Active vs Total Calories: Difference and Comparison

For every activity we do, our body requires energy to accomplish the task, whether walking, standing, or even resting in the lounge, every activity requires energy.


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We get energy from the food we eat, and this energy gets spent in various ways. The body reserves part of the energy for later use.

To give a quantification of the energy spent, we use a unit called calories to understand how much we have spent on a particular process. The food which we eat provides us with these calories.

Calories can be briefly classified under two categories depending on the activity we do and the normal functioning of the body. One is active calories, and the other one is total calories.

Key Takeaways

  1. Active calories are burned through physical activities, while total calories include active and resting metabolism.
  2. Active calories are considered more important for weight loss, while total calories are used for tracking daily energy expenditure.
  3. Active and total calories can vary depending on the type, intensity, and duration of physical activity and individual factors such as age, gender, and weight.

Active vs Total Calories

The difference between active and passive calories is that active calorie takes into account the energy used for doing all physical tasks such as jogging, swimming, running, etc. At the same time, total calories give the individual the energy spent by the body for all the activities.

Active vs Total Calories

Active calories are the calories the body burns when involved in any external work. The work could be as simple as walking, climbing steps or complex work such as lifting weights etc.

Total calories are the sum of active and other calories consumed by the body for its routine function. The routine function includes respiration, digestion of food, thinking etc.

Our body carries out certain functions throughout time, such as breathing, supplying energy to all body parts, etc.

The calories spent on these activities get included under total calories, which is the special part of it.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonActive CaloriesTotal Calories
DefinitionIt represents the energy utilised by our body for carrying out physical activities in our day-to-day life.It represents the sum of all energy used by the body for all physical and normal functioning of the body.
InterpretationIt is one of the important factors in weight loss and management.It indicates the energy spent on our normal activities.
Activities which falls under the categoryAll physical work is done consciously by an individual. An example includes running, jogging, swimming etc.Respiration, thinking, digestion etc.
Units of MeasurementJoulesJoules
Formula= calories burnt during physical tasks.= active calorie + basal (resting) calories.

What is an Active Calorie?

Active calories represent the energy used by our body for various physical activities we do daily.

Let’s assume that we need to pick an object. So, the energy is utilised by our hand to pick a particular object.

The energy consumed for this process falls under the category of active calories. Likewise, the energy consumed for all physical activities the individual does falls under the domain of active calories.

 A calorie is a term which denotes the energy spent on a particular process. One calorie equals 4.184 joules. The body gets the calorie from the food we eat.

The calorie content varies from one food to another. High-calorie food includes foods rich in carbohydrates such as rice, potato, and whole grains. Chicken, meat, and pork, rich in proteins, also contain calorie-rich foods.

The body finally breaks down all these carbohydrates and proteins, and the energy obtained is distributed to all body parts.

Based on the requirement, the energy gets consumed. Muscles would require energy when the body is involved in a physical task. Active calories keep into account all energy utilised by the body for physical activities.

There are devices which help in measuring active calories. Examples include smart wristbands, which calculate both active and total calories.

active calorie

What is Total Calorie?

Total Calorie is the summation of all calories consumed by the body. It is the addition of active calories and calories used by the body for normal functioning. Some functions take place in our bodies without our influence.

For example, breathing is an activity which is an involuntary process. Though we can exercise our control by holding our breath for some time, the activity happens naturally.

Yet other functions are happening in our body that are needed for survival. Digestion is another example. These functions require energy for proper functioning.

Total calories take note of the energy the body employs for these normal and vital functions. Without energy, the body would cease to exist. These calories, vital for the body’s normal functioning at rest, are called basal calories.

The addition of active calories along with basal calories makes up basal calories. Total calories consumed by a person varies due to factors such as weight, activity level, health condition etc.

This also means that the basal calories vary from one individual to another.

total calorie

Main Differences Between Active and Total Calories

  1. Active calories constitute the energy employed by the body for doing physical activity. Total calories indicate all the energy utilised by the body for both physical activity and regular functioning.
  2. Active calories can be taken as an indicator of weight management, while total calories give a picture of the requirement of basal calories for the individual.
  3. Active calories could help us identify the energy utilised for physical work and let the individual know how healthy they are.
  4.  Less burning of active calories indicates that the level of physical activity has been reduced, but lower total calories do not mean a reduction in basal calories.
  5. Active Calories do not give an idea of basal metabolic rate, whereas total calories are a combination of active and resting (basal) calories.
Difference Between Active and Total Calories
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