How many calories do you need a day? Your calorie needs depend on your:
- body size
- activity level
- gender other conditions, such as being pregnant
Energy requirements are based on multiple factors including training frequency, type, intensity, body composition, size, and goals. The formulas and recommendations are not set in stone. It is important to use a multitude of tools to determine if you’re achieving proper energy balance such as appetite, weight, mood, body fat percentage, and overall health.
The human body uses about 60% of calories just to keep up with natural processes at rest. The amount of calories you burn at rest is termed your basal metabolic rate (BMR). The more lean muscle mass you have the higher your BMR. By building a leaner more muscular physique you increase your calorie burning abilities around the clock!
The remainder of the energy pie is divided between activity and digestion. 30% of energy (calories) is used for physical activity while 10% is used in the process of digestion. This is why you can burn more calories by eating smaller meals more often.
What Are Calories?
A calorie is a unit that measures energy. Calories are usually used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages. In order to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns each day.
How many calories should I eat per day to lose weight?
Calculating the number of calories you need to lose weight is a relatively simple, three-step process. The Harris-Benedict equation is the most widely used method of calculating your calorie needs (and thus your calorie needs for weight loss). Here is the Harris-Benedict equation for women:
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
You just need to plug in your age, height, and weight. The number you get is the total number of calories you need each day to exist (also known as your basal metabolic rate, BMR). For example, a 50-year-woman who is 5′ 7″ and weighs 160 lbs has a basal metabolic rate of 1441 calories.
Since you don’t lie in bed all day, you’ll burn more calories than this. To estimate how many calories you burn during your daily activities, we’ll use the activity factors listed below.
Sedentary: Minimal movement, lots of TV watching, reading, etc. Activity factor = 1.4
Light activity: Office work, ~1 hour of moderate exercise/activity during the day. Activity factor = 1.5
Moderate activity: Light physical/manual labor during the day, plus more active lifestyle. Activity factor = 1.6
Very Active: Active military, full time athlete, hard physical/manual labor job. Activity factor = 1.9
Next, multiply your activity factor by your BMR. For the example we’re using, we’ll choose an activity factor of 1.5 (common for most people) and multiply that by 1441 calories, giving us 2161 calories. This number is your total caloric needs, or roughly the amount of calories that you need to eat each day to maintain your weight. To lose weight, you need to eat less than this.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the recommended calorie intake for women aged 19-51 years ranges from 1800-2000 calories per day. Generally, younger women require more calories than older women. Men aged 19-51 years of age require even more, anywhere between 2,200-2,400 calories per day.
People that lead more active lifestyles or those who want to gain weight require more calories. For children aged between 2 and 18 years, calorie intake ranges from anywhere between 1000-2200 per day.
How to Lose Weight?
If you want to lose weight, the answer is simple (at least in theory). You must eat fewer calories than you use each day.
For women, that means consuming less than 2,000 calories a day on average. But be careful. Diets that promote very low calorie intakes (usually between 800 to 1,000 calories per day) can have major, negative side effects, such as:
- Rapid weight loss can also cause gallstones. The risk is especially high for women.
Keep track of what you eat each day: Remember to eat a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.
Limit the amount of sugar you eat each day.
How To Guarantee You’re Eating The Right Amount Of Calories Per Day
Based on what your weight is doing from week to week, here’s what you should do:
Are you losing weight at the ideal rate? If so, congrats! This means your daily calorie intake is indeed perfect. Keep eating this amount of calories each day and enjoy the awesome fat loss results that are guaranteed to follow.
Are you gaining weight or just maintaining your current weight? If so, your deficit isn’t big enough (or it just doesn’t exist at all) and therefore needs to be increased. So, just reduce your current daily calorie intake by about 250 calories (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you’d now eat 2250 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks. Based on what happens, come right back here and follow the appropriate instructions.
Are you losing weight faster than the ideal rate? If so, and it’s been happening for a few weeks consistently, your deficit is likely a little too big and it should probably be decreased. Just add about 250 calories to your current daily calorie intake (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you’d now eat 2750 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks. Based on what happens, come right back here and follow the appropriate instructions.
Basically, weigh yourself consistently (always first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) and keep track of it somewhere. If you are losing weight at your ideal rate, you’re perfect. If you aren’t, then just adjust your calorie intake up or down in small 250 calorie increments until you are. Simple as that.
Diets that require you to consume less than 200 calories a day are known as “crash diets.” As you might imagine, these can lead to all sorts of health problems. Crash diets can:
- suppress your immune system
- slow down your metabolism
- cause dehydration
- lead to permanent heart problems, if done repeatedly
- Cleanses can also be dangerous. These are often liquid-based diets. For example, people on the Master Cleanse consume nothing but a mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for several days.
Cleanses are based on the incorrect assumption that the body needs help getting rid of toxins, but not only are these diets ineffective, they also can be dangerous. Yo-yo dieting can eventually lead to permanent heart muscle loss.
Be wary of anything that severely limits what you can and cannot eat or drink, or dramatically restricts how many calories you consume. The best way to lose weight is to lose weight slowly, which according to the CDC means no more than one or two pounds per week. Think about how long it took you to gain weight. It will typically take you that long — or longer — to lose it.
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This article is not intended to take the place of a competent nutritionist or doctor. It is solely intended to educate people on the vital and perhaps underestimated importance of this nutritional element.
The information in this site is presented for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or prescribe.
In the event the reader uses the information for his own health, he is in fact prescribing for himself, which is his own constitutional right, and for which the author assumes no responsibility.
If you suffer from a medical condition, consult your doctor. If you have questions as to the application of this information to your own health, you are advised to consult a qualified health professional.