Calories are the measurement of how much energy is inside the food you’re eating. It’s the driving force that keeps your body moving and allows you to train at your best. Eating too little will cause you to be lethargic as your body doesn’t have the fuel to function. At the same time, this doesn’t mean that you should stuff your face. Having a balanced caloric intake will keep you energized and ready to be better every single day.

So how many calories do we really need in a day?

What are calories?

Almost every food or beverage we consume provides us with energy. Calories measure how much potential energy is stored in each food or beverage. A single calorie is how much energy is needed to heat a gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. Kilojoules are the metric equivalent of calories, although calories are more commonly used around the world. Each meal or drink contains different amounts of calories.

How many calories should you consume per day?

There’s no default amount of calories for everyone, since each person’s physical structure, metabolism and lifestyle are different. The energy expenditure of each person depends on these factors. This is why computing your recommended daily caloric intake is very important to maintain or improve your fitness.

If we eat more calories than we burn, the excess calories will be stored as fat which will lead to weight gain over time. Eating less calories than we use causes a caloric deficit that results in weight loss. How much to eat every day is a tool you can use to improve your fitness and performance depending on your goals.

Computing your daily energy / caloric requirements will allow you to determine your caloric surplus and deficit. The “Miffin Equation” below provides an estimate of a person’s caloric requirements from their BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate, height, current weight, and activity level.

STEP 1: Calculate BMR (basal metabolic rate)

  • Males: BMR (metric) = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
  • Females: BMR (metric) = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161

STEP 2: Calculate daily energy requirements by multiplying BMR from the equation above with one of the following activity levels:

  • 1.2: if sedentary, little or no exercise and sedentary job
  • 1.375: if lightly active, light exercise, or sports 1-3 days a week
  • 1.55: if moderately active, moderate exercise, or sports 3-5 days a week
  • 1.725: if very active, hard exercise, or sports 6-7 days a week
  • 1.9: if extremely active, hard daily exercise of sports and physical job

Now that you’ve calculated the caloric requirement to maintain your current weight, the next phase depends on your fitness goals. If you want to maintain weight, just keep doing what you're already doing.

If you’re looking to cut weight, you need to subtract 250 to 500 calories from your daily energy requirement to attain a safe and healthy amount of weight loss between 200g to 500g per week.

To achieve a caloric surplus, you need to consume at least 200 - 300 calories more than your daily energy requirement to gain weight at the moderate rate of 200g to 500g per week.

Pros and Cons of Calorie Counting

When you count calories, you build the habit of monitoring what goes into your body. You’re conscious of the food and beverage you consume, can understand why you gained or lost weight and can adjust your daily routine or eating choices based on your calorie count.

However, calorie counting does have its disadvantages. Monitoring each and every single thing that you consume may cause you to be borderline obsessive with how you behave around food – or conversely, treating exercise as an excuse to consume more food.

To achieve your fitness and performance goals, remember this rule of thumb: eat so you can train effectively.

(Featured photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash.)