With all the conflicting dietary information many people ask, how many calories do I need? The fact is that the answer to this question varies from one person to another. While recommended daily allowances (RDAs) are somewhat ballpark figures, the actual amount of calories you need depends upon your age, height, activity level and other factors such whether or not you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
Another important consideration when you determine caloric needs is your goals. Do you want to lose weight, gain muscle or maintain the status quo? Your goals will have a significant impact on the amount of calories you eat.
How Many Calories Do I Need to Reach My Goal
The first step to reaching your weight or fitness goals is to accurately answer the question: How many calories do I need?
The RDAs are a good reference point, but to be more specific you should use a formula that takes multiple factors into account to determine your caloric needs.
Here is an easy formula to calculate your daily caloric needs based on your weight and activity level:
- For sedentary people: Weight x 14 = estimated cal/day
- For moderately active people: Weight x 17 = estimated cal/day
- For active people: Weight x 20 = estimated cal/day
This formula is simple and quick to do, but it still only takes into account a couple of factors. An even more accurate way to find out how many calories you need is to use one of the many calorie need calculators available online. Most of these calculators consider your age, height, activity level, whether you're pregnant or breastfeeding and your fitness or weight loss goals.
Here are some great calculators:
Now that you know how many calories you need, you're ready to use that number as a guide to lose or maintain weight or gain muscle.
If you simply want to maintain your current weight then your job is simple; eat the amount of calories (or very close to it) that you need per day. You will not lose or gain weight, but rather only maintain your healthy body.
Experts say that a pound of fat cells stores 3,500 calories. So in theory, to lose that amount of fat as quickly as possible, you'll have to eat 500 fewer calories per day than what you need. Nutritionists also recommend that you cut out those 500 calories from fat. The body retains calories from fat more easily than calories from carbohydrates or protein.
You'll likely find that cutting out 500 calories that you've come to know and love is not easy. You should track how many calories you eat and exercise your will power. It is also recommended that you workout regularly, as this helps burn calories and makes you healthier overall.
Experts say that a pound of lean muscle tissue stores 2,000 to 2,500 calories and to build yourself up as quickly as possible you should eat about 850 calories a day above what you need. However, you must exercise very frequently, otherwise those extra calories turn into fat, not muscle.
Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers
Many pregnant and breastfeeding mothers may want to make sure they do not gain too much weight during pregnancy or lose weight after the baby is born, but experts say they should avoid cutting calories. By heavily curbing their caloric intake, these mothers risk not getting enough vitamins and nutrients to their babies. Instead they should do only light to moderate exercise to promote healthy weight gain and weight loss.
Accurately knowing how many calories you need is important for weight management. From there you can use this number to help you lose weight, gain muscle, maintain your current weight or promote health while pregnant or breastfeeding.