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How to Calculate Maintenance Calories

author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
How to Calculate Maintenance Calories
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When you eat food or drink caloric beverages, you're getting energy in the form of calories. People need a certain number of calories each day to function at their best. Taking in too few or too many calories can cause problems ranging from lack of energy to weight gain. The term "maintenance calories" refers to the number of calories you need to take in each day to optimize body functions and to remain at your current weight.

Why It Matters

Knowing your maintenance calories is crucial for obtaining energy balance. Taking in more calories than your body needs leads to weight gain. If weight loss is your goal, knowing your maintenance calories gives you an idea of how many calories you need each day for weight loss. It's typical to subtract 500 to 1,000 calories from your maintenance calories to create the caloric deficit needed to lose weight at a safe rate -- 1 to 2 pounds per week. If you're an athlete who needs to gain weight to qualify for a certain weight class, knowing your maintenance calories lets you calculate how many calories you'll need to put on weight.

Consider Contributing Factors

Two primary factors influence how many calories your body needs each day to maintain your current weight. The first factor is your resting energy expenditure. This refers to how much energy your body needs for basic physiological functions such as maintaining the proper temperature, breathing and digesting food. Even when you're sitting or sleeping, your heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs need energy to function. The second factor is your physical activity level. Skeletal muscles need energy, so exercise increases your calorie needs.

Determine Your Resting Energy Expenditure

To calculate how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, first determine your resting energy expenditure. An easy formula for calculating this is to multiply your current weight in pounds by 10 if you're female and 11 if you're male. For example, if you're a woman who weighs 130 pounds, your resting energy expenditure is 1,300 calories based on this formula. If you're a male weighing 185 pounds, your expenditure is 2,035 calories. This is an estimation of how much energy your body needs at rest.

Factor in Physical Activity

Once you have your resting energy expenditure, factor in physical activity to determine your maintenance calories. If you're female, multiply your expenditure calculation by 1.3 if you're sedentary, 1.5 if you engage in light activity, 1.6 for moderate exercise, 1.9 if you're very active and 2.2 if you're extremely active. For males, multiply your calorie expenditure by 1.3 for sedentary, 1.6 for light activity, 1.7 for moderate, 2.1 for very active and 2.4 for extremely active. Light activity refers to walking, doing laundry or playing golf, whereas full-time athletes and individuals with strenuous jobs fit into the extremely active category.

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