A very popular question personal trainers and nutritionists get asked no matter what the fitness goal happens to be revolves around counting calories. Is it counting calories really necessary for weight loss? No, not really… but I will say that in the beginning, and as meal plans and programs change it can be quite useful.
There is no definitive way to determine an exact number of calories you’ll need each day with so many variables, all we can do is have a rough idea to work with as a starting point and then work to understand proper food portions, meal timing, and listening to ones body. There are many fancy techniques for determining caloric expenditure, but an easier place to start for most people is with an online calorie calculator or app like My Fitness Pal.
Once you have filled out your info in the calculator (age, height, current weight etc.) you will be given a number of calories to start with… from there reduce by 500 calories (500 x 7 = 3500 calories, roughly 1 lb body fat) to lose 1 pound per week. This is the general rule, but again you need to think about your activity level and goals.
Never drop below 1200 calories for women or below 1700 for men
There is such a deviation, plus or minus (upwards of 25%) that this isn’t an exact science, rather a starting point towards your fitness/health goals.
Once you have a number to work with, spread out the calories over your 4-6 meals and snacks per day to get a sense of your portions needed. You may want to even start with 250 calories not 500 (plus or minus) and increase after the first 2 weeks if needed.
32 years old
5′ 10″ height
Maintain current body weight = 2150
Lose Weight (reduce 500) = 1650
Gain Weight (increase 500) = 2650
Using the above example, you can see that in order to maintain his current body weight of 185 lbs, he would need to consume roughly 2150 calories per day (non-active). If we are to take away 500 calories, it falls below the recommended 1700 as absolute lowest. What now?
Since this takes into account maintaining body weight with no activity, you can roughly calculate how many calories you will be losing through workouts by tracking said workouts with an app like My Fitness Pal, or even easier,
take away 250 calories if lightly active 1-2x/week – keep calories the same if active 3-5x per week – or add 250 if very active 6-7x per week.
Now the new totals become with activity included:
Lightly Active (1-2x/week) = 1900
Active (3-5x/week) = 2150
Very Active (6-7x/week) = 2400
The calorie calculators will give you suggestions, but I have found this to be an easy and effective method shown above as a starting point. Of course, days will be variable so you will likely have low, moderate, and higher calorie days to reflect that activity level.
Start with getting a baseline of calories you need to maintain your current body weight, and adjust for your goals and activity level. This will take you to the next step to prepare for what your portions need to be, timing your meals around your lifestyle and activity, and making sure you’re getting your body’s requirements for protein, carbs, fat, and fibre. From there you can see what works for you and what doesn’t… but give yourself 1-2 weeks before adjusting. In some cases you may not be use to eating the calorie amounts, it may be much higher. If you’re eating well and mostly healthy foods you’ll likely find yourself feeling full and quite satisfied.