How many calories do you need to eat to maintain your weight?
In order to maintain your current weight, you need to consume approximately the same number of calories that your body burns. This number can vary greatly from person to person and is dependent on various factors.
These factors are:
- age – in general, as you get older your metabolism slows down, so an older person requires fewer calories to maintain their weight.
- gender – on average, men tend to have more muscle mass than women, which means they have a slightly higher metabolism and need more calories for weight maintenance.
- size of body – the larger a persons body, the more calories they burn. This is especially true if they are very muscular.
- activity levels – and as can be expected, exercise requires energy, so the more intensely and longer you workout, the more calories you need.
You can use the calculator below to estimate the number of calories that you should be consuming in order to maintain your weight.
This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.
For example, a 35 year old lady who weighs 60 kgs (132 lbs), is 165 cm tall and exercises 4 times a week will need to consume approximately 2000 calories in order to maintain her weight. Eating around 2500 calories a day without an increase in physical activity would lead to weight gain over time, whereas eating 1500 calories would lead to weight loss.
Your body mass index (BMI) gives you an indication of whether you are over, under or normal weight. It is calculated using the formula body weight in kg / height in meters2.
A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 – 24.9 is normal weight, 25 – 29.9 is overweight and 30 or more is obese.
In the example above, the lady would have a BMI of 60 / 1.652 = 22, which means that her weight would be in the normal range. However, your BMI does not provide an indication of your body composition, and this is important too.
Two individuals might see the same number when they step onto a weighing scale but their body composition might be vastly different. One person could have a low body fat percentage of say 12% whereas the others body fat percentage might be 22%. Having a very high body fat percentage brings about health issues of its own.
When thinking about calorie intake to maintain your current weight, here are some points to consider:
A majority of the calories that you eat should come from nutrient dense foods
Even though calories provide the same amount of energy, there are two different types: empty and nutrient dense calories. The former are calories that you obtain from foods that provide little or no nutritional value. An example of this is cola; whilst it is high in calories, it doesn’t provide any vitamins or minerals to the body.
By comparison, a large banana provides almost the same number of calories as the can of cola, but also provides a large number of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, manganese, magnesium and dietary fiber. It is a source of nutrient dense calories.
If a major part of your diet is made up of empty calories, it can result in vitamin & mineral deficiencies, which in turn bring about many health problems.
A large part of your diet should be made up of vegetables, fruits, lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. You can find some of the healthiest foods that you can add to your diet here.
At the same time, this means that you should minimize your intake of foods that have large amounts of added sugar and fat. This includes things like cakes, pizza, pastries, doughnuts and sugar sweetened beverages. Having them once in a while is fine but eating them on a regular basis is not recommended.
Also, whilst water has 0 calories, it is essential that you drink enough of it.
All 3 macro-nutrients are important
It is crucial to note that the calories you eat should come from foods that provide adequate amounts of each of the 3 macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Each one has its own specific functions in the body.
Protein is found in your hair and nails and is needed for the building and repair of cells and tissues. It is important that you get all 9 essential amino acids from your diet. Eating complete protein sources such as eggs, fish, meat or a combination of various non animal based protein rich foods if you are vegetarian, prevents deficiencies.
Carbohydrates or carbs provide energy for the body. A majority of the carbs that you eat should be complex, such as those obtained from sweet potatoes, oatmeal, beans, lentils and green vegetables.
Fats are another source of energy but they also support cell growth, protect your organs and keep your body warm. Good sources of fat include avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
Exercise maintains muscle mass
In order to maintain muscle mass, exercise is necessary. A combination of weight training, cardiovascular activity and a protein rich diet keeps your body looking lean and toned. On the other hand, lack of physical activity leads to muscle atrophy, which is when muscles waste away.
As mentioned above, your body composition matters. Having a higher muscle to fat ratio is much more beneficial than it is the other way around.
It may have occurred to you that you can simply reduce the amount of exercise that you do or stop completely, and then just eat fewer calories to maintain your weight. However this is not ideal because it will lead to muscle loss, which is not what you want.
Not only does exercise keep you fit, it reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, strengthens your bones, improves mood and boosts your lifespan. If you don’t already, aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 5 times a week and adjust your calorie intake to make up for this excess energy requirement.
To maintain your current weight, you should eat the same amount of calories that your body burns. A majority of these calories should come from a variety of nutrient dense foods.