What is BMR? What the basal metabolic rate means and how to calculate it

Understanding the inner workings of your body can be overwhelming. I get it. But whether you’re trying to boost your metabolism, track your fitness progress, or focus on a weight management plan, it’s important to understand one number: yours basal metabolic rate.

Simply put, basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories your body burns while performing basic life-support functions like breathing, hair growth, digesting food, and heartbeat, says Alyssa Lombardi, exercise physiologist, running coach, and founder of Alyssa RunFit Coaching. “BMR is the minimum amount of calories your body needs to maintain your current weight.”

Meet the experts: Alyssa Lombardi is an ACSM-Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Running Coach, and Founder of Alyssa RunFit Coaching. Cara Carmichael, CPT, is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, OrangeTheory Coach, and Certified PN Nutrition Coach.

It’s also important to know what it isn’t. BMR is not based on your activity level or how much you exercise. It is the rate at which your body burns calories just to perform essential bodily functions.

And don’t confuse your Basal Metabolic Rate with your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). “RMR is your BMR plus a very low level of daily activity such as going to the bathroom, getting out of bed, and eating, but essentially being at rest,” Lombardi notes.

There is no uniform BMR. The number is based on height, weight, gender, age, muscle mass and body fat. Knowing your BMR can help you stay in tune with weight management and how your body responds to life’s activities. “As your activity level, exercise, and age change, your BMR changes,” Lombardi says. “It may be helpful to review it from time to time so you can adjust your lifestyle to maintain a healthy weight.”

This is just a small taste of what BMR can do. Read on for the full details on how to calculate your BMR, why it’s important to know your BMR, and more from the experts.

How to determine your BMR

There are several ways to calculate BMR. Getting an accurate, and absolutely accurate, BMR requires a DEXA scan, Lombardi says. “This is essentially an image of your body that shows you the composition of your body’s fat, muscle and bone density,” she says. However, DEXA scans use low-dose X-rays, are performed in a hospital, and require an in-person visit to your doctor.

Since DEXA scans aren’t exactly accessible, Lombardi recommends an online calculator like Omni Calculator for an easier (and free!) measurement right at home. Although less accurate, studies show that online calculators using the Harris-Benedict equation take into account your height, weight, age and gender to give you a rough estimate of your BMR.

Because the Harris-Benedict equation does not account for muscle mass or body fat, its accuracy is limited. You can estimate it yourself using the female equation below.

Calculate your BMR: 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in years)

It’s also important to note that males typically have a higher BMR than females. In general, men are taller and have more muscle mass than women, resulting in higher BMR, Lombardi explains. The more muscle you have, the higher your BMR will be.

You may be wondering… does my smartwatch report an accurate BMR? The short answer is no. Smartwatch trackers use movement, heart rate, and your height and weight to provide some calorie information, but don’t consider muscle mass or body fat, both of which contribute to your BMR, says Cara Carmichael, CPT. “The number that the clock creates isn’t necessarily based on the person,” she says. “It’s a simpler formula and there’s a lot of room for error.”

While smartwatches aren’t 100% accurate, they can give you a good starting point, Lombardi adds. But remember not to dwell on the numbers. Instead, take this information to understand your body and its necessary calorie intake.

Why BMR is a useful piece of health data

Aside from expanding your knowledge (and appreciation!) of how your body works, knowing your BMR can help you achieve your health and fitness goals. Here are some benefits of your BMR:

  • Understand calorie needs. Knowing your BMR can help you create a meal plan and identify your daily calorie needs, Carmichael explains. “Many of us don’t really know how much food we need to eat to get through the day without crashing, but your BMR can serve as a baseline,” she says. By knowing how many calories your body burns naturally, you can estimate how much you need to eat to gain weight (eat more calories than you burn), lose weight (eat fewer calories than you burn). burn) or maintain your weight (eat the same amount). of calories you burn).
  • weight management. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or gain weight, understanding your BMR can help speed up the process by giving you the information you need to set a diet that meets your goals, Lombardi says. Once you know your BMR — also known as how many calories your body burns for basic functions — you can use it to calculate the number of calories you need for the day. The higher your BMR, the more calories you can burn without gaining weight, she explains.
  • Track fitness progress. In general, when your BMR goes up, it means you gain more muscle and get stronger, Lombardi says. Because building muscle is the most effective way to change your BMR, consistently strength training and tracking your BMR over time can be a great way to measure your progress and #gains.
  • improvement of metabolism. A high BMR is often associated with a fast metabolism and greater muscle mass, while a low BMR can indicate a slower metabolism, lower muscle mass, and higher body fat percentage, says Carmichael. “A lot of people want to increase their metabolism, but you have to understand that to do that, you need to build more muscle and increase your basal metabolic rate,” she says.

    How to improve your BMR

    Take a look at the stats in the BMR equation above and you’ll get a rough idea of ​​how to move the BMR needle. Integrating strength training into your workouts and building muscle mass is the most effective way to change and increase your BMR, says Carmichael. “Muscle uses a lot more energy than fat at rest. So the more muscle your body has, the higher your BMR at any weight.”

    Carmichael suggests incorporating strength training at least twice a week to build muscle and increase your BMR. But remember, consistency is key and change doesn’t happen overnight. “So many people are looking for quick fixes, but the reality is it’s about sustainability and sustainable habits.”

    Changing your BMR can help boost your metabolism, lose weight, gain strength, or create an optimal eating plan, but there’s no magic number. “Each individual has a different BMR and cannot be compared to one another,” says Carmichael. What is considered “healthy” depends on the person and their goals. The average BMR for women is about 1400 kcal and about 1700 kcal for men, she says.

    bottom line: BMR is a personalized statistic that cannot be compared to anyone, but measuring your own and learning about your bodily functions can help you achieve your health and fitness goals.

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