Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight, having a basic understanding of how many calories your body requires can help you figure out how many calories to consume. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) collects data about the recommended calorie ranges for men and women. Depending on your activity level and body composition, your numbers may vary.
The total number of calories you consume every day is a major determining factor in your body weight.Once you get a baseline idea of how much energy your body requires, you can make adjustments to your energy balance, and as a result, change your weight. But note that calories are estimates, and this process won't be perfect.
Calorie Intake Recommendations
Can you guess how many calories most Americans consume per day? According to some reports, the number is as high as 3,600. This figure has been on the rise for nearly half a century. Rising rates of calorie intake are likely contributing to the increased obesity rates for society as a whole.
The USDA recommends average daily calorie intakes for men and women that vary based on a number of factors including age, weight, height and level of physical activity.
USDA Recommended Daily Calorie Intake for MenAgeRecommended Daily Calorie Intake1930 years2,4003,000 calories3140years2,4003,800calories4150years2,2002,800calories5160years2,2002,800calories6170years2,0002,600calories71+years2,0002,600caloriesThe reference man used for these calculations is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 154 pounds.
USDA Recommended Daily Calorie Intake for WomenAgeRecommended Daily Calorie Intake1930 years1,8002,400 calories3140years1,8002,200calories4150years1,8002,200calories5160years1,6002,200calories6170years1,6002,000calories71+years1,6002,000caloriesThe reference woman used for these calculations is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 126 pounds.
Measure Average Calories Per Day
Although averages can be helpful, calculating your individual needs based on your measurements provides a more accurate range. To find out how many calories you average per day, keep a simple food journal over one week.
Choose a week when your daily food intake, activity level, and access to food are typical. Don't do this when you are starting a new exercise program, on vacation, or experiencing any other changes to your usual routine. There are lots of free apps for tracking your calorie intake if you prefer. MyFitnessPal and Lose It! are two popular choices.
If weight loss is your goal, patience is key. You may feel eager to start losing weight. However, without a clear picture of your starting point, it can be difficult to identify which areas to improve. Temporary food tracking gives you a chance to learn basic skills, like recording and measuring out portions. Spending some time tracking helps lay the groundwork for weight loss success by making you more aware of your usual eating habits.
How Many Calories Should You Eat a Day?
Record Daily Calories
Record your calories for one week online or on paper. There is no "best" method, but many people find smartphone apps easier because the calories and other nutrients are generated automatically after selecting your foods.
A handwritten food diary works just as well, as long as you're consistent. Measuring and record everything that you eat and drink during this testing period will give you the most accurate data to work with. The USDA National Nutrient Database provides nutritional information for all foods and beverages for those tracking on paper. Follow these guidelines to keep an accurate food diary:
Calculate Average Calorie Intake
At the end of the week, add up your daily calorie intake. Add all seven days together and divide the number by seven to give you an average daily calorie count. Heres an example:
Example Daily Calorie LogDayTotal CaloriesMonday1,900 caloriesTuesday2,500 caloriesWednesday2,000 caloriesThursday2,100 caloriesFriday2,000 caloriesSaturday2,400 caloriesSunday1,800 calories
Using this example, the total calories consumed during the week was 14,700. When divided by seven days, that's an average of 2,100 calories per day.
You can also do this for each macronutrient to find out how many grams of fat, carbohydrate, and protein you typically consume each day. Depending on your activity level, making adjustments to macronutrient balance can better support your goals.
Adjust Calorie Intake
Once youve figured out your average calorie intake, you can adjust your food choices and activity level to fit your personal goals.If you are trying to lose weight, a good rule of thumb is to reduce your calorie intake by 3,500 calories per week, or an average of 500 calories per day. This should help you lose one pound of body fat per week, which is a sustainable rate of weight loss.
If you reach a weight loss plateau or if your weight loss plan just isn't working, you might consider repeating this process to reevaluate your current calorie intake and calorie needs. Keeping a food diary lets you see if you are taking in enough vegetables, protein, and natural foods to support a healthy lifestyle. Even when they are low in calories, processed foods often have empty calories and just aren't as filling or beneficial for sustainable weight loss as whole foods are.
It's also possible that you won't lose weight no matter how many times you repeat this process. If your body has reached its set point, it's difficult to push it beyond that.
A Word From Verywell
While important, calories represent just one aspect of overall nutritional outlook. The combined caloric and nutrient values of the foods we eat matter more for our health. Eating a 100-calorie cookie doesn't give you the same benefits as a 100-calorie bowl of vegetables. Striking a balance between treats and functional foods is the key to developing sustainable eating habits.
Add Simple Changes to Your Daily Routine for Weight Loss