What does net calories mean on Myfitnesspal?

MyFitnessPal is a popular calorie counting and diet tracking app and website. One of the key features of MyFitnessPal is tracking your net calories for the day. But what exactly does “net calories” mean?

Net Calories Explained

Net calories refers to the total number of calories you have consumed in a day after subtracting the calories you have burned through activity. So your net calories is:

Calories consumed – Calories burned = Net calories

For example, if you consumed 2000 calories through your food and drink, and you burned 500 calories through exercise, then your net calories for the day would be:

2000 – 500 = 1500 net calories

Therefore, your net calories gives you a better understanding of your true daily calorie balance after accounting for the calories burned through physical activity. This helps provide a more accurate picture of your energy balance for fat loss or weight maintenance goals.

Why Track Net Calories?

Here are some of the key reasons tracking net calories can be useful:

  • Helps account for exercise and activity calories burned – Without looking at net calories, you may think you have exceeded your calorie goals for the day even after significant exercise. Tracking net calories provides a more realistic overview.
  • Aids fat loss and diet goals – Knowing your net calories can help ensure you maintain the necessary daily calorie deficit for weight and fat loss.
  • Better guides food intake – Having awareness of net calories can help guide decisions around food intake and portion sizes for the remainder of the day.
  • Improves calorie balance – Looking at net rather than just total calories consumed can help maintain a more accurate and healthy calorie balance.

How MyFitnessPal Calculates Net Calories

MyFitnessPal uses the following approach to determine your net calories:

  1. It tracks the calories you log for all your food and drinks consumed throughout the day.
  2. It tracks your exercise activity that you log for the day, including duration and estimated calories burned.
  3. Your food calories minus your exercise calories burned provides your net calories.

Some key points on how net calories are calculated:

  • Exercise calories burned are based on the duration and intensity of activities logged.
  • Net calories update dynamically throughout the day as you log food and exercise.
  • Calorie totals for food can be entered manually or imported automatically via barcode scanning.
  • Exercise calories are estimated based on metabolic formulas and your body stats like weight.

Setting a Net Calorie Goal

Within your MyFitnessPal settings, you can choose whether to track a daily net or total calorie goal. Here are some tips for setting an appropriate net calorie goal:

  • Base it on your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and activity level using online TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) calculators.
  • Subtract 500-1000 calories from your TDEE to lose weight at a moderate pace.
  • Be realistic about the exercise you will perform when setting goals.
  • Adjust your goal over time based on your progress and needs.
  • Stay within the healthy calorie deficit range of 500-1000 calories daily for weight loss.

For example, if your TDEE to maintain your weight is 2500 calories, setting a net goal of 1600 calories would aim to provide a 900 daily calorie deficit for steady weight loss over time.

Pros of Tracking Net Calories

Here are some of the major benefits of using net calories as your calorie tracking approach on MyFitnessPal:

  • Accounts for exercise – Net calories factors in your activity for the day providing a more realistic overview of your energy balance.
  • Encourages activity – Basing goals on net calories provides more flexibility to be active without going over your target.
  • Allows for flexibility – You can balance out higher calorie foods or occasions using exercise.
  • Promotes calorie deficits – Net calories makes it easier to maintain a daily calorie deficit for weight and fat loss.
  • Guides food intake – You can make better meal and snack choices based on your net calorie status.

Using net calories also means you don’t have to stick to a rigid calorie intake target every single day as long as your activity levels are accounted for.

Cons of Tracking Net Calories

While using net calories has many benefits, there are some downsides or considerations to keep in mind as well:

  • Can be less accurate if you don’t properly track all food and exercise.
  • Requires diligent activity logging which some find challenging.
  • Requires an awareness of approximate calories burned from different exercises.
  • Activity calorie amounts are best estimates and not completely precise.
  • Could encourage overeating if you know you will “burn it off” with exercise.

The accuracy of net calories depends on how well you log your intake and activity. You may need to do some research on calories per hour for different workouts when getting started.

Tips for Tracking Net Calories Accurately

Here are some tips to make sure you track net calories as accurately as possible:

  • Log all your foods and drinks consumed each day, including little snacks and tastes.
  • Use a food scale for solid foods and measuring cups for liquids to get accurate portion sizes.
  • Research typical calorie burn rates for your common exercises.
  • Log exercise immediately after completing it so you don’t forget.
  • Use a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor to get better estimates of calories burned.
  • Stick to your deficit goal daily rather than trying to “make up” extra calories later.
  • Focus on weekly averages rather than daily numbers if day-to-day calorie totals vary a lot.

Putting in the effort to log as accurately as possible will give you the best picture of your true net calorie balance for the day.

Net Calories vs Total Calories

Should you track total or net calories on MyFitnessPal? Here is a comparison of the two approaches:

Net Calories Total Calories
Accounts for exercise calories burned Only focuses on calories consumed
Provides calorie deficit for weight loss Ensures you don’t exceed a set limit
More flexible daily targets Need to stick to rigid limit daily
Requires diligent exercise logging Only need to log food intake
Estimates for calories burned Specific calorie counts of foods

In most cases, net calories gives a more realistic overview for people combining diet and exercise. But total calories may be simpler for those focused solely on food intake.

Should You Eat Exercise Calories Back?

One common question around net calories is whether you should “eat back” the calories you burn from exercise.

As a general rule, aim to eat back only around 50% of exercise calories. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Exercise calorie estimates are not completely accurate.
  • Eating more may make you hungrier and less satisfied.
  • You still want to maintain an appropriate deficit.
  • You can use some extra calories to fuel your workouts.
  • Listen to your body’s hunger signals day-to-day.

For example, if you burn 300 calories exercising, you may want to add only 100-150 extra calories back into your diet and keep the rest as part of your deficit.

Examples of Net Calorie Goals

Here are some example net calorie goals for different scenarios:

  • Weight loss – A 125 pound woman with moderate activity aiming to lose one pound per week could set a net goal of 1450 calories daily.
  • Maintenance – A 160 pound man with high activity could set a net goal of 2400 calories to maintain his current weight.
  • Bulking – A 185 pound man lifting heavy weights and bulking could set a net goal of 2900 calories to support muscle growth.
  • Recomping – A 140 pound woman doing CrossFit 3x a week may set a modest net deficit of 1650 calories to build muscle and burn fat.

As these examples illustrate, your net calories goal will depend on your weight, activity level, and current fitness goals like fat loss or bulking up.

Strategies to Hit Your Net Calorie Goal

Here are some helpful strategies for successfully hitting your net calorie goal each day:

  • Plan workouts in advance to balance calorie intake.
  • Focus on nutritious low calorie density foods to stay satisfied.
  • Frontload calories early if more active later in the day.
  • Drink plenty of water and black coffee between meals.
  • Save some calories for evening treats to prevent overeating.
  • Review net calories status midday to guide afternoon/evening intake.

Staying mindful of your net progress and planning food and exercise strategically makes hitting your exact goal much easier.

Common MyFitnessPal Net Calorie Questions

Here are answers to some other common questions people have around net calories on MyFitnessPal:

How do I change to net calorie tracking on MyFitnessPal?

In the Goals section of Settings, you can choose “Net Calories” vs “Total Calories”. This changes all calorie tracking to be based on your net amounts.

Why are my net calories negative sometimes?

It’s common for net calories to go negative if you enter significant exercise without eating more food. This just means you burned more than you consumed that day.

Why are my net calories orange or red?

Orange or red net calorie amounts indicate you have gone over your goal for the day based on food vs exercise. Green indicates you are within or below your budget.

Can I customize the calorie calculation method?

Within Settings, you can choose from 3 formulas MyFitnessPal uses to estimate calories burned from your logged activities.

How do I know my calorie burn is accurate?

Calorie burn accuracy improves if you log specific exercises, use fitness trackers, and research typical burn rates. But some variance from true numbers is normal.


Tracking net calories on MyFitnessPal provides a useful overview of your true daily calorie balance for diet goals. While requiring diligent food and exercise logging, it accounts for activity levels and allows for more flexibility day-to-day.Aim to log as accurately as possible, and be mindful of maintaining an appropriate calorie deficit for long term weight and fat loss. At the end of the day, it comes down to establishing sustainable, healthy eating and exercise habits.

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