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Active Calories vs. Total Calories: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on November 16, 2023
"Active Calories" are those burned during physical activity, while "Total Calories" include all calories expended, active and resting.

Key Differences

"Active Calories" refer specifically to the energy expended during movement and exercise, such as jogging, swimming, or cycling. In contrast, "Total Calories" encompass the entire amount of energy burned by the body, which includes basic metabolic functions, digestion, and any physical activities.
Tracking "Active Calories" helps individuals measure the intensity of their workouts and manage weight, as these are the calories burned beyond the resting state. On the other hand, "Total Calories" are a broader measurement, indicating the cumulative caloric expenditure needed to maintain bodily functions and active lifestyle demands.
"Active Calories" are variable and can be increased through more intense or prolonged exercise. However, "Total Calories" also include basal metabolic rate (BMR), the calories required for vital functions, which remains relatively constant, making the control over total caloric burn less direct.
Understanding "Active Calories" is essential for athletes or fitness enthusiasts who target specific exercise goals and wish to optimize performance. Meanwhile, being aware of "Total Calories" is crucial for anyone monitoring their energy balance for weight management or general health purposes.
Calculating "Active Calories" requires specific data on the type, duration, and intensity of exercise. "Total Calories," however, necessitate a more comprehensive view of one's health, including factors like age, weight, height, sex, and overall lifestyle.

Comparison Chart


Calories burned during physical activity
All calories expended, including at rest


Helps gauge exercise intensity
Indicates overall energy expenditure


Can be directly influenced by physical activity
Includes both variable and more constant factors


Based on type and duration of exercise
Requires comprehensive health and activity data


Common for fitness tracking
Essential for general health and weight management

Active Calories and Total Calories Definitions

Active Calories

Beyond basal metabolic rate.
He increased his Active Calories by adding an extra set of weightlifting.

Total Calories

Represent overall energy balance.
Understanding her Total Calories helped her adjust her diet for better energy.

Active Calories

Directly influenced by physical exertion.
Yoga may not burn many Active Calories, but it has other health benefits.

Total Calories

Include active and resting energy rates.
Even on a lazy day, she burns many Total Calories through basic bodily functions.

Active Calories

Variable based on activity intensity.
Her high-intensity interval training racks up more Active Calories than steady-state cardio.

Total Calories

Affected by multiple factors.
Age, weight, and height all influence his Total Calories.

Active Calories

Crucial for fitness goals.
Monitoring Active Calories helps him stay on track for his marathon training.

Total Calories

Integral for weight management.
Balancing intake with Total Calories is her strategy for losing weight.

Active Calories

Energy expended during exercise.
Her fitness tracker shows she burned 300 Active Calories during her jog.

Total Calories

Encompass all forms of energy expenditure.
His Total Calories per day need to be about 2,500 to maintain his weight.


Are "Total Calories" just the food I eat?

No, they refer to the total energy you expend, including basic bodily functions.

What do "Active Calories" represent?

They're the calories burned through physical activity.

How do I track my "Total Calories"?

It involves calculating both your resting and active energy expenditure.

Do "Total Calories" change every day?

They can, based on your physical activity and metabolic rate.

Why are "Total Calories" important to know?

They help in managing weight and assessing overall energy balance.

Can I eat more if my "Total Calories" expended are high?

Yes, but consider nutritional balance, not just caloric intake.

Do "Active Calories" only count when I'm sweating?

No, all physical activities, even low-intensity ones, count.

Can I increase my "Active Calories" without intense exercise?

Yes, any form of physical movement increases active caloric burn.

Are "Active Calories" the same for everyone during the same workout?

No, they vary based on factors like weight, age, sex, and intensity.

What's the easiest way to burn more "Active Calories"?

Incorporating more movement into your day, like taking the stairs.

Do "Active Calories" include walking or only intense workouts?

They include any calories burned via movement, even walking.

How accurate are fitness trackers in calculating "Active Calories"?

They can provide estimates, but accuracy varies by device and activity.

Are "Total Calories" and calories consumed equal in weight management?

They're part of the equation; balancing intake and expenditure is key.

How do I know if my "Total Calories" are too low?

Signs like fatigue, dizziness, or inability to sustain activity levels can indicate this.

What factors influence "Total Calories" the most?

Metabolic rate, activity level, age, weight, height, and sex.

Are "Active Calories" more important than calories from food?

Both are important; it's the balance that's crucial for health and fitness goals.

Can I estimate "Active Calories" burned without a tracker?

Yes, using online calculators or guidelines, but it's a rough estimate.

Should I aim for a certain number of "Total Calories" daily?

It varies per individual; consider your goals, lifestyle, and health.

Do "Total Calories" need to be counted daily?

For precise management, yes, but weekly averages can also be informative.

Is sleeping considered in "Active Calories"?

No, it's part of resting or basal metabolic rate.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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