Earlier this week we explored the different food groups with Nutrition: Where do we start? Today we’re going to look at how much we should be eating based on total daily calories. It can be very confusing to figure out the right amount of calories to consume and depending on your goals (whether it be fat loss, weight maintenance or gaining muscle) it may be even more of a challenge.
Think of calories as a measure of energy; like how gas is fuel for your car, calories are fuel for your body. If you consume the right amount of calories your body will work very efficiently and you’ll have plenty of energy to get through day and sail through your workout. If you eat too little you’ll feel sluggish and tired because your body will be trying to conserve the little energy it has available and it won’t be as efficient. If you eat too much then you’ll feel bloated and drained because your body has to work extra hard and put extra effort in just trying to digest the excess calories you’ve eaten. It’s hard trying to figure out the right amount to eat each day because each day is very different for most of us and we all lead very different lives. I’ve heard all kinds of suggestions when it comes to calories in terms of how much. Some say 2000 a day, other say no more 1500, and some weight loss reality TV shows claim 1200 is the amount for weight loss. It’s hard to know what’s right for you.
A great way to shed some light on this is to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Your BMR is a measure of how many calories your body burns in a day. The great thing about this is that it takes into account your age, current weight, height, gender and current level of activity, so it is a good starting point for gauging how much you should eat. Here is the formula:
For Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
For Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in year)
As an example, here is my BMR:
(Note: I currently weigh 117 lbs, I am 5ft 1.5 inches, and I am 28 years old)
BMR = 655 (4.35 x 117) + (4.7 x 61.5) – (4.7 x 28) = 1321.4
This tells me how many calories I burn each day without taking into account my level of physical activity. If we do take fitness into account, we use the activity multiplier, which is as follows,
Sedentary = BMR x 1.2 (little to no exercise, desk job)
Lightly Active = BMR x 1.375 (light exercise/sports, 1-3 days/week)
Moderately Active = BMR x 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week)
Very Active = BMR x 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/week)
Extremely Active = BMR x 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports, very physical job)
Taking into account the activity multiplier for my BMR would be as follows,
1321.4 x 1.55 = 2048.17
Although I workout 5-6 days per week (see my previous post “What’s Your Excuse?” for my sample workout schedule), I also have a desk job, so even though I’m active, I am sitting down for a big portion of the day, which is why I chose the Moderately Active activity multiplier. The final number tells me how many calories to consume on average each day just to maintain my weight. My current goal is to build muscle which means I will actually have to eat a little more than this along with lifting weights and doing cardio. I am doing this by gradually adding more calories each week, just to be sure that I don’t pack on too much extra weight all at once.
If let’s say your goal is fat loss then you will want to create a calorie deficit by eating slightly less calories than your BMR and activity multiplier combined. This can be very tricky to calculate; if you’re calories drop too low too quickly you may end up losing water and muscle before you lose any fat and it will also mess with your metabolism. One method to calculate your daily caloric needs for weight loss is to consider the following: 1 pound is equal to 3500 calories, so if you want to lose 1 pound each week you will have to create a calorie deficit of 3500 each week, you can choose to do this by reducing your calories by 500 per day. For me, it would be as follows,
2048.17- 500 = 1548.17
So if I was looking to lose one pound these are how many calories each day I would have to eat. Now, this is fine, but bear in mind, that this may shock your body and be too much for it to handle, and when this happens you plateau very quickly and stay there for a long time. As I mentioned before, it may lead to water and muscle loss, before fat loss, so be very careful with your calorie reduction and talk to your health care provider prior to changing your diet.
Another option if you are looking to lose fat is to take your BMR and activity multiplier and multiply it by 80%, to create your daily calorie deficit. For me, it would be as follows,
2048.17 x 80% = 1638.54
This formula typically gives a higher amount of total daily calories, and it may be a better option for long term fat loss as it will it won’t send your metabolism into a tail-spin.
If you’re still confused about what’s right for you, enlist the help of your health care provider as they can shed some light on your best options for your goals. They may also suggest a specific diet program or regimen to help you get to where you want to be.
When I first started increasing my calories to gain muscle, I definitely noticed a difference; although it takes me almost an hour to eat all of my breakfast and lunch, I feel more satisfied after I eat. So far so good, I’ve been at it for a few weeks and I’m already starting to see changes in my body; more muscle definition and overall strength. I’m starting to feel more physically strong and I’m starting to lean-out too.
The amount of calories that you consume each day really depends on you, your goals and your comfort. Take a moment to reflect on where you’re at right now and where you’d like to be in the near future, adjust your diet accordingly. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.
Start it, Finish it
*In my next post we’ll continue exploring how much you should be eating by looking at your macronutrient allocation. Have a great and empowered weekend!