The number of calories you should eat daily depends on your age, gender, height, current body weight, activity level and weight-management goals. Numerous methods exist to help estimate your individualized daily calorie needs. Weekly weigh-ins using a reliable scale, meanwhile, help determine if your current intake is appropriate based on your goals.
If you’re at a healthy body weight, you can estimate your weight-maintenance calorie needs using your current weight. Harvard Medical School suggests sedentary adults need 13 calories for each pound of their body weight, moderately active adults require 16 calories and active individuals need about 18 calories per pound of body weight daily to maintain healthy weights. Athletes often need additional calories. The University of Missouri reports that women athletes often require 20 to 23 calories per pound and male athletes may need more than 23 calories per pound of body their weight each day.
Because individualized calorie needs are based on age and height in addition to gender, current body weight and activity level, online calorie calculators are often useful. One such online tool called Daily Food Plan, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not only estimates your individualized daily calorie needs but provides you with a free healthy meal plan based on your daily calorie allotment.
Once you know your calorie needs for weight maintenance, it’s simple to estimate your weight-loss calorie requirements by subtracting 500 to 1,000 calories from your daily weight-maintenance needs. For example, if your weight-maintenance requirements are 2,400 calories per day, aim for 1,400 to 1,900 calories daily to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Women, however, should avoid dipping below 1,000 calories, and men should consume no fewer than 1,200 calories per day unless supervised by a doctor, suggests the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Your daily weight-gain calorie needs are 500 to 1,000 more than your usual intake, suggests Elena Blanco-Schumacher, a registered dietitian at Helen F. Graham Cancer Center. To help boost your intake, choose nutrient-dense, high-calorie foods – such as nuts, seeds, avocados, nut butters and dried fruits. Cook using extra plant-based oils and add powdered milk to casseroles, soups, beverages and shakes. Or, try a high-calorie nutrition shake between meals.