Active Calories Vs Total Calories: Understand the Difference

active vs total calories

Losing or maintaining your body weight or body fat involves keeping track of your calories (one of the units of energy), and that includes your active calories and total calories.

With the debate about active calories vs total calories, and how they affect your weight loss, you should understand what they are and how you can track them.

In summary, active calories are the amount of calories you burn while engaging in physical activities such as walking, jogging, and exercising.

However, total calories are the total amount of calories you burn throughout the day, including during periods of rest. The difference between active calories and total calories is in passive calories.

This article will give you an understanding of what active calories and total calories are. You’ll also know how to track each type of calorie, and ultimately, you’ll understand the difference between the two.

What are Active Calories?

Losing weight involves going into a calorie deficit, and that means you need to perform some physical exercises that help you burn some calories while you’re exercising, accounting for part of the total calories you burn throughout the day.

However, it’s only a part of the calories you should burn over a period to help you lose weight.

Active calories, also called exercise calories, are simply the calories your body burns during physical exercises.

They are spent as a result of your elevated metabolism and heart rate. In other words, active calories are associated with increased heart rate while exercising.

The amount of active calories you burn depends on the types of exercises you do.

High-intensity workouts, such as skipping ropes, help you burn more calories, as does weightlifting. However, low-intensity workout programs, such as walking, burn lesser numbers of calories. 

What are Total Calories?

After your exercise sessions, your body spends more time recovering from the physical exertion it has experienced.

While your body burns calories during your workout, it still burns calories when you’re not involved in physical exercises. That is, while you’re resting, your body still burns calories, although it does so at different rates for everybody.

Total calories are the number of calories your body burns for the whole day.

It includes the active calories you burn during workouts and the passive calories you burn after your workouts.

The total calories you burn in a day is your energy expenditure in a day. It shows if you’ve met your calorie deficit goal for the day.

The Difference Between Active Calories and Total Calories

Active and total calories are part of your weight loss journey, and although they’re different, one (active calories) is a part of the other (total calories).

Since active calories are a part of the total calories you burn in a day, the other part is passive calories.

Passive calories are the calories your body burns in its resting state.

Passive calories are burned as per your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

Your basal metabolic rate is influenced by how much muscle mass you have, your calorie intake, medical conditions, and the type of activities you’re involved in for the rest of the day.

Conditions that Influence Total Calories You Can Burn

Since two parts come together to form the total calories you burn daily, there is a possibility that one of the two parts will be inadequate, cause you to burn fewer calories, and affect your fitness goals.

Here are some factors that may influence how much your total calories are.

Muscle mass

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day. This is because your muscles are tissues that need fuel to support the biological functions of your body; hence, they contribute to your body’s metabolic rate.

Strength training is one of the ways to build more muscle and increase your body’s metabolism. With more muscle mass, your body burns more resting calories. You also burn more active calories when you have more muscle mass.

Medical Conditions

Metabolism is the total of the biochemical processes that involve the breakdown and storage of energy for bodily use. Metabolism is a complex process that is at its lowest rate when you’re not involved in any physical activity.

Metabolism is essential to fat loss.

A healthy person’s body performs all the biochemical processes. However, if one of the processes is inhibited, the metabolism rate reduces, and that affects the rate at which you burn calories.

Medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, phenylketonuria, and mitochondrial conditions, influence the total calories you can burn.

Heart disease may mean you can only have minimal physical exertion, and that reduces the active calories you can burn.

With diabetes, your body may have more glucose in your blood than you require, and that means your tissues don’t have as much as they should.

Caloric intake

To lose weight, a calorie deficit is paramount.

If you consume more calories than your total calories burned in your calorie expenditure, you will not lose weight. However, if your goal is to increase your weight, and add some pounds of fat, a calorie surplus is an effective way to achieve that goal.

While a calorie deficit is important for weight loss, keeping it healthy is also important. Having too much of energy expenditure than your calorie intake will burn you out and slow down your process in the long run.

How you spend the rest of your day

Your day isn’t limited to physical exercises alone.

Your basal metabolic rate is still kicking when you’re done with your workouts, and it lasts for the entire day.

Some activities, such as washing, dancing, and walking can help you burn more calories during the day, and it helps you increase the total calories burned throughout the day.

However, if you sit around for the rest of the day, your body will still burn some calories, but not at the same rate as when you do some minimal activities such as work.

Therefore, it’s a good thing to take short walks or perform some jumps after sitting at your desk for some time.

How to keep track of your Active Calories and Total Calories.

To keep yourself motivated, and see your results, there are ways to track the total amount of calories you burn throughout the day or during a tough workout.

Fitness trackers

These are gadgets that help you keep up with your progress towards a fitness goal.

They usually monitor your heart rate, body temperature, and pulse, to record your total calorie burn. The most common fitness trackers are available as wristbands and wristwatches as in the Apple wristwatches.

They may also include an activity calculator for your energy expenditure

apple watch to track calories

Fitness apps

These are software applications that you can have on your smartphone to track your fitness levels and progress.

They, as in Fit Bit, usually allow you to input your personal information, including your medical conditions and current weight, and record your daily totals, including active calories and total calories.

FitBit to track calories

Final Thoughts

The active calories and total calories debate is solved by recognizing that resting calories and active calories make up total calories.

You can track how much energy your body burns daily by using an activity app that highlights active calories against total calories.


Q: What is the difference between active calories and total calories?

A: Active calories are those burned through physical activity, while total calories are those burned through both physical activity and metabolism.

Q: Which one is more important for weight loss?

A: Both active and total calories are important for weight loss. A calorie deficit is necessary to lose weight, and total calories burned through both activity and metabolism contribute to this deficit.

Q: How can I see how many calories I’ve burned in a day?

A: Many fitness trackers and apps record active and total calories burned in a day. Checking these regularly can help you stay on track with your weight loss goals.