When you're trying to get healthier, it can be difficult to know your calorie intake to lose weight with exercise. Ultimately to reach your weight loss goals, you must create a calorie deficit.
Your calorie intake to lose weight with exercise will vary based on age, gender, type of exercise, frequency and duration.
A Calories Per Day Calculator
To determine how many calories you should be eating every day to maintain your current weight without exercise, use a calories per day calculator, like the American Cancer Society Calorie Counter. Even though nutrition labels are based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, some people do not require this much and others require more. This calculator bases your recommended calorie intake on your age, gender, weight, height and activity level.
The calories per day calculator will give you the amount of calories you should consume every day to maintain your current weight. You'll need to make adjustments from there based on the number of calories you burn through exercise and your weight loss goals.
It's important to set a realistic goal weight and timeline for achieving that goal. You can use a weight loss calculator to determine your goal date based on your current weight, rate of weight loss and goal weight.
For instance, a 34-year-old sedentary female who is 5 feet tall and weighs 179 pounds and wants to lose 50 pounds with a 500 calorie deficit starting on August 30, 2019, needs to aim to net 1,359 calories per day and will reach the weight loss goal on August 14, 2020. With a 1,000 calorie per day deficit, that same person would need to eat 1,200 calories per day and would reach their goal on May 22, 2020.
Adjusting the activity level to lightly active would allow for 1,639 calories per day on a 500 calorie per day deficit and remain at 1,200 calories per day for a 1,000 calorie deficit. The target day would stay the same at a 500 calorie per day deficit but move up to March 5, 2020 on the 1,000 calorie a day deficit.
Increasing daily activity levels even more would allow for more calorie consumption but would only allow for reaching the goal faster with a 1,000 calorie per day deficit.
Create a Calorie Deficit
To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. Your body burns calories naturally every day, to function and keep you alive. According to the Mayo Clinic, 1 pound of fat is an estimated 3,500 calories, so to lose 1 pound per week, you must cut 500 calories per day.
You can either do this by making healthier food choices to reduce calories or through exercise. If you cut 1,000 calories per day from your typical diet, you'd lose about 2 pounds per week. However, you want to be sure you're still consuming the minimum recommended daily calorie intake to prevent the metabolism from slowing down.
According to Harvard Health, daily caloric intake should never fall below 1,200 calories per day for women or 1,500 calories per day for men, unless you're under medical supervision. Consuming too few calories could lead to nutrient deprivation.
Use an app to track your daily food intake and exercise. Not only does this help you monitor what you're eating, how much you're eating and when you're eating it, taking the time to log your food and activity makes you more successful. In a February 2019 study published in Obesity, the frequency of self-monitoring was significantly tied to the amount of weight lost.
The UCLA Center for Human Nutrition says that when someone consumes 1,000 calories or less, it has the same psychological effect as total starvation. That means after four to five days, the appetite has diminished to almost nothing, and the person is no longer hungry. Medically supervised diets ensure the low calorie consumption still provides all nutritional needs. However, these diets are not meant to sustain you over the long term.
Harvard Health also says that as you cut calories, your metabolism slows to protect itself. This means you burn even fewer calories at rest, making it harder to lose weight as you go alone. You'll either stop losing weight as quickly or stop losing weight altogether. If you start eating more calories again, you may gain weight faster than you did before.
Working out counteracts the metabolic slow down as a result of cutting calories. Regular exercise increases the calories you burn during exercise and improves your resting energy expenditure. Your resting energy expenditure, or basal metabolic rate, accounts for 60 to 75 percent of your daily caloric burn.
Exercising on a Calorie Deficit
For your weight loss to be considered healthy, you should aim to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week, unless you're under medical supervision. Adding exercise helps you lose weight, but a March 2019 study published in Obesity shows that it also helps you keep it off. By keeping activity levels high after you achieve weight loss, you're more likely to maintain it than if you continue with caloric restriction.
To make sure you're exercising enough to create your calorie deficit, you can estimate the amount of calories you'll burn with various physical activities. According to USDA's ChooseMyPlate, a 154-pound male who is 5 feet, 10 inches tall will burn 110 calories with 30 minutes of weight training as a general light workout. With a vigorous effort, he would double his caloric burn to 220 calories.
For a man eating only 1,500 calories per day, exercising to burn off 220 calories would net 1,380 calories, which is too few calories even when trying to lose weight. That's why it's important to make sure you're eating a healthy balanced diet. However, it's critical to be sure not to overeat to compensate for the caloric burn from exercise.
If exercise tends to make you hungry, time it so you're working out before a meal. This way, you're refueling your body with calories you would have consumed anyway. If you want to be sure you stay within your calorie intake to lose weight with exercise, it helps to drink water to fill your stomach before a meal.
- American Cancer Society: "American Cancer Society Calorie Counter"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calorie Counting Made Easy"
- Obesity: "Log Often, Lose More: Electronic Dietary Self‐Monitoring for Weight Loss"
- UCLA Center for Human Nutrition: "Very Low Calorie Diet"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Exercise and Weight Loss: The Importance of Resting Energy Expenditure"
- Obesity: "Exercise Is More Critical Than Diet to Maintain Weight Loss"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: ChooseMyPlate: "How Many Calories Does Physical Activity Use (Burn)?"