How many calories should you eat a day?
The number of calories that a person should eat per day will depend on their age, gender, height, weight, how active they are and what their overall goal is. As you can imagine, this means that calorie requirements can vary greatly from person to person.
With that being said, the overall thinking behind calorie consumption is pretty straightforward:
- If you want to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. This is known as a calorie deficit and forces your body to use its fat stores as a source of energy. In general, the larger the calorie deficit, the more fat is burned.
- If you want to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. Some of these excess calories will be stored as fat, but provided that you exercise regularly and eat enough protein, many of the calories will be used to build muscle mass.
- If you want to maintain your current weight, you should eat the same number of calories as you burn per day.
It was long thought that since a pound of fat has 3500 calories, if you stayed in a deficit of 500 calories per day, you would theoretically lose a pound of weight per week. The accuracy of this is being debated by experts however.
You can use the calculator below to estimate the number of calories that you should be consuming. It uses the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, an algorithm that according to studies such as this and this has been deemed quite accurate.
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 180 cm tall and exercises 4 times a week will need to consume approximately 2150 calories to maintain her weight, 1700 calories to lose weight and 1300 calories to lose weight fast.
In order to gain weight, you should add 250 – 500 calories on top of the number of calories required to maintain your weight. In the example above, this would mean that the lady would need to eat 2400 – 2650 calories a day.
A lot of people tend to over or underestimate the number of calories that they consume. In fact, if you asked the average person how many calories they eat a day, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. Most people simply rely on hunger and eat until their appetite is satisfied.
However if you have a specific goal in mind (i.e. weight loss or gain), it is important to have a rough idea of how many calories you eat per day. This is not difficult to do and can either be done manually using a pen & paper or using an app such as myfitnesspal (available for both iOS and Android).
If you are going to be doing this manually, you need to write down everything that you eat on a given day and then refer to a website such as nutritiondata.self.com to get the calorie information for various foods. For example, a large boiled egg has 77 calories whereas a cup of cooked spaghetti has 220 calories. You can then add up all the calories in the different foods that you ate to calculate your total calorie intake for the day.
If you use the app, it will automatically refer to its own database and calculate your daily calorie intake for you. This comes in handy, especially if you eat out regularly and want to quickly calculate the number of calories in different foods.
It is recommended that you monitor your calorie intake for at least a week or two so that you get a good idea of what your average daily calorie intake is. Once you know this number, you can tweak your food consumption, depending on whether you want to lose or gain weight.
In both cases, it is highly recommended that a person exercises regularly and eats enough protein. However there are also some specific bits of information for each, which I will explain below.
As mentioned above, in order to lose weight you need to create a create a calorie deficit. This can be achieved through a combination of both diet and exercise.
Eating the correct foods can help you drastically minimize calorie intake, and increasing the intensity & duration of exercise can burn more calories.
Minimize or eliminate processed carbohydrates
The first thing to consider when trying to minimize calorie intake is to replace processed carbohydrates with foods that have complex carbs, fiber, lean protein and healthy fats.
Making this simple change can really help your weight loss efforts. This is because of two reasons.
Firstly, processed carb rich foods tend to be higher in calories than other foods. For example, a medium sized doughnut has 255 calories. Compare that to a medium sized apple that only has 95 calories. Both are delicious snacks but one is lower in calories and far healthier than the other.
Secondly, eating processed carbs causes your blood sugar and insulin levels to rise very quickly, only to fall a short while later and leave you ‘crashing’. This feeling causes people to reach out for food, leading to overeating and thereby excess calorie calorie consumption.
If you want lose weight efficiently, swap processed carbs with other nutrient dense foods.
Increase protein intake
Numerous studies have shown that increasing protein consumption can be highly beneficial for weight loss. This is because it has a high satiety, boosts metabolism and reduces food cravings.
For example, this study found that increasing protein intake to 30% of total calories resulted in 441 fewer calories being consumed per day!
Other studies such as this one have shown that high protein diets boost metabolism and increase the amount of calories burned per day.
There are many different protein rich foods available, including eggs, meat, fish, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and some vegetables. Aim for a protein intake of 25 – 30% of total calories if possible.
Don’t be afraid of fat
For a long time, the consumption of fat was associated with becoming fat, but this is not true. The consumption of excess calories and not just fat is what leads to weight gain.
Certain foods such as avocados are a source of heart healthy fats and they can also be beneficial for weight loss. This is because foods that are high in fat can keep you filling satisfied for longer.
This study found that people who ate half an avocado with their lunch felt less hungry later on and were more satisfied after the meal.
Fat rich foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds can be beneficial for weight loss, so long as they are eaten in moderation.
Eat lots of vegetables and a few fruits
You probably already know that fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They are bursting in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Fruits and vegetables are also a rich source of dietary fiber. Studies have shown that making a simple change and increasing fiber intake can help with weight loss.
It is recommended that you get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fruits tend to be high in sugar so should be eaten in moderation; eating a piece of fruit such as a banana or an apple 2 – 3 times a day is perfectly fine.
Drink more water
The best thing that you can drink when you are trying to lose weight is pure water. Not only does it have 0 calories, it also boosts metabolism and can help reduce appetite.
Many people are unaware of just how many calories certain sugar sweetened beverages have. For example, a can of cola and a cup of fruit juice both have around 140 calories. They are also loaded with sugar, a substance that is detrimental to weight loss.
The problem with sugar sweetened beverages is that the calories obtained from them are not registered well by the brain. When you eat solid food, the act of chewing and the bulk that the food adds to your stomach tells your brain that you have eaten and so you should not feel as hungry later on.
Unfortunately this is not the case when you drink sugar sweetened beverages because the calories in them are not registered as efficiently. This means that there is the possibility of going overboard on calories.
Lets say you drink a cup of fruit juice in the morning and a can of cola with lunch or dinner everyday. That equates to a total of 280 calories per day. Swapping this for water means you would end up reducing your monthly intake by 8400 calories, which equates to more than 2 pounds of fat!
You may be drinking fruit juice because of the nutrients that it contains, but eating solid fruit is generally a better option, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
In order to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn. However this doesn’t mean you should eat anything and everything that comes into sight because doing so will lead to fat gain, which ideally is not what you want.
Eat plenty of protein
Just like when trying to lose weight, you should eat plenty of protein when trying to gain it. Protein is required to grow and repair muscle tissue, and muscle is exactly what you want to build most of when gaining weight.
It is important to note however that if protein is eaten without adequate amounts of physical activity, it will just be converted into fat and stored around the body.
This is why it is important to exercise at least 3 – 4 times a week. The best type of exercise would be weight training as this will help build muscle mass. Compound exercises such as squats, dead-lifts and bench presses are particularly effective.
Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are both high in protein & calories and can help you bulk up. Supplementing with whey or other types of protein powder can also assist with boosting protein intake.
Drink some of your calories
It can get tiresome eating meal after meal all day long in an attempt to increase your calorie intake. Luckily you can drink some of your calories too.
Smoothies are a great way of doing this. They provide a quick and convenient way to ingest large amounts of food and calories. There are lots of recipes available on the web and you can also come up with your own.
For example, a smoothie made out of one and a half cups of milk, one medium sized banana, an avocado, two scoops of oats, a scoop of whey protein powder and a cup of spinach has around 800 calories and provides you with all 3 macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Split up your meals
Rather than eating 3 large meals a day, you will probably find it easier to eat 6 or 8 smaller meals instead. So if your goal is to eat 3000 calories per day, you can split this up into 8 different meals, 4 of which have 500 calories and 4 of which have 250 calories.
Regularly snacking on calorie dense foods such as guacamole, nut & seed butters and dried food is another way of quickly increasing calorie intake.
Initially it may be cumbersome calculating the number of calories in different foods multiple times a day, but once you do this a few times, you will quickly be able to estimate the number of calories that a particular food has.
The number of calories that you need to eat will depend on a variety of factors. Despite this, the crucial thing to remember is that whether you are trying to lose or gain weight, it is important to obtain these calories from wholesome and nutritious food, rather than junk.