Calories Needed to Lose or Maintain Weight – How much do I need/should I eat per day?
Ever wondered how much calories are needed per day to lose or maintain weight? Or thought to yourself “How much do I need to eat per day?” or “Should I count calories to achieve my weight loss goals?” Everything you ever wanted to know about calories is discussed in this post, from what your calorie requirements are – to understanding why it is that calories play a huge role in determining your weight
What are Calories?
Calories is how we measure the energy our bodies uses for fuel (from carbohydrate, fat, protein & alcohol). One calorie equals the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree. In other words, it is used to determine the energy produced by food. Calories is the energy you need for vital bodily processes (such as breathing & pumping blood) & to keep you going. You even use calories while you sleep
Calories (cal) to Kilojoules (kJ)
Calories can be measured in calories or kilojoules 1 cal = 4.184 kJ
To calculate the kJ content of a diet or a food, you need to multiply the calories by 4.184
To calculate the Calorie content of a diet or food, you need to divide the kilojoules by 4.184
For quick conversion, round to 4 when multiplying or dividing to find the amount of calories or kilojoules
What Makes up Calories?
The amount of calories we get from food determines the amount of energy it provides our bodies. The following macro-nutrients provide energy:
1 gram carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram fat = 9 calories (fats contribute the most calories per gram of food)
1 gram protein = 4 calories
1 gram of pure alcohol = 7 calories (although, not considered a macro-nutrient because it is not needed for survival)
45-65% of total calories should come from Carbohydrates
20-35% of total calories should come from Fats
10-25% of total calories should come from Protein
Do Calories Matter?
Yes, consuming more calories than you burn results in a positive ‘energy balance’ and cause you to be overweight
Energy balance is the balance between ‘energy in’ (calories from food & beverages) and ‘energy out’ (calories you burn)
Consume more calories than you burn = weight gain (positive energy balance)
Consume less calories than you burn = weight loss (negative energy balance)
Consume the same amount of calories that you burn = maintain your weight
Why the types of foods you eat matter
Foods vary in how much calories (and nutrients) they contain. The types of calories you eat can affect how much you weigh. Eating high calorie foods causes excess calories not used for energy to be stored as fat.
Foods high in fat and/or sugar (most processed foods) contribute to a high load of calories and provide little to no nutrients. You will need to eat a lot of these types of foods (and calories) to feel full & satiated
Foods low in fat and sugar (such as most fruit & vegetables) are high in water, fiber, vitamins & minerals. These foods make you feel fuller quicker with fewer calories. Therefore ‘nutrient dense foods’ will not contribute to as many calories as ‘energy dense foods’ do
How much calories are needed to lose or maintain weight?
To maintain weight & not put on any extra weight:
The average male needs 2400 calories per day and 80g of fat (< 26 grams from saturated fat)
The average female needs 1800 calorie per day and 60g of fat (<20 grams from saturated fat)
Note: You can work out your exact calorie needs below
To lose weight:
To lose 1 pound a week you need to cut 500 calories per day (1 pound = 3,500 stored calories)
How Much Calories do I need to eat per day?
Every person requires a different amount of calories depending on your height, weight, gender & level of physical activity. Calculating your personal calorie needs can help give you an indication of how many calories you need to consume per day to maintain a healthy weight
Calculate how many calories you need:
Step 1: Find your Basal Metabolic Rate
Women: 655 + (4.35 x weight (lbs.)) + 4.7 x height (inches)) – (4.7 x age (yrs.))
Men: 66 + (6.23 x weight (lbs.)) + 12.7 x height (inches)) – (6.8 x age (yrs.))
To convert kg to lbs, multiply your weight in kg by 2.2
1 kilogram (kg) = 2.2 pounds (lbs)
To convert cm to in, multiply your height in cm by 0.39
1 cm = 0.39 inches
Step 2: Determine your Activity Level
Physical activity increases calorie needs, so those who are more physically active need more total calories
Sedentary (Little to no exercise): 1.2
Lightly Active (Light Exercise – 1-3 days/week): 1.375
Moderately Active (Moderate Exercise – 3-4 days/week): 1.55
Very Active (Hard Exercise – 6-7 days/week): 1.725
Extra Active (Very Hard Exercise & Physical Job – 7 days/week): 1.9
Step 3: BMR x Activity Level = Calorie Intake
This will be the average number of calories to consume daily to maintain your current weight. Try to stay at (or a little below) this number each day. Taking in more calories can result in gradual weight gain over time. If you are gaining weight, or not losing at all, decrease your calorie intake (or increase your physical activity)
Should I Count Calories?
You do not necessarily need to be counting every calorie you eat to be successful in your weight loss goals. You can easily manage your weight by keeping track of what & how much you are eating in many other ways. Simply by learning how to identify foods higher or lower in calories & eating foods you know are healthy, low calorie options can help you achieve weight loss. As long as you are aware of how foods compare when it comes to calorie count & eating the right amount of calories for you, then you will be well on your way to meeting your weight loss goals.
Here are 2 Info-graphics summarizing ‘Calories’
Are calories the only thing I should be considering?
No. It is important to consider more than just the amount of calories you are consuming when trying to lose or maintain weight. Getting the nutrients your body needs can help you eat better & consume less calories. Eating nutrient rich foods from all the Food Groups is an easy way to consume less & lower your cravings for high calorie foods. If you are counting calories, make sure you are “counting” nutrients too
What are Easy Ways to Lower the Amount of Calories I consume?
Here are some ways to help you eat less calories:
#1 Eat only a small amount of healthy fats (avoid foods high in saturated fats)
Fats are a concentrated source of calories. Eating more than recommended serving sizes can put you over your calorie limit
#2 Avoid ‘Empty Calorie’ Foods & Drinks
Empty Calories are empty of nutritional value & include calories from solid fats and added refined sugars
Learn more about ’empty calories’ in the Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines
#3 Eat Lots of Fruit & Vegetables
Fruit & Vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, water content & micro-nutrients which helps to regulate blood sugar levels and means less hunger & more weight loss
#4 Consume Smaller Portion Sizes
Large portions can easily send you over your calorie limit. Learn to eat less.
#5 Keep your calorie limit in mind when deciding what to eat or drink
Think about how those calories can be split up among meals, snacks, and beverages over the course of a day. If you eat a larger lunch, think about eating a smaller meal at dinner
#6 Check the label of similar products for calories and choose the food with fewer calories
Be sure to look at the serving size and how many servings you are actually consuming. If you eat twice the serving size, you double the calories
Putting calories in perspective
Remember that to maintain weight & not put on any extra weight:
The average male needs 2400 calories per day and 80g of fat (< 26 grams from saturated fat)
The average female needs 1800 calorie per day and 60g of fat (max of 20 grams from saturated fat)
Here are the amount of calories for some familiar fast foods:
1 Big mac value meal = 1,130 calories (almost half of the average males calories)
1 Slice Pizza Hutt Deep Dish Meat Lovers = 580 calories, 36 grams fat (if you eat 3 slices, the average women would be getting all her daily calories in that one meal)
Starbucks Eggnog Latte = 630 calories, 30 grams fat (it is a dessert not a drink!)
Schlotzsky’s Medium Turkey Sandwich (not including sides) = 815 calories, 33 grams fat (you think it is healthy, but the bread is fried)
Jamba Juice Peanut Butter Moo’d Smoothie = 1170 calories, 30 grams fat
Quiznoes Large Classic Italian Sandwich = 1520 calories, 92 grams fat
Even though you are eating all of these calories, it still doesn’t tend to make you feel full, making it easy to overeat on these types of foods. So why do you feel hungry even though you have eaten a lot of food? One of the reasons is that these are ’empty calorie’ foods but there are some other factors that determine how hungry we are. We will discuss these now
Does Calorie Intake Alone Regulate Hunger?
Caloric intake alone does not regulate hunger – a lot of other factors cause you to still be hungry
Factors that regulate hunger:
#1 Blood Sugar – the primarily cause of hunger
Eating refined carbohydrates (that are devoid of fiber) cause spikes in blood sugar which lead to low energy levels & sugar cravings. A high fiber diet can help to regulate blood sugar, give you sustained energy & control hunger better. Eating high fiber foods such as fruit & vegetables and whole grains, as opposed to refined sugary foods, flours & breads can prevent these sugar spikes from occurring
#2 Food volume in your stomach (how full your stomach is)
The amount & type of food in your stomach determines how full you feel. Refined foods cause you to overeat because they are low in fiber – so you have to eat large quantities of these types of foods before you feel full. Fiber fills your stomach volume up faster & keeps you feeling fuller for longer
Which would fill you up quicker? 1 pound of carrots = 192 calories, or 1 pound of cheetos = 2720 calories (14 times more calorie dense)
The carrots fill you up faster whilst providing less calories. Therefore, eating more fibrous fruit & vegetables fill up your stomach instead of filling up fat deposits with excess calories you don’t need
#3 Nutritional demands (your body needs to satisfy it’s nutritional demands)
Hunger is not just a result of a need for calories or energy. There are a host of nutrients, where if deficient, your body starts to crave them. For example, during pregnancy or illness you may crave protein because of the increased need to build and repair muscle, or being deficient in vitamin C might cause you to crave citrus. It doesn’t matter how many big macs you eat, you will still not be able to get vitamin C your body needs, so getting these vital nutrients from nutrient rich foods is important to ensure your body’s cravings are satisfied
Now that you know what calories are, how much calories are needed per day & how to eat less, you will find it a lot easier to control not only the amount of calories you consume but how hungry you are as well. Working out your calorie needs can help to make sure you are consuming less than what you burn
To lose weight, there needs to be a negative energy balance – ‘calories in’ (from food & drink) need to be less than ‘energy out’ (physical activity). The easiest way to achieve this energy deficit is to reduce energy intake from food (500 calories per day) and increase physical activity. Also eating foods with a high fiber content such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains can help to lower energy intake and lead to a feeling of fullness. Avoid foods high in fat and sugar (which include most processed foods & drinks) as these contribute to a high calorie load.
Whether you want to lose or maintain weight, it is important to get enough calories from all 3 macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fats & protein) as well as from nutrient dense foods that have fewer calories. Pay attention to what you are eating and what you are putting in your body – the amount and types of foods you eat has a significant impact on your weight & health