Total daily energy expenditure (“total expenditure”) reflects daily energy needs and is a critical variable in human health and physiology, but its trajectory over the life course is poorly studied. We analyzed a large, diverse database of total expenditure measured by the doubly labeled water method for males and females aged 8 days to 95 years.
Total expenditure increased with fat-free mass in a power-law manner, with four distinct life stages. Fat-free mass–adjusted expenditure accelerates rapidly in neonates to ~50% above adult values at ~1 year; declines slowly to adult levels by ~20 years; remains stable in adulthood (20 to 60 years), even during pregnancy; then declines in older adults.
These changes shed light on human development and aging and should help shape nutrition and health strategies across the life span.