Determining Your Calorie Needs

Dieting Dangers

As long as there is food, there will be diets. Going on a diet is often spurred by different events, such as looking good for a wedding or reaching a milestone birthday. Instead of incorporating healthy habits to lower and maintain their weight, many people jump on the dieting bandwagon for a quick fix.

Determining Your Calorie Needs

Knowing exactly how many calories you body needs can make or break your fitness goals. Guessing may be enough for some people, but most of us need concrete numbers to follow. Here's a "no brainer" way to figure out your calorie consumption using the high-school algebra you thought you'd never need.

Your total calories needs includes your resting energy needs (basal metabolism) and the calories you use during various activities. Your metabolic calorie needs include breathing, heartbeat, food digestion, etc. and count for 60-70% of your total daily calorie needs! These needs vary depending on your gender, height, weight, age and the amount of lean body mass (muscle) you have.

Use the information below to calculate your resting energy needs. Before you start... you'll need to know your body weight in kilograms. You can calculate this by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2. Use that number in the calculations below:

determining basal calorie needs for men
Age:Calculation:
10-1817.5 x weight in kg, then + 651
19-3015.3 x weight in kg, then + 679
31-6011.6 x weight in kg, then + 879
Over 6013.5 x weight in kg, then + 487
determining basal calorie needs for women
Age:Calculation:
10-1812.2 x weight in kg, then + 746
19-3014.7 x weight in kg, then + 496
31-608.7 x weight in kg, then + 829
Over 6010.5 x weight in kg, then + 596

Now that you know how many calories you need for day to day living, you can add more calories for your daily activities. Choose the intensity level that best fits your daily routine and multiply that by the hours you do it. Below are calorie burning ranges for common activities.

determining calorie needs for various activities
IntensityCalories/HourExample
Very light80-100Seated or standing activities like: school, office work, driving, cooking, typing, etc.
Light110-160Casual walking (2.5-3.0 MPH), housecleaning, light manual labor (electrician, mechanic, carpenter, etc.), gardening/yard work, golf, etc.
Moderate170-240Fast walking (3.5-4.0 MPH), cycling, skiing, dancing, weight training, etc.
Heavy250-350Running, heavy manual labor (digging, hoeing, etc.), basketball, climbing, football, soccer, etc.
Exceptionally Heavy350 and upProfessional athletic training.

Figure out how many calories you use during other activities throughout the day. For example, if you work at a desk all day... you burn between 80 and 100 calories per hour during your work day. If you lift weights for an hour and run on the treadmill for 30 minutes after work... add another 300 calories. Add the calories from the activities you do to your basal metabolic needs and you have your total daily caloric expenditure.

Adjusting Calories to Reach Your Goal

If your goal is to maintain your current weight, you eat enough calories to fuel your daily needs. If you want to lose weight, you should create a 500-calorie deficit everyday for safe and healthy weight loss. This calorie deficit should be a combination of increased exercise and lowering your calorie intake. If your goal is to gain weight, you should add 500 calories per day from quality foods that will give your body the additional calories and nutrients it needs to add healthy weight.

Keeping track of your eating habits and calorie intake is more effective than just "watching what you eat." Most people are surprised at how unhealthy their "healthy" diets really are. Try keeping track your exercise and diet (be honest!); then make changes so your eating plan can help you reach your health and fitness goals. Over time, you'll get used to the keeping track of what you eat and will be able to do it without much thought. It's a small price to pay for health and fitness, and you're worth the effort!


This information and other information on this site is intended for general reference purposes only and is not intended to address specific medical conditions. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or a medical exam. Prior to participating in any exercise program or activity, you should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition.