How Many Calories Should You Eat A Day?

Welcome to Calories A Day! This site has one goal and one goal only: to help you figure out exactly how many calories you need to eat per day to make your body do exactly what you want it to do.

Why should I care about how many calories I eat a day?

Because, quite simply, your total daily calorie intake is the key to improving your body. Whether you're looking to lose weight, gain weight, lose fat, build muscle, or even just maintain your current weight, calories are the most important factor.

Obviously your workout program matters too, as does your protein, fat and carb intake. But above all else, it's calories.

That means the first and most important step you need to take to reach whatever goal you've set for yourself is to figure out how many calories you need to eat per day to reach that goal.

So, let's get started...

Figuring out what your daily calorie intake should be requires a very quick and simple 3 step process that I'm now going to walk you through. It goes like this:

Ready? Here we go...

Step 1: Estimate Your Calorie Maintenance Level

To begin, let's get 2 simple facts straight:

When the amount of calories you eat is equal to the amount of calories you burn (calories in = calories out), you're in a state usually referred to as "maintenance." You won't lose weight or gain weight. Your weight will just be maintained.

The number of calories that causes this to happen is known as your calorie maintenance level, and estimating yours is the first step in figuring out how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your goal.

So, here's the most common methods for estimating your daily calorie maintenance level...

Method #1: Body Weight (lbs) x 14-16
  • Take your current body weight (in pounds), and multiply it by 14-16. For example, a 180lb person would do 180 x 14-16 and get an estimated daily calorie maintenance level of between 2520-2880 calories a day.
Most women (and people who are less active) should use the lower end of their estimate, and most men (and people who are more active) should use the higher end of their estimate.
Method #2: The Harris-Benedict Calculator
  • Gender: MaleFemale
  • Height: feet inches
  • Weight: pounds
  • Age: years old
  • Activity level:
Your Estimated Daily Calorie Maintenance Level Is:

Those are the 2 quickest and most common ways of getting an at least somewhat accurate estimate of what your daily calorie maintenance level is.

Of course, the key word here is “estimate.” That is, after all, what both of these methods are giving you... an estimate.

For some people, both methods may be quite accurate. For others, one (usually method #2) may be more accurate than the other. But in the end, they are both just guesses, not guarantees. However, I have some good news.

The human body comes with its own built in way of guaranteeing that we are indeed 100% accurate. You'll see how in Step 3.

But first, let's take care of Step 2...

Step 2: Adjust For Your Specific Goal

At this point you've estimated how many calories you need to eat per day to maintain your current weight and condition (AKA your calorie maintenance level). Awesome! The next step is to adjust this calorie intake to fit your specific goal.

To do this, just choose your goal below and then follow the simple instructions...

I Want To Lose Weight/Lose Fat

In order to lose weight (or more specifically, lose fat), you must eat FEWER calories per day than your maintenance level amount. Doing this creates a caloric deficit, and this causes your body to burn your own stored body fat for energy instead.

The result: you lose fat. Now let's adjust to make it happen.

Ideal Daily Caloric Deficit: 20% below maintenance level.

This means that whatever your daily calorie maintenance level is, you need to eat about 20% BELOW that amount per day.

Here's an example. Let's say your daily calorie maintenance level is 2500 calories. In this example, you'd first see that 20% of 2500 is 500. That means you'd need to eat 500 fewer calories per day, which in this example means you'd need to eat about 2000 calories per day in order to lose fat at the ideal rate.

I Want To Build Muscle/Gain Weight

In order to build muscle (or gain weight), you must eat MORE calories per day than your maintenance level amount. Doing this creates a caloric surplus, and this provides your body with the extra calories it needs to create new muscle tissue.

The result: you build muscle. Now let's adjust to make it happen.

Ideal Daily Caloric Surplus: 250-500 calories.

This means that whatever your daily calorie maintenance level is, you need to eat between 250-500 calories ABOVE that amount per day.

Here's an example. Let's say your daily calorie maintenance level is 2500 calories. In this example, you'd need to eat between 2750-3000 calories per day in order to build muscle at the ideal rate.

Taaadaaa! How simple was that? Just one last step to go...

Step 3: Adjust Based On What Happens

So at this point you've estimated what your daily calorie maintenance level is and then adjusted it up or down to allow you to reach your specific goal of losing fat or building muscle.

Meaning, you've either created the ideal caloric deficit (for fat loss) or the ideal caloric surplus (for building muscle). Nice job.

All that's left to do now is make sure this truly is how many calories you need to eat per day to reach that goal.

To do this, just follow these simple instructions...

  1. Consistently eat this number of calories each day for a couple of weeks, and keep your activity level fairly consistent as well.
  2. Weigh yourself about once a week. Be sure to do it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, and try to consistently do it on the same day while wearing the same amount of clothing each time.
  3. Monitor what happens.
  4. Either continue eating this amount or adjust if needed.

I'm sure all of that made perfect sense except for the "adjust if needed" part. That will require a little bit of explaining.

So, once again, just choose your goal and then follow the simple instructions...

If Your Goal Is To Lose Weight/Lose Fat...

In order to know for sure if you've correctly figured out how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your goal of losing weight/losing fat, you just need to ensure that weight is being lost at the ideal rate. What ideal rate? This one...

The Ideal Rate Of Weight Loss = 0.5-2lbs lost per week.

More specifically:

  • Someone with an above average amount of fat to lose (say 100lbs, for example) can (and probably should) lose it at a rate of 2lbs (or more) per week, at least for a certain amount of time.
  • Someone with a more average amount of fat to lose (say 30lbs, for example) should lose it at a rate of 1-2lbs per week.
  • Someone with a below average amount of fat to lose (say 10lbs or less, for example) would be best served to lose it at a rate of 0.5-1 pound per week.

Now for the important question. What has your weight been doing since you've been eating this new amount of calories per day?

Are you losing weight at the ideal rate?

If so, congrats! You've successfully figured out how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your goal. Continue eating this amount of calories each day and enjoy your results.

Are you gaining weight, just maintaining your current weight, or losing weight slower than the ideal rate?

If so, don't feel bad. It just means one of the estimates from before was a bit off and you need to make a slight adjustment. So, just reduce your current daily calorie intake by an additional 250 calories (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you'd now eat 2250 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks.

Are you losing weight faster than the ideal rate?

If so, and it's been happening for a few weeks consistently, then it probably means one of the estimates from before was a bit off. Don't worry, we just need to adjust it slightly. Just add about 250 calories to your current daily calorie intake (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you'd now eat 2750 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks.

The quick and simple summary.

Basically, weigh yourself once per week (first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) and keep track of it somewhere. If you are losing weight at the ideal rate, you're perfect. If you aren't, then just adjust your daily calorie intake up or down in small 250 calorie increments until you are.

Simple as that.

If Your Goal Is To Build Muscle/Gain Weight...

In order to know for sure if you've correctly figured out how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your goal of building muscle/gaining weight, you just need to ensure that weight is being gained at the ideal rate. What ideal rate? This one...

The Ideal Rate Of Weight Gain = 0.25-1lb gained per week.

More specifically:

  • Men should gain weight at a rate of 0.5-1lb per week (2-4lbs per month).
  • Women should gain weight at a rate of 0.25-0.5lbs per week (1-2lbs per month).

Now for the important question. What has your weight been doing since you've been eating this new amount of calories per day?

Are you gaining weight at the ideal rate?

If so, congrats! You've successfully figured out how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your goal. Continue eating this amount of calories each day and enjoy your results.

Are you losing weight, just maintaining your current weight, or gaining weight slower than the ideal rate?

If so, don't feel bad. It just means one of the estimates from before was a bit off and you need to make a slight adjustment. So, just increase your current daily calorie intake by an additional 250 calories (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you'd now eat 2750 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks.

Are you gaining weight faster than the ideal rate?

If so, and it's been happening for a few weeks consistently, then it probably means one of the estimates from before was a bit off. Don't worry, we just need to adjust it slightly. Just subtract about 250 calories from your current daily calorie intake (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you'd now eat 2250 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks.

The quick and simple summary.

Basically, weigh yourself once per week (first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) and keep track of it somewhere. If you are gaining weight at the ideal rate, you're perfect. If you aren't, then just adjust your daily calorie intake up or down in small 250 calorie increments until you are.

Simple as that.

Step 4: Enjoy Your Results

And that's it... we're done! I told you it was going to be quick and simple.

You now know exactly how many calories you need to eat per day to get your body to do exactly what you want it to do (lose fat, build muscle, etc.). Just keep that daily calorie intake consistent, and the results you want are guaranteed to follow.

Bonus Step 5: What About The Rest Of Your Diet?

Your calorie intake is all figured out now, but what about the rest of your diet? For example...

As you can see, there's still a ton of factors you need to figure out besides calories in order for your diet to be as effective and successful as possible for your goal.

Luckily, if you're looking for the full details of EXACTLY how to put together EVERY single aspect of your ideal diet plan (and workout routine), I have 2 fantastic recommendations for you...

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