No matter what your fitness goal is, it is essential to consume the right number of calories. But how many calories should you consume each day?
In this article, you will discover the evidence-based answer so that you can maximise your fitness progress.
Why do Calories Matter for Your Fitness Goals?
- You will gain weight if you consume more calories than you burn.
- You will maintain your weight if you consume the same number of calories as you burn.
- You will lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you burn.
In addition, your calorie intake also influences your fitness results in other ways, such as by affecting your hormones and the rate at which you recover from your workouts.
For instance, being in a calorie surplus leads to higher testosterone but lower cortisol levels, leading you to recover faster from your workouts, while being in a calorie deficit impairs your recovery capacity.
How to Determine Your Ideal Calorie Intake?
It is simple. You can calculate how many calories you should consume to reach your fitness goals with the four-step formula outlined below.
Step 1: Calculate Your BMR
To determine your ideal daily calorie intake, you first have to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
This is the number of calories you would burn each day if you did no physical activity. Thus, it represents the calories your body burns to maintain vital functions, such as breathing and keeping your heart beating.
To calculate your BMR, use the following formula (the Mifflin-St Jeor equation):(4)
- Men: BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) - (5 x age in years) + 5
- Women: BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) - 161
Thus, if you were a 30-year-old male who weighs 75 kilos and is 180 cm tall, your calculation would look as follows:
- BMR = (10 x 75) + (6.25 x 180) - (5 x 30) + 5 = 1,730
If you are having problems with the maths, you can also use our calculator to determine your BMR.
Step 2: Adjust to Your Activity Level
Since you burn calories during physical activities, it is essential that you account for how active you are when you set your calorie target.
To do so, apply the activity multiplier outlined below to your BMR, the number you obtained during the previous step.
- Sedentary (little or no exercise and desk job) BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active (light activity with light exercise or sports 1-3 days per week) BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate activity with moderate exercise or sports 3-5 days per week) BMR x 1.55
- Very active (very active or hard exercise or sports 6-7 days per week) BMR x 1.725
- Extremely active (hard daily exercise or activity and physical work) BMR x 1.9
For instance, if you are moderately active and obtained 1,730 as the result of the previous step, multiply that number by 1.55, which means you will end up with 2,682.
Step 3: Modify to Your Primary Fitness Goal
By now, you know how many calories you burn on an average day. The next step is to modify that number according to your primary fitness goal. This is how to do it:
- If you want to lose weight and fat, multiply by 0.80.
- If you want to build muscle, multiply by 1.1.
- If you want to maintain your current body weight, maintain that number.
For example, if you want to lose weight and fat and you obtained 2,682 as the result of the previous step, multiply that number by 0.8, which means you will have to consume 2,145 calories per day.
Step 4: Determine Your Protein Intake
Protein is the most important macronutrient for athletes. One reason is that protein is highly satiating, which is why getting enough of it helps you to become and stay lean.
One study, for instance, found that raising protein consumption from 15% to 30% of total calorie intake reduced daily energy intake by an average of 441 calories, leading to an average weight loss of 5 kilos in 12 weeks.(5)
Besides, protein helps you build muscle. And it also helps you recover faster from your workouts. That is why it is essential that you get enough of this nutrient.(6)
Regarding the ideal intake, aim to get at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Thus, if you weight 70 kilos, that is a minimum of 112 grams.(7)
Step 5: Setting Your Dietary Fat and Carbohydrate Targets
After you have set your protein intake, get the remainder of your calories from carbs and dietary fat. We have grouped these two together since there is no optimal intake that works best for everyone.
Instead, your ideal carb intake is mostly determined by your activity level, body fat percentage, and hormonal status.
- If you are highly active, consume more carbs than dietary fat. That supports workout performance so that you can make the most athletic progress.(8)
- If you have a high body fat percentage, consume more dietary fat and fewer carbs. That is better since carrying excess kilos impairs insulin sensitivity, which makes you tolerate carbs less well.(9)
- If you are a woman with PCOS or oligomenorrhea (infrequent menstrual periods), consume more dietary fat and fewer carbs. That is better because these conditions impair insulin sensitivity.(10)(11)
If you are not one of the above, do not worry about the ratio between your carb and fat intake. Instead, eat in a balanced fashion by consuming all food groups and attempt to hit your daily calorie and protein targets.
By doing that, you will automatically consume enough of both macros to reap their benefits. Plus, you will have a lot of flexibility in your diet, which helps you adhere to your nutrition plan.
Tracking Your Calorie Intake
The number you have calculated by now represents how many calories you should consume each day based on your situation and goals. What is next is keeping track of your daily calorie intake.
Yes, it is essential to track this number because humans are terrible at guessing their calorie intake. Research shows that we underestimate how many calories we consume by up to 45%.(12)
That is why you will likely consume more calories than you should and thus hurt your fitness progress if you do not keep track of your calorie intake.
What’s more, another reason to track your calorie intake is that it supports healthy eating habits and aids long-term diet adherence.
So found one meta-analysis that weight-loss programmes involving calorie tracking result, on average, in 3.3 kilos more weight loss over one year than those that do not count calories.(13)
And another review study found that those who track calories are more successful at keeping the lost weight off.(14)
Now, if you are worried that calorie tracking requires too much time, do not despair. Various apps are available to make this process easy and straightforward.
https://www.myfitnesspal.com/ offers a good free calorie tracker it also shows you how much you consume of each vitamin and mineral your macro split. That helps you to set up your diet in such a way that you cover all your nutritional bases.