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AUG 29, 2023

How Many Calories Should You Eat Per Day?

Need help with weight management or feeling constantly low on energy? Understanding how many calories you should consume daily is often at the core of these concerns.

With the constant bombardment of diet trends, nutrition advice, and workout fads, "How Many Calories Should You Eat Per Day?" becomes more complicated. This article aims to clarify the subject by laying out essential guidelines tailored to your individual needs.

What is a Calorie?

This is probably the most misunderstood part of any discussion about calories - especially as many people assume they’re simply something bad that you don’t want in your system. In fact, calories represent the amount of energy food provides to our bodies. Macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) are the primary sources of calories.

  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories.

Factors Influencing Daily Caloric Intake

Factors influencing our daily calorie intake include age, gender, metabolism, and activity level.

Age, Gender, and Metabolism

  • Men generally require more calories than women due to a higher muscle mass.
  • The metabolic rate declines with age, leading to reduced calorie needs.
  • Genetics can influence how quickly or slowly someone burns calories.

Activity Level

  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Requires fewer calories.
  • Active Lifestyle: Requires more calories due to energy expenditure.

Calculating Your Ideal Caloric Intake

Calculating your ideal caloric intake is fundamental to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being. Whether you're looking to lose weight, gain muscle, or maintain your current physique, understanding the number of calories your body requires can be the key to crafting an effective nutritional strategy.

BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate

This represents the number of calories required to maintain body functions at rest. Different calculators exist to determine BMR, like the Harris-Benedict equation.

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

  • This combines your BMR with the calories burned from daily activities.
  • TDEE provides a more accurate estimation of daily caloric needs.

Average Caloric Needs by Activity Level

Gender/Age Group Sedentary Moderately Active Active

Men 19-30




Women 19-30




Men 31-50




Women 31-50




Table 1: Estimated Average Caloric Needs by Activity Level

These are of course general estimates; individual needs may vary.

Estimated Average Caloric Needs for Infants

Infants have different caloric needs based on their age and growth. The caloric requirements can be estimated based on general guidelines. Here's a table outlining the average estimated caloric requirements for infants:

Average Caloric Needs for Infants

Age Group Average Daily Caloric Needs

0-3 Months

50-55 kcal per pound (110-120 kcal per kg)

4-6 Months

50-55 kcal per pound (110-120 kcal per kg)

7-9 Months

50 kcal per pound (110 kcal per kg)

10-12 Months

45 kcal per pound (100 kcal per kg)

Table 2: Estimated Average Caloric Needs by Activity Level

Please note: These are general estimates and can vary based on individual factors such as growth rate, health status, and activity level. Always consult with a pediatrician or a nutritionist to understand the precise caloric needs of an infant.

The Role of Nutrient Timing

Nutrient timing is the strategic intake of food and supplements based on the body's circadian rhythms and physical activity patterns. Nutrient timing aims to optimize the body's ability to build muscle, burn fat, and recover by providing it with the right nutrients at the right times. It's not just about what you eat, but when you eat it.

When and What to Eat

The timing of your meals and the nutrients you consume can significantly impact your energy levels, muscle growth, and overall health. By aligning your food choices with specific times of the day, you can harness the full potential of every bite and optimize your body's metabolic processes.

  • Morning: Starting your day with a protein-rich meal can help maintain steady energy levels and reduce mid-morning cravings. Examples include eggs, Greek yogurt, or a protein shake. Complementing protein with good fats, like avocados or nuts, ensures sustained energy and helps absorb certain vitamins.
  • Pre-Workout: Focus on slow-digesting carbs. Consuming slow-digesting carbs 30 minutes to an hour before your workout can provide a steady energy source throughout your exercise routine. Examples include oatmeal, whole grains, and sweet potatoes. These carbs help fuel your muscles, allowing optimal performance and endurance during your session.
  • Post-Workout: Prioritize fast-digesting carbs and protein. After a rigorous workout, your muscles are like sponges, ready to absorb nutrients. Consuming fast-digesting carbs like fruits, rice, or potatoes can replenish glycogen stores, while protein helps repair and build muscle tissue. This combination accelerates recovery and promotes muscle growth. Consider a post-workout shake with whey protein and a banana for quick and efficient nutrient delivery.

Utilizing an Electric Shaker Bottle: Boosting your nutrient timing. Timing your nutrients can be a game-changer, especially regarding protein shakes or meal-replacement drinks. A good electric shaker bottle ensures a clump-free, smooth shake every time, enhancing absorption and ensuring you get the most out of your meals and supplements.

Adjusting Caloric Intake Based on Goals

Your caloric needs and distribution of macronutrients should reflect your specific health and fitness objectives. Whether you aim to shed pounds, build muscle, or simply maintain your current weight, tailoring your caloric intake to align with these goals can produce effective and lasting results.

Weight Loss

  • Create a caloric deficit: To shed weight, consume fewer calories than your body burns. This deficit prompts your body to use stored fat for energy. Aiming for a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories daily is generally recommended, which can result in a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, though individual needs may vary.
  • Prioritize nutrient-dense foods: Opt for foods rich in nutrients but low in calories. Vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits should be staples. These foods nourish the body and keep you full longer, reducing the chances of overeating.

Muscle Gain

  • Consume a caloric surplus: To build muscle, consume more calories than your body burns. This provides the necessary energy and building blocks for muscle growth. A daily excess of 250 to 500 calories is often recommended, but monitoring and adjusting based on progress and individual needs is crucial.
  • Emphasize protein intake: Protein is the primary building block for muscles. Ensure you consume adequate amounts daily, focusing on high-quality sources like lean meats, dairy, eggs, legumes, and plant-based alternatives. Timing is also essential; consider protein intake pre- and post-workout for optimal muscle repair and growth.


  • Balance caloric intake with expenditure: To maintain your current weight, the calories you consume should roughly equal the calories you burn. Monitoring and adjustments might be needed as activity levels, metabolism, and other factors change.
  • Stay consistent with nutrient timing: For those times when you're not consciously aiming for weight loss or muscle gain, nutrient timing still plays a crucial role in maintenance. Aligning your food intake with your body's needs ensures consistent energy levels, supports metabolic processes, and aids overall well-being.

Factors that Impact Your Caloric Intake

Understanding how many calories you need is foundational to creating a balanced diet. However, several factors impact the number of calories an individual should consume daily. Let's delve into these determining elements.

  1. Age
    • As we grow older, the metabolic rate generally declines. This means:
      • Infants and Toddlers: They have high caloric needs relative to their size due to rapid growth and development.
      • Children and Adolescents: Their growing phase, especially during puberty, requires more calories.
      • Adults: Metabolic rate peaks in the 20s and starts declining afterward.
      • Seniors: Older adults might have reduced muscle mass, leading to lowered caloric needs.
  2. Gender
  3. Physical Activity
    • The more active you are, the more calories you burn:
      • Sedentary: Little to no exercise.
      • Lightly Active: Light exercise/sports 1-3 days a week.
      • Moderately Active: Moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days a week.
      • Very Active: Hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week.
      • Super Active: Very hard exercise/sports & a physical job.
  4. Body Composition and Size
    • Larger people or those with muscle mass tend to burn more calories, even at rest. This is because muscle requires more energy to maintain than fat.
  5. Metabolic Rate
    • This refers to the number of calories your body needs to function. It can be influenced by factors such as thyroid function - an overactive or underactive thyroid can speed up or slow metabolism. And genetics - some people naturally have a faster or slower metabolism.
  6. Overall Health and Illness
    • Certain illnesses and health conditions can affect calorie needs:
      • Fever: This can increase caloric requirements as the body works harder to recover.
      • Infections: Might raise or lower calorie needs.
      • Chronic conditions: Diseases like cancer or autoimmune disorders can alter metabolic rate and appetite.
  7. Pregnancy and Lactation
    • Pregnant women or breastfeeding require more calories to support the growth of the fetus and milk production.
  8. External Factors
    • Surprisingly, even the environment can impact our caloric intake and burn:
      • Temperature: Cold climates can increase calorie burn as the body maintains its internal temperature.
      • Altitude: Higher altitudes can increase caloric needs because of the increased metabolic rate and higher energy cost of respiration.
  9. Diet Composition
    • The types of foods and macronutrients you consume play a role. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is the digesting, absorbing, and processing of nutrients in food, all of which burns calories. For instance, protein has a higher TEF compared to fats and carbs.
  10. Psychological Factors
    • Stress, anxiety, and other emotional states can influence appetite and eating habits, leading to fluctuations in daily caloric intake.


Figuring out "How Many Calories Should You Eat Per Day" isn't just about a number. It's about understanding your body's requirements, considering your goals, and adjusting as you evolve. It's essential to remember that everyone's caloric needs are unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Staying informed, being consistent, and regularly reassessing will pave the way for a healthier, happier you.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Why do older adults typically require fewer calories than younger individuals?
    1. As we age, our metabolic rate generally declines. This is partly due to the natural loss of muscle mass as we age, and muscle requires more energy to maintain than fat. Additionally, older adults might be less physically active, reducing their caloric needs.
  2. How does physical activity influence my daily caloric needs?
    1. Physical activity plays a significant role in determining how many calories you burn in a day. The more active you are, the higher your caloric expenditure. For instance, someone with a sedentary lifestyle will have substantially lower caloric needs than someone with hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week. Your activity level, from passive to super active, will influence the calories you should consume to maintain, lose, or gain weight.
  3. Can my environment affect how many calories I need?
    1. Yes, environmental factors can influence your caloric intake and burn. For instance, being in a cold environment can increase calorie burn as your body works harder to maintain its internal temperature. Similarly, at higher altitudes, the increased metabolic rate and the higher energy cost of respiration can raise caloric needs. Considering such external factors when determining your daily calorie requirements is essential.


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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.


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