MFP + Exercise calories

I thought I’d seen this discussed briefly in another thread, but it seemed inconclusive and I can’t find it now anyway…

I’m having some confusion about calorie counting. I used the calorie calculator ( to find out how many calories I need to consume in order to lose a pound a week. I entered my estimated activity level (and was conservative because some days I am active and some days I am sedentary). Then I entered the target amount of calories in My Fitness Pal to track my daily intake (ETA: MFP will also give you a target based on their own calculation, which was close, but I used the other number instead, about 40 cals less). Here’s where I get mixed up. MFP allows you to enter your exercise for the day and then gives you those calories back, adding them in with your remaining calories to eat for the day. But that seems like double dipping, right? To count your estimated activity AND your actual activity? So far I have been trying to stick with the original number, not counting the exercise calories as free calories I can eat.

But then I also wonder, if I am doing strenuous exercise, maybe I would need to properly fuel those workouts on those days? This kind of thing really gets me mixed up. In order to do good exercise I have to eat enough, right?

So here is my question: What role does including your estimated activity level play in calculating calorie needs? Is it assuming you will do approximately that much exercise everyday and giving you your caloric requirements in light of that (“Do NOT factor in workouts in MFP/calorie count”)? Or is it calculating something about your metabolism, like how many calories are needed for your body’s non-exercise operations based on your overall activity level, and the actual workouts you perform require additional calories on top of that ("DO factor in workouts in MFP/calorie count”)?

If it’s the former, I would think one should calculate based on a sedentary activity level and then factor in each individual exercise for the day’s caloric needs if they really wanted to be accurate (could use a step counter if you work on your feet). Otherwise, you’re eating too much on lazy days and not enough on active days.

Of course there is the obvious advice I’ve heard many times that doing a workout shouldn’t be used as an excuse to overeat when trying to lose weight, but I’m not wondering about overeating, just about eating enough. MFP has made this harder to answer.

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MyFitnessPal tries to keep you at your calorie deficiency goal. So for example, if it calculated that you needed to consume 1500 calories a day for a loss of a pound a week, and you add a 200 calorie-burning working out, then you are allowed to consume 1700 calories that day and still be at your deficiency goal. Does that make sense?

Yep it does. But the calorie goal it calculated for me took into account an estimation of my physical activity level, which makes it seem like I’d be counting that activity twice, make sense?

Well I guess that depends on if you intended to include the calories burned during your workouts when you input your activity level. If you did, I would recommend not inputting your workouts into MyFitnessPal. But if you think your workouts are burning calories on top of the calories MFP has already accounted for, continue to do so.

Well that makes sense. Good enough!

MFP seems to agree:

As does this guy:

I have no idea what these ppl are talking about:

"If you eat 2080 calories, then decide to add (eat) back 600 calories that you burned during exercise, you are now eating 2680 calories which is greater than your TDEE (more calories than your body can use). If you do this, you are no longer in a calorie deficit and burning fat. Instead, you are in a caloric surplus and will be storing fat/building muscle. You are simply eating too many calories!”

This makes absolutely zero sense. (It’s not more than your body can use because it did use some of it to exercise…) :woman_shrugging:

Anyway, I might consider recalculating my caloric needs for “sedentary” or “light” activity levels and then input each actual workout. One thing I am finding that I actually like about counting calories is how much more aware I am becoming about various foods’ caloric contents. It would be cool to become more aware of the calories going out too, and how much to adjust my eating to fuel exercise.

Here is the most helpful info I’ve found, for anyone who had the same questions I had:

These calculators are a good guide but will probably be inaccurate when you get down to the nitty gritty. It’s best to track your progress and adjust accordingly.

It’s very difficult with exercise to accurately estimate the amount of calories burned especially in the first few weeks. As you lose/gain weight your TDEE will also change so this needs to be accounted for too by changing your weight on MFP.


MFP is pretty simple. Do not include workouts. What is your actual daily activity at work, school, etc. If you are generally sedentary except for workouts then put sedentary.
That way when you add your workouts it’s not double dipping + you don’t exercise every day so that’s not daily activity for you.

That’s how I do it and it works just fine.

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