When it comes to figuring out how many calories your body needs each day, it is not actually that difficult. But it is often made into an overcomplicated process!
Whether you want to know how many calories you need to be eating to lose weight, to gain weight, or to just maintain your current weight, it is actually quite simple.
Too much maths
This is NOT my preferred method for figuring out calorie requirements, but a common way is to use one of the various “formulas” out there. People can be put off by this, often fearing anything that involves calculations and numbers! To be honest, using a formula is not actually that hard to do if you take a minute to look into what it entails. However, these formulas can’t be totally accurate. Let me explain.
The calorie formulas are not magic
Some people have this perception that the formulas for calculating calorie requirements are absolutely flawless! They think that as if by some kind of sorcery or magic, you input a few figures into a mystical formula, and it conjures up your exact daily calorie needs for losing weight.
Sorry to disappoint you, but no. Any calorie calculating formula works on estimates and guesswork. And a lot of the numbers you are required to enter into the formula are based on estimates and guesswork too. Every single person’s body, lifestyle, metabolism, and activity levels are different. So, there is no way that any formula can accurately work for everyone.
Yes, they can be fairly accurate SOMETIMES for SOME people. For others they can be kind of close and used as a starting point at least. And then for other people they are way off!
But I think there is a better way of figuring out your required daily calories.
I want you to keep a food diary for a week, and the easiest way to do this is by using a calorie counting app. I have posted previously about how to use calorie counting apps, including an instructional video, HERE.
There are various apps available, and just about all of them offer a FREE version, which is always nice! The most common calorie counting app, and the one I personally recommend, is MyFitnessPal (https://www.myfitnesspal.com).
So, for seven days I don’t want you to change your diet in any way. Just eat normally. But input everything that you eat (or drink – don’t forget many drinks have calories too!) into the app.
OK, so once you’ve got a week of normal eating tracked, I want you to find out your daily average. You will most likely find that on some days (usually weekends) you ate more calories than on other days, and that’s fine. So, add up the calories consumed across the whole week, and divide this number by seven.
If you are currently maintaining body weight, i.e. with your current normal way of eating, you are neither gaining nor losing weight, then this average gives you your MAINTENANCE DAILY CALORIES.
To lose weight
Now to lose weight, you want to be eating LESS calories than your current maintenance daily calorie intake. This means you are going to deduct a small number of calories from your current daily average. You don’t want to drop too many calories too soon because:
1. It is not necessary to do so to see weight loss – why punish yourself more than you have to?
2. You want to be losing body fat, not just “body weight”. Drop too many calories too quickly, and you can easily end up losing muscle mass too! You want to keep as much muscle as possible, to keep your metabolism running faster (more muscle = a faster metabolism). Plus, muscle mass is what gives your body that toned and shapely look – you don’t want to be “lighter” but still “flabby” or “skinny fat”!
3. This makes it easier to then drop more calories if needed further down the line if your weight loss begins to stall. Drastically cut your calories straight away, and it is WAY harder to then drop even more calories later!
Aim to be losing about 1-3lbs of weight a week (depending on how much body fat you are currently carrying).
So, DEDUCT ABOUT 300 CALORIES FROM YOUR DAILY MAINTENANCE CALORIES. This is your starting point for your WEIGHT LOSS DIET.
To gain weight
If you are looking to gain muscle mass, you want to be eating MORE calories than your current maintenance daily calorie intake.
Muscle gain is unfortunately a slow process, so aim to be gaining about 1lb of body weight a week.
So, ADD ABOUT 200 CALORIES TO YOUR DAILY MAINTNENANCE CALORIES. This is your starting point for your MUSCLE GAIN DIET.
Once weight gain stalls, then you can add another 200 calories a day again. Assess how your body responds and take it from there.
You will gain SOME body fat while gaining muscle, so if you are gaining too much fat too quickly, you can consider dropping your calories back down again slightly.
What about macros
When it comes to macronutrients, i.e. how much protein, carbs, and fats to consume, it is a very individual thing. My general advice is to prioritise protein and fibre, so each day get at least 1g or protein per lb of body weight minimum. And have plenty of fibrous cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, spinach, kale, etc.) with each meal. Then for your remaining daily calories, divide these amongst your carb and fat intake as you see fit.
I talk more about the importance of protein and fibre HERE.
And that’s all there is to it! Simple!
- Track calories for a week.
- Find you daily average calories, which is your DAILY MAINTENANCE CALORIES.
- TO LOSE WEIGHT, deduct 300 calories from your daily maintenance calories.
- TO GAIN WEIGHT (MUSCLE), add 200 calories to your daily maintenance calories.
I like my method of keeping a food diary better than using a formula. It is way more accurate and much more applicable TO YOU as an individual.
Start using a calorie counting app, get tracking, figure out your daily calorie targets, and HIT THOSE TARGETS, and you’ll be on your way to reaching your physique goals in no time!