energy to run. Remember, a diet higher in protein will lead to a higher calorie output. This is why protein is important to hit …as well as a few other reasons (build muscle,/maintain increased fullness)

*This will vary day to day marginally.

So why do I always suggest increasing “steps”? this is something you have control over. Right now with gyms closed “gym training” is limited and the thought in most of heads is - "I can only loose weight when back in the gym". I am a huge advocate for resistance training in changing body composition and muscular strength. However, weight loss can still happen with a calorie deficit - so ensuring you are burning more than you put in and we know from about that NEAT takes up around 10%- 15% % of your TDEE… so get moving!

Tracking your daily steps is a key fundamental to the success of this weight loss.

Track your steps with a watch, set your goal and aim to hit it every day or over a week. If you can’y get them in in a day - then do more the next. Use your weekly “allowance” rather than being per day..same as calories as I have mentioned before. Look at your calories over a week. If you are over on one day, reduce them the next. If you find you plateau again, then up the step count! You have adapted, so this is when you need to up the output, because let’s be honest no one wants to cut calories!

My aim as a rule of thumb is 10,000 steps. 8,000 - 10,000 if you are just starting out!

Whats some ways to increase NEAT?

  • Daily scheduled walks (habit!)
  • Park further away from shops
  • Take stairs verses lift or travelator
  • Working from home? Every 10 mins get 100 steps in - put a timer on
  • Get a stand up desk
  • Sweep & vacuum ( I can get 3000 steps in with cleaning our floors)
  • Have targets to reach by say 10am/12noon 3pm etc
  • Walk to shops/ bike rides

According to Dr James Levine, the Mayo Clinic researcher who first described the phenomenon of NEAT, it can vary by up to 2,000 calories a day between two people of the same size.

That means that just by moving around and being on your feet – like we humans were designed to be – you could burn an additional 2,000 calories without even trying. And 2,000 is a hefty number.

Once last factor we take into consideration is your Activity Level

All right, you’ve now established your TDEE. Now it’s time to figure out your maintenance calories. In order to do that, you take your TDEE and multiply by your activity level. This figure will range from 1.2 all the way up to 1.9.

I have used a few “Formulas” however, I find the Harris Benedict Formula the best….

Maintenance Calories * Activity Level


=447.593+(9.247*weight)+(3.098*heigh)-(4.33*age) * Activity Level


=88.362+(13.397 *weight)+(4.799 *height)-(5.677*age) * Activity Level

Activity Factor Guide:

  • 1.2 - Sedentary: You work a desk job and don’t exercise (probably not many of you).
  • 1.375 - Light activity: You work a desk job but do a bit of regular exercise. Or you do little exercise, but you work a job that’s pretty active (i.e. a nurse, teacher, etc.) where you’re on your feet most of the day. Most of you reading train hard and are decently active.
  • 1.55 - Moderate Activity: Most of you will probably fall in this category. Maybe you work a sedentary job but train like a madman. Or maybe you train moderately but also have a job where you stand on your feet all the time. Someone who doesn’t train but works a hard labor job would fall into this category as well.
  • 1.725 - Very Active: You train most days of the week really hard and you also work a job where you’re on your feet quite a bit. Overall, you’re active throughout most of the day.
  • 1.9 - Extra Active: You train hard and work a job that’s also intense in nature. As an example, maybe you’re a roofer, but you also go to the gym five days a week

Use Step Count if you are unsure of Activity

  • <5000 steps/day may be used as a ‘sedentary lifestyle index’
  • 5000-7499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered ‘low active’
  • 7500-9999 likely includes some volitional activities (and/or elevated occupational activity demands) and might be considered ‘somewhat active’
  • or=10000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as ‘active’. Individuals who take >12500 steps/ day are likely to be classified as ‘highly active’

Example (me)

Fiona, age 42, height 169cm, weight 64kg & activity 1.55

1,390 * 1.55 = 2155 as my maintenance calories. This is for me to keep as I am in regards to bodyweight.

What's your biggest take away from this?

If you read it here, you can listen here!

Maintenance & Step Count  What is behind maintenance calories and working out your deficit? 



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