One of the most common nutrition questions people ask is “how many calories should I eat?”. The answer is based on what your current goals are. Someone looking to build strength and muscle mass will need to eat more than someone looking to burn fat.
Take a look at the three goals below and determine which one is your current goal:
- Building strength and muscle mass. When building strength and muscle mass, you will need to be eating more calories than you are burning. Often, with this goal, you will want to be gaining weight.
- Re-composition. During re-composition, you attempt to lower your body fat percentage while still building muscle and burning fat. You will not be able to lose fat as quickly as if that were your main goal; nor can you build strength and muscle mass as fast as if it were your main goal. During a re-composition phase, people typically maintain their current weight.
- Losing fat. If your goal is to burn fat, then you will need to be burning more calories than you are eating. During a fat lose phase, most people end up losing weight.
Formulas. Once you determine your goal, you can calculate the number of calories you need to eat each day using the simple formulas below. In each formula, you will multiply your current body weight (BW) by the given number to determine the number of calories to eat each day.
Remember, these formulas are just estimates for the number of calories you should be eating. Start with whatever result you get with the formula. Try this for a week or two and see if are making progress toward your goals. If you are, continue with the current number of calories. If you are not making progress towards your goals, add or subtract 200-500 calories and try again for another week or two. It may take a few weeks to find the correct number of calories.
In the formulas below, BW stands for your current body weight.
Gain weight with BWx20. For example, if you weigh 185 lbs and are trying to build muscle mass, you will want to eat 185×20 = 3700 calories each day.
Maintain weight with BWx18. If you wish to maintain your weight of 185 lbs, you will want to eat 185×18 = 3330 calories each day.
Lose weight with BWx16. In order to lose weight at a body weight of 185 lbs, you will need to eat 185×16 = 2960 calories each day.
Making adjustments. As you progress towards your goal, you will need to adjust your calories every so often. For example, if you are working towards losing fat, you may plateau or reach a point where you are no longer making progress. After a week or two of no progress, you will need to readjust your caloric intake by 200-500 calories.
Tracking calories. Now that you know how many calories to eat, you need an easy way to keep track of how many calories you are eating each day. The best approach is to keep a food journal of everything that you eat. There are several websites that can help with this. Both Fitday and Nutrition Data are free resources to track the number of calories you are eating each day.