How Many Calories Do I Need?
Nearly everyone has wondered how many calories they should eat. There are calorie calculators all over the internet. Sure, they’ll spit out a number for you, but is this number really correct? Should every 35 year old female that weighs 150 pounds eat the same amount of calories? No.
Your metabolism is as unique as your personality. Everyone metabolizes fat, carbohydrates, and protein in different ways. These calorie calculators are nice for getting a general idea for what your caloric intake should be, but they shouldn’t be the last word on the subject.
In order to calculate how many calories you should eat, you need a little bit of information first. What you don’t need is your height or age. What you do need is an understanding of how many calories you burn, and what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to lose weight? How much do you want to lose? Maybe you’d like to gain weight. Set yourself a goal first, but set realistic, sustainable ones.
A swing of .5-1% body fat per week in either direction is the maximum you should aiming for. Anything more and the muscle to fat ratio on your body can take a change for the worse. You also have a higher chance of maintaining your weight loss or gain if you take it slow. I realize everyone wants what they want, and they want it now. However, .5% body fat a week for six months equates to a reduction of 13% body fat, which will completely transform your body. That’s a lot of weight considering it probably took you a lifetime to put the weight on in the first place.
How Many Calories Do I Burn?
You might be wondering how many calories you burn during a particular exercise. Instead, you should be trying to figure out how much you burn the rest of the day. Exercise only burns a small amount of calories compared to the number of calories your body burns the rest of the day. A typical person may burn 100 calories for every mile they run. Run 3 miles, and you’ve burned 300 calories. This is great, but the rest of the day, even while you are relaxing or sleeping, you are burning thousands of calories.
Your muscle is extremely metabolically active. It takes a lot of calories to maintain. This is why it is so important for you to build muscle if you want to efficiently burn fat. Your workouts are great to get a few hundred extra calories burned, and for creating a favorable metabolic environment for fat loss, but the real magic happens when you focus on your nutrition. Your diet is going to be your biggest game changer.
How Many Calories to Lose Weight?
OK, OK, you understand that now, but you still need to know how much you should eat to lose weight. The most accurate way to determine your calorie intake is to follow these steps:
- Set a goal of how much weight loss you desire each week (.5-1% body fat per week at most). You can measure with this cheap pair of body fat calipers.
- Get yourself a food journal, or use an app like LoseIt or MyFitnessPal so you can write down every single thing you eat. You should be writing down the calories for everything.
- Eat 10-12 times your body weight in calories per day. If you are very overweight, use the lower number. Plan your diet out in advance so that you know you are eating this much every single day. Fill your calories with healthy meals. Here are 100 healthy foods you can eat.
- Watch the scale. Is your weight going up or down? Give it at least 2 weeks to get an accurate measurement. Be patient!
- If you’re losing more than 1% of your body mass a week, add 100-200 calories to your diet. Remember, you don’t want to lose too much too fast. Losing more than 1% of your body mass each week means you’re losing valuable muscle mass.
- If after adding 100-200 calories your weight is still going down too fast, add another 100-200 calories until your fat loss is inline with the .5-1% recommended loss per week. The important thing is you find the calorie amount that is going to enable you to eat as many calories as possible and still lose weight. This will keep your fat loss progress going, and ensure that the weight you lose is fat instead of muscle. Read more about why you might not be eating enough calories to lose weight.
- If when you started off eating 10-12 times your body weight in calories you immediately started losing .5-1% body fat per week, keep your calorie intake as-is until you hit a plateau for at least 2 weeks. Once that happens you can start cutting calories again, but only 100-200 at a time. You don’t need drastic cuts to get weight loss moving forward again.
- SPECIAL NOTE: Some people may see drastic weight loss at 10 times their body weight right from the start and will be tempted to continue with this pace, but don’t. You will eventually cause metabolic damage that will be difficult to reverse. Follow the plan outlined above!
I realize some people just don’t have the patience to pull this off. Unfortunately, this is the only way to 100% (or close to it) accurately figure out how many calories you need. The second best way? Short of estimating with calorie calculators and other generic formulas, I’d highly recommend you check out the BodyMedia FIT Armband. It can accurately determine your calorie burn to within a 10% margin of error.
One of the top reasons diets fail is because people eat too few calories. When you do this, you force your body to slow down its metabolism. This causes all kinds of hormonal changes that work against you and your fat loss goals. Hormones such as testosterone, thyroid, and growth hormone are all negatively affected. Make sure that when you diet you are keeping your metabolism high, and you will be well on your way towards success, instead of deciding what diet you’re going to try next.