The question of what your daily calorie intake should be is a question that haunts many. There is so much information out there about calories, how many you should eat, and how “bad” they are for you. This false information has led to very unhealthy crash dieting and even medical problems as people try to shrink themselves by massively lowing their daily calorie intake. I have done a lot of research on the subject and have put it all into this post for you. No more crash dieting, no more ultra-low calorie diets, no more guessing.
What is a calorie?
A calorie is a unit of heat. This until of heat is, more often than not, used to produce energy. The term calorie has picked up a bad rap because people associate calories with weight gain. However, your body NEEDS calories to remain running.
What are calories used for?
As stated above, calories are used for energy, but they have other uses as well. Calories from protein tend to be used for maintenance, repair, and the growth of new tissues and organs. The calories from carbohydrates are used for energy. Calories from fats are used as a secondary source of energy, but will be stored as fat if not used. Note: THIS DOES NOT MAKE FATS BAD!
How Do I know How Many Calories I Need?
Basal Metabolic Rate
Your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the minimum amount daily calorie intake that your body needs to function at rest, i.e. keep your organs running and other essential bodily elements. Your BMR can change based on your body composition, diet, and exercise. People who eat a very low calorie diet will have a slower metabolism than those who eat a higher calorie diet. You can change your metabolic rate, but it is a slow processes that cannot be done overnight.
Calculating Your BMR
Your BMR is calculated based off your height, body weight, sex, and age. There are some calculations that also include the amount of lean body mass you have. The calculation involving your body fat percentage (lean body mass) is the best one to use because it is taking all factors into consideration. However, many people do not know what their exact body fat percentage is. Instead of making you do all the math, I am going to link a handy dandy calculator from Bodybuilding.com here so that you can find out what your BMR is!
So How Many Calories do I need?
Your BMR does NOT tell you what your daily calorie intake should be for the day. Unless you lay on the couch all day doing absolutely nothing, eating your BMR will not give you a high enough daily calorie intake. Using the BMR as a baseline, we now take into consideration your activity level. In order to find your true daily calorie intake, based on both your activity level and your goal (fat loss, maintenance, or muscle gain), you need to take your BMR and do some more math! To save you some time, I am going to link another calculator from Bodybuilding.com here that will help you find your exact daily calorie intake needs for each day!
P.S. If you are ready to take it to the next level, or just want some accountability, with a personalized nutrition plan, please send me an email here and we can get you going with some nutritional coaching to help you crush your goals!
Eating for Weight Loss
But I want to lose weight! I can’t eat that many calories!
It’s a trap! Society has told people for so long that the only way to lose weight is to eat less. In essence, this is true. To lose weight you still must be burning more calories than your daily calorie intake. However, YOU SHOULD NEVER BE EATING BELOW YOUR BMR! If you have been eating very low calorie for a long time, it’s going to be hard to get your calories up where they need to be. Slowly increase your calories, adding about 100 calories per week into your diet. This way you will not feel bloated and gross.
Eating a high daily calorie intake will mean weight gain, right?
Perhaps initially. After eating low calorie for a long time, your metabolism has slowed down. As you increase calories to get up into a healthy daily calorie intake, your metabolism will adapt to that as well. You might even see weight loss right off the bat because your body will be getting what it needs and responding better than being restricted. You want to lose weight, but you want to be HEALTHY while doing so.
What if I don’t know how many calories I am eating?
Track your food intake for 2-3 days. Eat as you normally would for these 2-3 days and track everything that goes into your mouth. You might be surprised how few or how many calories you are eating. Use Myfitnesspal to track! It’s free and very easy to use.
Eating for Maintenance
I want to maintain my weight, what should I do?
When using the calculator to find out how many calories you should be eating in a day, select maintenance as your goal. The calculator will give you the number of calories you need to eat to maintain your weight!
What if the maintenance calories are higher than what I am eating right now?
In order to maintain your weight while adding in calories, you will have to slowly add in the calories. If you have a big calorie gap, add about 100 calories per week. If you have a small calorie gap, you should be ok to go with the higher calories. It may take a week or two for your body to adjust. Trust the process. Your body needs these calories to perform optimally, whether that means in the gym or carting your kids to soccer practice.
Eating for Gains
What if I want to gain weight/muscle?
When finding your calorie goal using the calculator above, selection muscle gain as your goal. This will put you in a calorie surplus, which means that you will be taking in more than you are burning. Calorie intake>Calorie output=weight/muscle gain! Note: This does not mean tank up on crappy foods. To see clean gains, aka not a bunch of fat gain, your diet still must consist mainly of whole, nutritious foods. Enjoy a treat once and a while, but not as your primary source of calories.
In case you hadn’t already noticed, I get extremely angry with society and the fad diets, the low calorie norms, and the relentless pursuit to get skinny. We only get one body. We have one shot at living the best, most healthy life possible. If that means you need to lose a little weight, by all means do so, but do it in a healthy way.
Many people who follow a calorie restricted diet binge eat. Binge eating is an eating disorder just like Bulimia or Anorexia. By eating the correct number of calories each day, you won’t find yourself going insane and eating everything including the kitchen sink.
Eating for health is the only sustainable “diet plan” out there. Eating for health means getting your calories in every day, not calorie restricting yourself, eating whole, nutritious foods, and allowing your body to live. If you want an ice cream cone one day, damn it go get that ice cream cone.
Our relationship with food has been warped by the idea that there are “good” foods and “bad” foods. Of course, there are definitely foods that are more nutritious for you. However, the idea that there are “good” foods and “bad” foods gives us a feeling of guilt when eat the “bad” foods. Think about this for a minute. One healthy meal will not change anything just like one unhealthy meal will not change anything. Consistency is key to health. Hit your calorie goal each day. Focus on eating nutritious foods, and treat yo self once and a while. Your body will thank you.
P.S. I will be writing a series in JUNE 2017 about macros. The above article was all about calories and how to find your calorie intake. In the macro series, we will break calories down into carbs, protein, and fats. I will walk you through what each macro is and how to calculate your optimum intake of each macro-nutrient. Stay tuned!
What are some of your struggles with calories? Drop them in the comments below so that we can help each other out!