It is generally accepted that your body needs 2000 calories per day to keep on keeping on. The end.
Really? That construction worker has the same energy requirements as a desk worker?
Our bodies come in different shapes, sizes and genders. That’s why it’s important to calculate your personal energy needs, instead of going with a number that approximately on average applies to over 5 billion people. Roughly.
There are two numbers you need to consider:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – determined by your body structure. This is the amount of calories your body would require if all you did was sit and eat.
- Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) – these are the actual calories you require, once you factor in the amount of energy used up through physical activity.
If you’re not sure about your body fat percentage, just enter any number for now. It won’t matter to you unless you have low body fat and/or high muscle mass.
The activity factor is where it gets tricky. It is notoriously underestimated since people tend to believe they’re working out harder than they actually are. My advice is to enter a conservative activity factor. Start low and adjust over time.
The calculator will give you results in three different formulas. You should use the one that best matches your body type:
- Harris-Benedict – best option if you are obese.
- Mifflin-St Jeor – good estimate for average builds.
- Katch-McArdle – as accurate as the body fat % you entered. Best option for people with high(er) muscle mass.
Remember that these numbers are not absolute. If you went for the right formula, your BMR should be fairly accurate or within acceptable norms. However, TDEE may be off due to the aforementioned problems involving the activity factor.
Despite it not being a perfect system, it is a good enough starting point to get your ass in shape. If you follow the rules, you are unlikely to run into big issues until you start preparing for the Olympics.
Adjusting Calorie Intake
Now you know how many calories you need to consume in order to maintain your current weight.
If you want to make any changes to your weight, you will need to eat more or less than your maintenance. Before you start doing that however, I would recommend eating at around your TDEE for at least a week in order to get used to eating sufficiently and adjusting your activity factor if need be. If you are eating at TDEE but you are losing/gaining weight, then your activity factor is likely off and you need to adjust it accordingly.
Once you feel comfortable and have established that you are maintaining your weight, you can begin reducing or increasing your calorie intake step by step.
In order to lose weight, you need to consistently eat at a calorie deficit. These general guidelines will apply to the majority of people, especially those that are new to serious weight loss:
- Eat 10% below your TDEE on workout days. A workout is not: walking in the park, yoga, sex. A workout would be 45+ minutes of cardio and/or weight lifting.
- Eat 30% below your TDEE on rest days. For some people, rest day is every day. In that case I would pick one day of the week where you eat your exact TDEE (for the sake of your sanity and hormones) and eat 30% less on all other days.
You could go even lower than 30%, but eating less than 1000 calories per day is overkill and not the best way to go for long term weight loss.
If your goal is to add on muscle mass, you need to eat above your maintenance level. There is a limit to how much muscle you can add on (depending on your training experience), and it is inevitable that a portion of those calories will end up as fat. Therefore, don’t use the goal of muscle growth as an excuse to go crazy and eat everything that lands in front of you.
Start from maintenance and when your weights are stalling, increase by 5%. Very few people will benefit from eating 20% above TDEE, so remember that slow and steady wins the race… and learn to associate the word slow with muscle gains in the long run.
Calorie and Macro Counting
On top of the overall caloric intake, you need to make sure you are getting the required amount of protein, carbs and fat, as well as adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. If that wasn’t complicated enough on its own, consider that food labels may not be exact due to a myriad of reasons: produce variety, storage, animals’ diets, preparation/cooking methods, etc.
At this point, the inevitable question presents itself: is calorie counting a viable way to lose fat? For the great majority of people, the answer is a definite NO. Unless you have the dedication (and obsessiveness) to calculate, track and adjust food intake spreadsheets every single day for months on end, you’re in for a losing battle.
That’s why I’m here to take care of the dirty work, while you focus on more fulfilling things 🙂