What Are Active Calories?

The world of calories is complex, to say the least, as there are actually different kinds of calories…within calories! 

What Are Active Calories?

Active calories, as their name suggests, are the calories burned when you are taking part in exercise. 

If you own a fitness device like an Apple Watch, you may notice the active calories come up against specific other calories. 

This article is going to clear up all this calorie talk for you, so you’re more aware of what exactly they are, and what it is you’re burning. 

Active Calories And Total Calories

As mentioned above, active calories are the calories you burn when doing exercise. Total calories, on the other hand, are the calories that you are burning all the time.

This includes the calories you burn while exercising and the ones you burn when you are resting. 

For those of you who weren’t aware, you are actually burning calories when you’re slumped on the couch (this is not an excuse to not exercise!).

When you exercise, your pulse and breathing quicken in order to provide energy to your muscles. This leads to the burning of calories. 

When you finish exercising, although your heart rate and lungs slow down, they are still using energy, just a lot less.

These organs are constantly using energy to function, otherwise, we’d be dead! Therefore, you are always burning calories. 

Your body needs a consistent amount of energy in order for it to work, which is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). 

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Everyone has their own individual BMR, and it serves as a baseline for determining how many calories you burn each hour. 

However, it can be very tricky to measure this accurately.

In the past, scientists have measured this in individuals, by having them stay in specific rooms where the temperature is controlled, and everything from that individual is monitored, such as what goes in and out of them. 

Luckily, this doesn’t need to happen nowadays, especially since the emergence of the Apple Watch and other fitness trackers.

Rather than try to measure your BMR, these trackers will predict it based on a number of factors, such as your weight, height, gender, and age. 

You’ll notice when you first set up your fitness tracker, it will ask you for these details as you set up your profile. Once it has all this information, it makes a guess as to what your BMR is. 

Active Calories, Total Calories, And Your BMR

As has already been mentioned, active calories are extra calories that are burned when you have been exercising.

If you own an Apple Watch, once you have filled in the appropriate information, the device will deduct your BMR from your total calories in order to calculate your active calories. 

Your total calories will not be displayed on the watch, as the watch is all about getting you to move, so you will only see your active calories displayed. 

Tips For Counting Calories During Exercise 

What Are Active Calories?

It is very normal to count your calories as you are exercising, so if you have a fitness tracker, here are a few tips and tricks to be wary of when it comes to reading the calories displayed. 

Intensity Of Your Workout 

How intense your exercise is, plays a big role in how many calories you are burning.

Some trackers that have heart rate monitors are likely to give you an estimate of the calories you are burning by measuring your heart rate. 

An example of this is a treadmill. If you are working very hard on this machine, your tracker will likely take your heart rate into account and display that you are burning more calories as a result of this. 


Your efficiency in each exercise, which means whether you are performing the exercises properly, will also have an impact on the number of calories burned

When you are trying out a new exercise, there is usually an adjustment period where it takes more effort for you to perform it properly until you are comfortable. 

While you are trying to perfect it, this could lead to a higher heart rate, leading to more calories being burned. 

Genetics And Gender

Your genetic make-up and your gender, all determine different aspects of your body, such as resting heart rate, muscle fiber, and response to exercise. 

Unfortunately, no fitness tracker can take genetic make-up into account, so you need to take what each tracker says, with a pinch of salt. 

Your gender can determine the number of calories you burn.

For example, women are known for having a higher percentage of body fat than men, and as a result, their bodies respond differently to exercise. 

Most trackers can determine your gender, but as we said earlier, they can’t take genetics into account, so it is best to use what they display as a guide towards your goals, rather than the ultimate truth. 

Final Thoughts 

Being aware of the different kinds of calories is important in order to understand the progress you are making with your fitness journey. 

While your total calories are the calories you burn all the time, including rest periods, your active calories are the ones burned during any form of exercise. 

As has been mentioned, your BMR is specific to you, and while it is hard to determine your exact BMR, fitness trackers are able to give a good estimate based on your gender, height, age, and fitness levels. 

Once this information has been entered into your fitness tracker, your BMR is able to be estimated, and from then on, you will be able to see how many calories you are burning during your workouts, and during rest periods (depending on the tracker). 

We hope this article has provided you with useful information on calories and how they are counted on fitness trackers.

If you have any fitness goals, then you should visit a professional in this area, so they can give you the best plan moving forward. Happy exercising!

Jenna Priestly