Last week I promised a post that spells out everything regarding calories, how many you need to eat and what they need to be made of. This is going to be a long post and it’s going to get geeky at times but I’m going to try to make it entertaining and easy to understand so hang in there.
Start Here: What the Heck Are Calories?
Calories, OMG calories! How many calories! Gotta burn calories! Too many calories! Gotta count calories! If you’ve dieted, know someone who has dieted or simply know what a diet is you’ve heard these things before. We say a lot about calories and in many instances fear them like we fear cancer or Freddy Krueger but, I mean … why? Calories are necessary for our bodies — they’re not your enemy.
Calories are your bros.
Not convinced? Let’s dive deeper.
What is a Calorie? Simply put, a Calorie is a unit of energy. At the chemistry level, a calorie (lowercase c or Little Calorie) is the amount of energy necessary to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C. When we use the term to refer to our food, we’re actually talking about a kilocalorie (or Calorie with uppercase C; also known as Large Calorie or Food Calorie). The kilocalorie is exactly what its name suggests — 1,000 small calories. This is how we measure food and this is what determines our journeys.
So there. Calories = Energy.
When you want to do anything — ANYTHING — from lifting heavy weights and running marathons to simply staying alive while you sleep, your body requires calories to exist. If you consume too few calories, your body will start eating away at itself as it begins converting bits of itself into energy to burn so it can survive. The body becomes malnourished and extremes often lead to death. If you consume too many calories, your body stores the excess throughout itself as fat for later use. The body becomes obese and, again, extremes often prove fatal.
All this to say, the Calorie isn’t the problem. Your bad habits are. And we’re here to fix that.
Next Up: How Many Calories Do I Need?
If your goal is to lose weight, gain mass or simply maintain a healthy weight, you must first calculate and understand your caloric requirement. There are hundreds of apps on the market that will take some of the same basic information I’m about to discuss — namely gender, age, weight and height — to determine what your calorie requirement for the day is. If you’re just getting started on your journey, one of these apps will suffice.
I’ve found this article that runs through the pros and cons of some of the best tracking apps on the market if you’d like to just use one of those.
**I’d like to take this time to go ahead and say that most “scientific” studies that say a healthy diet is x-number of calories is misleading and incorrect. It’s easy to generalize but ultimately these studies indicate an average calorie requirement for an average group of people. I don’t care how big/little you are, you are not average and you were likely never consulted during these studies.**
But You Said You’d Teach Us Something; Don’t Tell Us to Use an App!
If you want to determine how many calories you need to shoot for during the day, you’ll need the following figures handy: your gender, your age in years, your height in inches and your weight in pounds.
These units of measurement will help us determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the number of calories your body requires to exist. If you laid in bed all day and just breathed, your body would still need calories. This is your BMR. I’m going to show you how to calculate yours, but it can also be done with apps like this.
But let’s do it the long way.
If you’re a man:
BMR = 66 + (6.2 x [weight]) + (12.7 x [height]) – (6.7 x [age])
If you’re a woman:
BMR = 655.1 + (4 x [weight]) + (4.7 x [height]) – (4.7 x [age])
Let’s use me as an example — a 34 year old male that’s 6’1″ and weighs 220 pounds. My formula would look like this:
BMR = 66 + (6.2 x 220) + (12.7 x 73) – (6.7 x 34)
and the result is 2,129.3
But this is merely the BMR. The next thing we need to determine is our activity level. This will tell us how many calories are required for us to exist with our physical activity added. It’s very important to BE HONESET when you’re doing this. If you’re just starting out and you’re working out 2-3 times per week, it will be tempting to say you’re VERY ACTIVE because you’ll feel like you are but doing so will give you incorrect results and you will have sabotaged yourself. Here’s a good way to gauge your activity level:
- Sedentary = You do nothing or very little physical activity. Desk jockeys and TV show bingers likely fall into this category.
- Light Active = You do some stuff. You may be in the gym 1-3 days per week but aren’t a serious workaholic.
- Moderate = You frequent the gym and can be found there 3-5 days per week.
- Active = You’re a gym rat and you’re putting in work 6-7 days per week.
- Very Active = This is saved for people with active jobs like professional athletes or construction workers. AKA probably not you.
Now that you’ve seen the possible choices, you now must decide which one best fits your lifestyle and multiply your BMR by a certain number based on that result. See the following table for an example:
Multiply BMR By
Now while I’m in the gym literally seven days a week, I’m hardly a pro athlete so I’m choosing to go with Active.
So if my BMR is 2,129.3 and I multiply it by 1.725, I get 3,673.0425.
We’re so close. But there’s one more step we have to take.
We now must determine what our goals are. Lose weight? Gain weight? Maintain our current weight? Our answer here will determine our calorie requirement for the final time. Generally speaking, hitting the calorie number we just landed on will keep you the same weight (aka maintaining).
A caloric deficit of 500 calories per day will make a person lose 1 pound per week and is a safe method of losing weight the right way. Cutting 1,000 calories per day to lose 2 pounds per week is also okay, but I do not recommend anything more extreme.
If you’re looking to gain mass, 250-500 calories added to your number will usually result in 1/2-1 pound of body tissue added per week.
My goal is to lose about 1 pound per week, so I’ll take 3,673.0425 and subtract 500 to get 3,173.0425.
I’ll round that down to 3,173 for clarity. I’ll round it down even further to 3,000 because that’s easier and I won’t miss 100 calories.
This is how I landed on my daily calorie requirement.
Did you guys follow along? There are a lot of numbers, for sure. And honestly when I do it the long-math way I often get numbers that are WAY off. So to stay safe, I’ve created a Google sheet that calculates everything for me (correctly). Check it out:
I’d suggest you do the same. Or use one of the many online calculators. Also, don’t be surprised if you get a variety of answers from the different calculators. These are merely estimates that are designed to get you close. Don’t stress about a hundred calories or so.
It’s also important to note that you should regularly recalculate this as your calorie requirements will vary as your weight and age change.
In 1,600 words I’ve described calories and how you can determine how many you should be taking in. If you want to take a deeper dive, keep your eye on this spot because in a couple of weeks we’re going to be digging into the world of MACROS!