How To Calculate Your Daily Calories

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How Many Calories Do You Need Per Day To Lose Or Gain Weight?

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
— Mark Twain

Every day you need a certain number of calories to function.

This number will change based on;

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Activity levels

  • Muscle mass

  • Fitness goals

  • And more

It’s your ability to meet and in some cases exceed these needs that will determine whether you’re able to;

  • Lose fat

  • Build muscle

  • Reach your fitness goals

However, before we look at how to do this let’s look at what calories are.

What Are Calories?

Calories are the energy currency your body uses to function.

Whether you’re at rest, work or play your body is constantly using calories to provide itself with the energy it needs to not only perform but also survive.

Calories are used to keep your heart beating, lungs breathing and brain thinking. Without sufficient calories, your body would cease to function.

When you exercise or workout your calorie (or energy) output is increased in order to allow your body to perform the tasks you require of it.

If your calorie input is higher than its output, you will gain weight and if your input is lower than your output you will lose weight.

This change in energy is called the energy balance equation.

The Energy Balance Equation

The energy balance equation is the relationship between the calories you put into your body through food/drink and the calories you expend through maintaining homeostasis and any exercise or activity you perform.

The energy balance has 3 basic rules:

  1. You will gain weight if your energy input is greater than your energy output

  2. You will lose weight if your energy input is less than your energy output

  3. You will neither gain nor lose weight if your energy input is equal to your energy output

Your overall daily calorie needs are made up of a few different functions which explain the differences in calories needs from one person to the next.

Basel Metabolic & Resting Metabolic Rate

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories you need at rest to allow your body to function at its most basic level. The term, BMR is often used interchangeably with resting metabolic rate (RMR) and makes up the largest part of your daily calorie needs.

The Thermic Effect of Food

In addition to your BMR there is also the thermic effect of food, which is the technical way of saying, the calories your body uses to digest the food you eat. This process accounts for a small portion of your daily calorie expenditure.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

When trying to calculate your daily calorie needs you also need to account for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).

This is essentially all the activity you do which is not related to sleeping, eating or exercising and relates to the type of job you work, how much you move during the day, housework and how fidgety you are. (1)

It can account for a large amount of additional calorie output daily and explains why some people struggle to put on weight even eating whatever they want and vice versa.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure

TDEE for short is the total amount of calories you expend each day, inclusive of the above and any exercise you do i.e. playing sports or resistance training.

How To Calculate Your Daily Calorie Needs?

Considering all of the above the simplest way to calculate your calories need is to use the following calculations:

  • Fat Loss = Bodyweight in lbs x 12

  • Maintenance = Bodyweight in lbs x 14

  • Muscle Building = Bodyweight in lbs x 16

These calculations will give you a good starting point, but you may find you’re not quite hitting your sweet spot for optimal weight gain or loss.

3 lean uuys hanging out near the sea

The Optimal Rate Of Weight Change

For the vast majority of people, the below rates of change are most suitable.

  • Aim to lose weight at a rate of 1 – 2 lbs a week for optimal fat loss and muscle retention

  • Aim to gain weight at a rate of 0.5 – 1 lbs a week for optimal muscle gain and minimal fat gain

However, there are a few situations where you’ll want to use different benchmarks. For example;

  • You have a lot of weight to lose

  • You are already 10% body fat

If this is the case, then aim to lose 1% of your total body mass a day.

This will allow people with a lot of weight to lose, to lose more at the beginning of their fat loss journey and those who are already lean to lose a lot less (and better preserve muscle mass).

From here you can track your progress by weighing yourself daily and taking a weekly average.

How To Adjust Your Daily Calorie Intake

If after tracking your weight for a couple weeks you find one of the following things happening;

  1. You’re losing weight too quickly

  2. You’re not losing weight quickly enough

  3. You’re gaining weight too quickly

  4. You’re not gaining weight quickly enough

Then it’s time to make a small adjustment to try and fix the problem.

If you’re losing weight too quickly or not gaining weight quickly enough then;

  • Add 100kcals (25g of carbs)

However, if you’re losing weight too quickly or gaining weight too quickly then;

  • Remove 100kcals (25g of carbs)

After making the necessary adjustment track your weight again for 2 – 3 weeks to see if it fixes the problem.

Keep using this tactic until you hit your sweet spot.

Are Calories More Important Than Macros?

People often ask which is more important – calories or macros.

It’s a difficult question to answer as the 2 are heavily intertwined, you can’t get calories without eating macronutrients.

However, having said that I find it’s useful to think of the difference like this;

  • Calories are the main factor in weight change i.e. will you lose, gain or maintain weight

  • Macros are the main factor in body composition change i.e. will you lose or gain fat or muscle.

The real power comes from using them together.

As for what’s more important, it really depends on your goal:

1. I just want to lose or gain weight

If this describes your goal, then aim to hit your total calorie goal within 100 kcals either side and you’ll be fine.

You’ll change your weight at a steady pace and your daily calories will balance out over the week.

2. I want to lose fat or build muscle

If this describes your goal, then aim to hit your macronutrients within 5 – 10g and this by default will keep you close to your calorie goal.

It will also allow you to more effectively change your body composition.

Takeaway Point

When it comes to changing your weight it all starts and ends with calories, they’re the building blocks for your success.

The first step is to choose your goal and calculate your daily calorie needs;

  • Fat Loss = Bodyweight in lbs x 12

  • Maintenance = Bodyweight in lbs x 14

  • Muscle Building = Bodyweight in lbs x 16

For here you want to set up your macronutrients to support your goal.

Fat Loss, Made Simple

Learn exactly how to lose your fat, not your muscle whilst still eating the foods you like, training only 3 days a week and living a full life.

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