Where to begin!?
Calories. Do they matter? Of course they do! Why? Because everything we consume (with the obvious exceptions like water) contain calories in some shape or form. It doesn’t mean they are all the same. But they are indeed calories.
Calories In: Everything you consume on a daily basis, like I said, they all contain calories.
Calories out: Everything you do in a day, whether it be standing or talking, to weight training or cardio, burns calories. They all require some amount of energy. How do we get that energy? Through food. What does food contain? CALORIES! simple.
Now we know what calories in and calories out are, lets figure out how we manipulate the amount of calories we eat in order to lose weight, gain weight or maintain our weight.
When calories in = calories out → your weight will stay the same i.e. Calorie maintenance
When calories in > calories out (you eat more calories than you burn) → you will gain weight (muscle, fat, or both). i.e. Calorie surplus
When calories in < calories out (you burn more calories than you eat) → you will lose weight (muscle, fat, or both(. i.e. Calorie deficit
Easy peasy! Okay obviously there’s more to it than this but as a starting point this is what you need to know.
Now. In order to lose or gain weight we need to know how many calories we need on a daily basis to maintain our weight. From that figure, we either increase or decrease the calories per day.
Obviously there are different factors that determine one person’s calories to another’s. These include gender, age, height, weight, activity level, metabolic rate, thermic effect of food and *non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
Now obviously due to these factors, no two people will be the same, no matter how similar in age, gender, height, weight etc they are.
There is a simple way of calculating an Estimated Calorie Maintenance Level that, to me, works very well and is easy to tweak:
Your weight in pounds (lbs) x 14 , then your weight (lbs) x 17. Now somewhere in between there is the number you would use.
E.g., a 180lb male would do 180 x 14 and 180 x 17 and somewhere between 2520-3060 calories would be their Estimated Calorie Maintenance Level .
If I were an older female, who didn’t exercise I would choose towards the lower number. But, if I were a young male, who was very active, I would choose a number closer to the highest.
There it is, this is how many calories you should consume in order to maintain the weight you are now. Obviously, a lot of want to either lose weight or gain weight, so how do we do that going by our calories level?
To lose weight: A healthy rate of losing weight each week is between 0.5lb and 2lbs.
So take your maintenance level and drop it by 20% is a good place to start. If my maintenance level was 2500 calories, I would multiply this by 0.20 and subtract that from my maintenance level.
Now, for someone who has a lot of weight to lose, weight lost will more than likely be closer to the 2lbs a week in comparison to someone who doesn’t have so much to lose, and will be closer to the 0.5lb to be considered a healthy rate.
i.e. 2500 x 0.20 = 500 so subtract this from 2500 and it leaves you with 2000 as your new calorie intake to lose weight.
To gain weight: A healthy rate of gaining weight/muscle is 0.25lb for women and 0.5lb for men per week. If you go above this you will more likely be gaining fat, not muscle. And below this you won’t see much of an increase in muscle at all.
So take your maintenance level and add 500 calories to it if you are a male, and 250 calories if you are a female.
i.e. 2000 + 500 = 2500 calories for a male looking to gain weight/muscle.
Done! You can now tell how much you should be eating a day to maintain, gain or lose weight! Well done if you’ve calculated yours!
Now, if you are lazy or just feel you don’t quite believe in this method, then there is the complicated Mifflin-St Jeor Equation that does this exact thing. Luckily there are a few online calculators that do all the work for you. I would recommend using 1 of the following links as opposed to any random ones you find online.
Just copy and paste into your address bar and enter your details, and voila! You now have NO EXCUSES to start controlling your calorie intake.
I 100% do not want people to obsess with calories because like I mentioned before, it gets unhealthy. I am simply explaining to you how it works and a simple way of figuring out yours so you can keep an eye on what you’re eating and have an idea of how to work your diet around it. The majority of these calories should be from nutrient dense foods that are as unrefined and unprocessed as possible.
To put that into perspective see the picture below. I will be going into further detail on the topic as we go along. But now we all have a base to work from it makes it that bit easier to control.
This is another topic completely! I will be explaining what amount of these total calories you should be getting from which foods, by breaking down the macronutrients including protein, fats and carbs. Stay tuned!! 🙂
*Non-Activity Exercise Thermogenesis (NEAT) – all physical activity outside of the gym and sports basically, which include day to day activities like cleaning, working, dancing etc.