How many calories do you need?
In this video we discuss how many calories you need.
Generally our approach when it comes to eating healthy is to focus on food quality first before worrying about calories or macros. However, once the food quality is in place it can be useful, in some contexts to consider calorie intake.
There are three main methods for determining calorie intake that are discussed in this video:
-The simplest one is to multiply your weight by 14 cals/lb if you’re trying to lose weight, 17 cals/lb if you’re trying to maintain weight, and 20cals/lb if you’re trying to gain weight. While this method is useful as a quick back-of-the envelope calculation it’s not terribly precise.
-A better measurement is to get your basal metabolic rate either online or by getting an InBody scan done. Once you have that you can use the chart from the following article based on activity levels to determine calorie needs.
-Lastly I discuss the Precision Nutrition calorie calculator which has the added virtues a) that it lets you determine how many calories you need depending on how much weight you want to lose in a given time and b) it takes into account the fact that your body will plateau when losing weight. You can check that out here.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to determine your calorie needs. There are a few things I want to say up front before we dive into things. First, as many of you know from watching our videos, we think calories and macros, all these different things can be important and useful, but we also generally think that most people need to focus on food quality first before worrying about these things. If you don’t have your food quality in place yet, you’re going to want to get that in mind, and then you can start worrying about calories.
The second thing is that what I’m going to tell you today isn’t meant to be the end-all and be-all of calorie counting. It’s meant to give you a few different ways to think about caloric needs that all kind of generally point in the same sort of direction, and give you an idea of where to go. Depending on what you’re trying to do, one may be more useful than another, and it is also going to depend on the resources you have available to you.
So, let’s start off with the most dead simple, easiest way to determine calorie needs. A really simple way that’s not super precise, but most people can just easily do at home is the following: If you want to maintain your current weight, then you’re going to multiply your body weight by 17 calories per pound of body weight. So take a theoretical hundred pound person, which obviously would be very light for both sexes. Take a hundred pound person. That person would need to eat 1,700 calories a day to maintain their weight. If that person wanted to lose weight, I don’t know why they would at a hundred pounds, but let’s just use a hundred pounds to make the math easy; they would multiply their weight times 14 calories per pound. So we’d be talking 1,400 calories a day. If they wanted to gain weight, then they would multiply their current weight by 20 calories per pound, so a total of 2,000 calories a day.
Now, what’s nice about this approach is that it’s just super simple, back of the envelope, really easy to calculate. What’s not so great about it is: It’s not terribly precise. How much lean body mass does the person have? The more muscle they have, the more lean body mass they have, the more calories they’re going to burn. Is this hundred pound person very fat-dominant or very muscle dominant? It’s not terribly precise, but most people who just want to get a basic sense, they can use that as a rough guideline.
What if you want to go a deeper down the rabbit hole to determine calorie needs? Well, to do that, you can either look up your basic metabolic rate online, which is based on things like height, weight, things like that. It’s the amount of calories you burn not doing anything whatsoever. Being asleep, just your heart beating, breathing, brain functioning, things like that. You can calculate it online with these online calculators that are based on height, weight, and other things. But if you’re a member of the gym, or you’re not a member of the gym, but you’d like to find out super accurately; you can get an in-body scan here. We can tell you, super precisely based on your lean body mass, what your BMR is.
Let’s just say, theoretically speaking, that someone’s basic metabolic rate a day is 1,500 calories. 1,500 calories is the absolute bare minimum they need to maintain their energy relative to their function. This isn’t even, again, doing anything. This is just … Imagine someone sleeping. If someone were just walking around, but not doing too much in the way of activity, you would multiply that 1,500 number times 1.2, and that would capture the energy needs of someone who had a 1,500 calorie basal metabolic rate, but was just walking around.
So, what would you do in the case of someone here, who is working out three to four times a week? For most people, I talk with … We multiply their basal metabolic rate times 1.5 or 1.55, depending on who you ask. Basically, it’s their basal metabolic rate with another 50% added onto that. That amount that you would calculate out would basically be the amount of calories you would need to stay at your current rate. Assuming I’m doing the math correctly in my head here, if we had someone with a 1,500 calorie basal metabolic rate, and let’s say they were working out three times a week; then roughly speaking, they would need to consume 2,250 calories just to maintain their current weight.
That’s not saying anything about losing weight, that’s not saying anything about gaining weight. That’s just maintaining their current eight. Now, if someone wanted to lose weight from there, they would take that 2,250 and basically knock anywhere between 10 and 20% off of that. 20% being very aggressive, and 10% being less aggressive. If someone wanted to gain weight, they would add 10 to 20% to that. Again, 20% being more aggressive, and 10% being less aggressive.
Now, if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking, “Wow, 2,250 is a whole lot more than I’m consuming.” Well, you might be right, because what we see far more often than not, you might be surprised to hear this; is we see a lot of people under-eating. People not eating enough relative to their calories are rounded up to the calories that they need. If you think this means that they should be losing weight, it actually doesn’t, necessarily. If you drop below 20% of your calorie needs on a daily basis, your body will essentially go into starvation mode and horde onto whatever it can, and make it very, very hard for you to lose weight.
So it’s not the case that if you’re severely under-eating, you’ll necessarily lose weight. You want to do it in a smart way, with no more than a 10 to 20% variation, relative to that total daily energy expenditure that you calculate by getting your basal metabolic rate, and then multiplying it times your activity level. If you guys are getting all creeped out by the math, don’t worry, I’m going to put this all below in the description of the video.
The last way that we really like … There are other ways as well, I’m just mentioning some of the ways that we really like to calculate calorie need. There is a calculator online put out by Precision Nutrition that I’ll post a link to in the comments, excuse me, in the description below; that not only determines your calorie need, but it has an equation that basically accounts for the fact that the more weight you lose, the more your body is going to try to resist you losing weight. That’s just the way your metabolism works. It doesn’t like you losing more and more weight, so it accounts for that and it gives you an even more precise calorie count of what you need.
The other thing that’s really nice about this is that you can exactly say: How much weight do you want to lose, and in what period of time? The problem with the previous methods that I mentioned, the 14, 17, and 20 body method and the BMR method is that we’re not specifying how much weight someone wants to lose or gain in what period of time. That makes all the difference. If someone wants to lose 10 pounds over six months, that’s a gigantic difference from someone wanting to lose 30 pounds in a month. So, those inputs and outputs are going to make a huge difference to your overall calculation.
The Precision Nutrition calculator is really, really cool, because it allows you to change the time domain. So let’s say you want to lose 40 pounds. Well, the amount of calories you’re going to need to take in is going to depend on whether you want to lose 40 pounds in six months or three months. The other really cool thing about the calculator is that it tells you how many calories you’ll need to maintain to lose that weight. Then once you get there, how many calories you’re going to need to maintain that weight, and those two are very different.
You’re going to need to drop your calories lower to lose that 40 pounds initially, but to maintain it once you’ve lost it, you can actually up your calories. That’s a very, very important point that people often forget. You don’t need to be hyper-caloric for the rest of your life. It can be short term in the service of getting you where you need to be, and then once you’re there, you can up your levels a bit.
Alright guys, so those are just three different methods that we like for determining calorie needs. Again, remember that food quality is first and most important above all else. Get that in line first, and then maybe worry about calories and macros. The second thing, these methods that I’ve laid out aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they’re just places to start to determine how many calories you need. Again, if you’ve been listening to this and thinking, “Boy, am I under-eating?” That might be the case, and that could be why you’re not losing weight, surprisingly.
We’ve seen a number that people who eat more of the right things, and they can actually lose weight. Alright guys, thanks so much for tuning in. I’ll see you next time.
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