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Understanding Basal Metabolic Rate: How to Use it to Lose Weight

Basal Metabolic Rate. You may not have heard of it. But if you want to lose weight, you need to know your BMR.

To reduce weight, many factors need to be considered, like how to preserve muscle mass while losing body fat, how much to eat, which activities burn more calories, and how to maintain your healthy weight once achieved.

You burn most of your daily calories with zero effort, movement, or even thinking. Whether you’re sleeping, talking on the phone, working on a keyboard, or simply watching tv, your body is burning calories to keep your organs functioning such as your heart pumping and your lungs breathing.

But what does that have to do with weight loss?

What exactly is Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)?

BMR reflects the calories consumed to perform basic body functions. It is the body’s energy expenditure during complete mental, physical, and digestive rest1. The calories used to maintain these basic functions is your BMR.

BMR is one of many factors in the total number of calories you burn in a given day, which is also known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). It accounts for roughly 65% to 70% of your TDEE2.

What does BMR have to do with weight loss?

While you’re sleeping, talking on the phone, working at a keyboard, or simply watching TV, your body is constantly burning calories to keep your organs functioning, your heart pumping and your lungs breathing. You actually burn most of your daily calories with zero effort or movement.

Your metabolic rate is the total amount of energy used by your body in a particular time interval. The Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is defined as the number of calories you burn every day. TDEE is determined by genetics, gender, age, body size, lean body mass, and hormones.

BMR accounts for 65% to 70% of your TDEE3. TDEE is directly correlated with weight loss as this determines your body’s expenditure of calories with daily activities.

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Why do we need to understand Basal Metabolic Rate?

Knowing your BMR is important to achieving your target weight. BMR is the minimum baseline calories consumed. You then add in calories used during workouts and other activities to your BMR to calculate the calories you burn daily.

People use important metrics such as BMR to figure out how many calories they burn per day regardless of what to do. By knowing this number, you can then factor in your workouts or activity and figure out how many calories you need per day.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) vs Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is often and erroneously used interchangeably with Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Both these numbers measure how much energy our body uses. Both the terms sound similar too. So, what is the difference between BMR and RMR?

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BMR is the absolute minimum metabolic rate. It is determined in laboratory settings. Measurements are taken in a darkened, temperature-controlled room immediately after 8 hours of sleep and 12 hours of fasting and reclining4.

RMR is determined while awake, at rest, and sitting still. It is measured either sitting or in a sleeping position, after a minimum of 15 minutes of rest. There is no need to spend the night in a testing facility.

As BMR is measured under stringent conditions, it possesses greater accuracy than RMR. However, RMR is commonly used because it is more convenient to measure.

To lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit, defined as consuming fewer calories than you burn for energy. BMR (or RMR) helps to determine your total daily energy expenditure for calculating a suitable diet.

Knowing your BMR and RMR can help you better determine your total daily energy expenditure in order to create a caloric deficit, defined as consuming fewer calories each day than you burn for energy.

Calculating your BMR for Weight Loss

Most people do not have access to state-of-the-art labs that are required to determine BMR, thus, equations are often used to make approximations. The easiest way to measure your metabolic rate is to use an online calculator.

While there are varying equations online, the most commonly used metabolic equation is called the Harris-Benedict equation.

The revised Harris-Benedict equation for BMR is5:

Men (88.40 + 13.40 x weight in kg) + (4.80 x height in cm) – (5.68 x age in years)

For example, if a man is 81kg, 180cm, and 43 years old, his RMR is 1,804 calories.

Women (447.60 + 9.25 x weight in kg) + (3.10 x height in cm) – (4.33 x age)

For example, if a female is 59kg, 160cm, and 36 years old, her RMR is 1,333 calories.

How to increase Metabolic Rate?

There has been a lot of hype around “speeding up” or increasing your metabolic rate, but the truth is that there is actually nothing much you can do about your metabolic rate.

While there are certain foods – like chili, coffee, and other spices that have shown to speed the basal metabolic rate up just a little, the change is so negligible and short-lived, that it would never have an impact on your waistline. However, there are some things that could not only be helpful but also work to increase your TDEE.

Building Muscles

One of the variables that affect your resting metabolic rate is the amount of lean muscle you have. One kilo of muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate by up to 100 calories per day. Physical activity requires your muscles to burn even more calories.

As mentioned, a high-intensity strength-training session may result in BMR speeding up for up to four days (afterburn effect). As a result, the body will continue to burn additional calories even after completing a workout.

This means to say that at any given weight, the more muscles on your body, and the less fat, the higher your metabolic rate. That’s because muscles use a lot more energy than fat while at rest.

Therefore, the logic is that if you can build up your muscle, and reduce your body fat, you’ll have a higher resting metabolism and the more quickly you burn fuel in your body.

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Endurance Training

Aerobic endurance training has a significantly lower effect on basal metabolic rates than strength training. Working out for an hour at 65% of your maximum heart rate burns around 300-400 calories.

However, the afterburn effect is less significant than with strength training. That said, the strength of the afterburn effect is dependent on the intensity and partly on the duration of the workout.

While this training help with increasing your BMR, they are also generally more suited for folks that already in great shape. Much of the population, however, finds it unpleasant, and thus, unsustainable for them to keep up with.

But there is a caveat that comes with these methods. If you have more muscle, it burns fuel more rapidly.

However, if you do gain more muscle and effectively speed up your metabolism, you have to fight the natural tendency to want to eat more as a result of your higher metabolism.

Woman exercising doing crunches


Understanding what your body needs and how your unique BMR affects your weight loss strategy will help you immensely when trying to lose weight.

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