Firstly a calorie is just a unit of energy and we all need to eat a certain number of calories every day to either lose, maintain or gain weight. So the answer to “how many calories should I eat?” Wholly depends on your specific goals.
Are you underweight and want to put some rock-solid muscle mass on your frame?
Are you overweight and want to see your abs for the first time in your life?
The approach to each of these goals is different.
How To Know What Goal You Should Choose
Answer the following question below before making a decision on which goal you should choose:
Are you happy with your current body fat percentage?
If you’re happy with your current body fat levels and are comfortable putting on weight (50% of which is normally fat and 50% is normally muscle if you do things properly) then pick this goal.
If your current body fat percentage is too high and you’re not happy with your current body fat levels then there’s no point in gaining more weight because some of that will be fat. And if you pick the goal of gaining weight you’ll be even more unhappy with your body fat levels because you’ll ultimately be fatter which will result in you looking and feeling worse.
So first lose weight if you’re unhappy with being at a high body fat percentage and only gain weight when you’re happy with your body fat levels.
If you’re between a body fat percentage of 10-20% then you’re in a healthy body fat range. But only when you start to get above the 20% mark does it become unhealthy.
To read more about healthy and unhealthy body fat percentages click the link below:
A Quick Method To Gain Weight
From my experience the easiest way to work out how many calories you need to eat to gain weight is to:
Multiply your body weight in pounds by 18.
So a male who is 150 pounds would need to multiply 18 by 150 which equals 2700 calories. So if the 150-pound male ate 2700 calories per day they’d most likely put themselves in a calorie surplus (eat more calories than they burn) and gain weight.
To ensure that the weight you’re gaining isn’t wholly fat you need to prioritise 4 things.
- Eating a high protein diet ( eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight every day).
- Strength train 3-5 times per week.
- Prioritise getting 8 hours of sleep every night.
- Stay hydrated. Drink 3-4 litres of water per day. If you live in a hot country and have an active job you may need to drink more. As a rule of thumb if your urine is clear or a wheat-like colour you’re hydrated but if it’s a dark yellow colour you need to drink more.
Going back to the example of the 150-pound male who wants to put on weight he would need to eat around 150 grams of protein per day which is around 600 calories. The rest of the calories (2100) can come from carbs and fats but try to limit saturated fat to no more than 10% of your calories per day.
Whatever the number of calories needed for you to gain weight is it’s smart to make sure that at least 70% of those calories are coming from healthy whole foods which include foods like:
- Lean meats
- Fruits and vegetables
- Low-fat dairy
And make sure that no more than 30% of your calories are coming from nutritionally bankrupt foods like:
- Full-fat dairy
- Deep-fried foods
- Sugary cereals
How To Track Weight Gain And What To Do If You’re Not Gaining Weight
First of all, you need to keep track of your weigh-ins so you know if you’re actually gaining weight or not. And that’s best achieved by weighing yourself periodically. Here are two options for doing that.
- Weigh yourself Monday through to Sunday and work out a weekly average. Then use the average weigh-in as your overall weekly weigh-in number.
- Weigh yourself once per week and compare it with the previous week’s weigh-in.
Note: When weighing yourself make sure you do it under similar conditions every day/ week. It’s best to weigh yourself first thing in the morning when you get up in your underwear on an empty stomach (when you haven’t eaten or drank anything).
A steady rate of weight gain is to put on between 0.5 to 1 pound per week, this is an ideal amount of weight to put on to maximise muscle growth while putting on a minimum amount of fat.
If you’re not gaining weight eating the initial number of calories simply add 150 calories to your daily limit and you should see the scale move up and your strength should increase nicely in the gym.
A Quick Method To Lose Weight
To work out the number of calories you need to eat to lose weight multiply your body weight in pounds by 11.
So if a 180-pound male wanted to lose weight he’d need to eat roughly 1980 calories per day.
This should put him in a calorie deficit of roughly 500 calories per day and should ensure he loses around a pound per week.
But if this individual wanted to make sure most of what he lost wasn’t muscle and was mostly fat he’d need to also do a few other things like:
- Lift weights 3-5 times per week.
- Eat mainly nutritious foods. I recommend that people who are trying to lose weight should eat 80% of their calories from healthy whole foods and allow themselves the freedom to eat whatever they like for the additional 20% of their calories.
- Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated can help you feel full. And our bodies are made up of around 60% water so drinking enough water is essential to our bodies operating properly.
- Sleep 8 hours per night, this will help you recover properly and ultimately lose more fat and less muscle.
If after a week you’re still not losing weight eating the initial number of calories you can reduce your daily calories by 150 and that should get the scale moving in the right direction.
If you’re still not losing weight you can simply reduce your calories again by 150 or do some extra cardio on your non-lifting days to widen the calorie deficit you’re in (eating fewer calories than you burn).
A Quick Method To Maintain Your Weight
If you’re happy with your current weight you can maintain it by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 14 and using the sum of that calculation as your daily calories.
So a 170-pound male who is happy with his weight and wants to maintain it would multiply 170 by 14 which equals 2380 calories.
When you eat at your maintenance calories which means roughly eating the same number of calories as you burn every day make sure you also:
- Lift weights 3-5 times per week.
- Eat a mostly nutritious diet and eat 80% of your calories from healthy whole foods.
- Sleep for 8 hours every night.
Ideally, the individual who maintains is someone who has switched between multiple cut and bulk phases and is happy with his body fat levels, size and strength.
Why One Size Fits All Calorie Targets And Cookie Cutter Diets Don’t Work In The Long Term
There are many different diet approaches out there such as:
- Low carb diets e.g. the keto diet.
- Low-fat diets.
- The Vegan diet.
- The Atkins diet.
- The Zone diet.
- And more.
The main reason why diet approaches like the ones above generally don’t work in the long term is because they aren’t personalised to the individual.
We are all different shapes and sizes and have different activity levels. One diet approach doesn’t work for everyone.
The 2 Factors That Determine How Many Calories You Need To Eat
The 2 factors are:
- Activity levels.
- Body size and composition.
If two individuals were both the same weight but one was sedentary while the other was extremely active, the more active individual would burn more calories and thus have to eat more calories for whatever their goal was compared to the sedentary individual.
Body Size And Composition
A bigger, stronger and heavier individual will burn more calories than someone who is smaller given that they had similar activity levels.
This is simply due to the fact that:
Larger individuals require more energy to move their bodies, so you’ll usually burn more calories at a heavier weight.
Why Men Usually Burn More Calories Than Women
This primarily comes down to the fact that men are bigger than women, and a bigger individual needs to eat more calories to maintain his or her weight.
But this isn’t always the case, for example, a female who lifts weights 3-5 times per week, has an active job, performs cardio multiple times per week and has a decent amount of muscle on her frame will burn more calories than a sedentary male of average height and weight.
Does My Metabolism Slow Down With Age?
As we get older more people tend to become sedentary. And this can result in:
- A loss of muscle mass (sedentary people don’t tend to use their muscles much and remember if you don’t use it you lose it.) If you lose muscle your metabolism slows down. This is because muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in our bodies.
- Activity levels decrease ( if activity levels decrease you burn fewer calories which can make gaining weight easier). And the more overweight you get the harder it is to move and stay active and so you’ll lose even more muscle and be less active. And because you’ll have less muscle on your frame you’ll burn fewer calories and you’ll be less active so you’ll burn fewer calories in general from exercise.
So in fact someone can maintain a high metabolism in old age by:
- Lifting weights 3-5 times per week will help build and maintain muscle mass.
- Staying active will help you burn more calories so you’ll need to eat more calories to gain weight which will make gaining weight harder.
How Many Calories Should Children Eat?
I don’t recommend that children count calories. It’s normally too much of a hassle and often ends up being counterproductive for them.
Instead, encourage them to eat mostly nutritious foods and to keep active. Make sure to save the cheat foods for special occasions.
I have a great strategy for people who want to lose weight without counting their calories.
The link is below.
General Guidelines Don’t Work For Everyone
In the United Kingdom, the recommended daily calorie intake is to eat 2000 calories per day for females and 2500 calories for males (these figures are to maintain your weight).
These intakes most likely work for a lot of people. But there are a lot of people these general calorie intakes wouldn’t work for.
For example, a larger than average male in weight and height is going to need to eat more calories than the recommended daily intake.
And the smaller than average female in weight and height, and who is less active than the average female will need to eat significantly fewer calories to maintain her weight. Otherwise eating 2000 calories per day will be too much and lead to excessive fat gain in the long term.
How To Count Calories For Beginners
My fitness pal has an extensive database of any food you could ever think of, so it’s extremely easy to track your calories using this app.
The Bottom Line On How Many Calories Should I Eat? (A Quick Guide)
- Whether your goal is to lose weight or gain weight the number of calories you need to eat has to be personalised to you.
- Cookie-cutter nutrition programs and dieting methods don’t work in the long term. You need to customise your nutrition to you.
Thank you for reading, if you want to work out a slightly more complicated but slightly more accurate method to gain weight and lose weight read the articles below.