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How To Determine Your Caloric Needs

A simple formula anyone can use to balance their diet

by
author image Brian Sabin
Brian Sabin is LIVESTRONG.COM's content manager. He is a writer, editor and video producer who spent five years working for "Runner's World," where his series "26.2 or Die: The Matt Long Story" won a Webby Award for "Best Sports Video: People's Choice." He resides in California.
How To Determine Your Caloric Needs
PLATE BY NUMBERS: Your bodyweight offers a more reliable way to measure your ideal calorie intake than percentages. Photo Credit iStockPhoto.com

Overview

LIVESTRONG.com’s "One GREAT Answer" series takes your health and fitness questions to the world’s smartest experts.

“Is it better to gauge a diet by percentages (e.g., 40% carbs, 30% fat, 30% protein) or to gauge by the amount of each item I intake (e.g., 51g fat, 234g carbs, 39g protein)?”

–Bradley Gauvin, via Facebook

The Answer

If you’re overconsuming calories, it doesn’t matter if you’re following a magic ratio — you’re probably going to put on weight. (On the flip side, if you’re undereating, it is very difficult to put on muscle.) Either method is effective if the numbers are customized specifically for you, but my preference is to make recommendations in grams since they are simple to track (1 gram of protein or carbs = 4 calories, 1 gram of fat = 9 calories). If I instead tell you to eat 30 percent protein, for example, how much protein you end up consuming can vary dramatically based on the total calories you consume per day.

Here is a simple starting point to get you moving in the right direction. Keep in mind, that this isn’t necessarily a gold standard, fool-proof approach. But it is a simple plan that can help you improve your diet if you’re eating the right foods. I call it “The Rule of 75.”

Protein

A major point of metabolic leverage for fat loss or muscle gain is to set protein at a minimum of 0.75 grams per pound of body weight to start. I don’t put a cap this number, so if you want to enjoy another chicken breast, go for it. Just remember, if you eat significantly more protein, you’re going to want to make sure you eat even fewer carbohydrates (see below). Focus on hitting that number about 90 percent of the time and reevaluate your progress in two to four weeks.

Carbohydrates

Most people looking to melt their muffin top do better reducing carbohydrates. Maximum is 0.75 grams per pound of bodyweight, so less is better in this case. Carbs that aren’t loaded with sugar are even better. Consume half of your carbs 30 to 90 minutes prior to your workout, and spread the rest throughout the day. Readjust these two numbers (protein minimum and carb maximum) as needed.

Fats

Set your fats to 0.75 of your bodyweight. The catch is that fat has 9 calories per gram, so the caloric amount will be different than it was for carbs and protein.

For example, a 200-pound person would break down as follows:

200 x .75 = 150 grams protein at 4 calories/gram = 600 calories

200 x .75 = 150 grams carbs at 4 calories/gram = 600 calories

200 x .75 = 150 grams fat at 9 calories/gram = 1,350 calories

Total: 2,550 calories

This might seem like a lot of fat for most, but remember that eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. And eating a higher percentage of fat can increase satiety, making you feel fuller longer – and less likely to consume too many calories overall.

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