So, how much should you be eating, anyway?

A while back I posted about how looking at the weigh scale isn’t always a good idea, but instead you should be looking at (if anything) your lean body mass (i.e. what your muscles etc weigh) vs. your body fat percentage. If you missed it, read more about that here.


Branching off of that discussion, I wanted to go into a little more detail about how much you should be consuming each day. A lot of people get confused by this – and for good reason. There are SO many ways to calculate it, and so many times people use very simplistic calculators to determine their dietary needs. While those aren’t necessarily WRONG, they aren’t as accurate as they could be. And let’s face it, if you’re going to be paying attention to calories, perhaps even tracking everything you eat and tallying it up, you might as well use the most accurate, and tailored number for your specific body.

Now, I won’t be getting into philosophical discussions about whether calories are the best measure of energy intake and all that – for now we’ll just stick with the basic accepted assumptions re: CALORIC INTAKE, and help you figure out how much you should be eating daily if you want to LOSE, MAINTAIN, or GAIN.

Basal Metabolic Rate

OK, first things first. To figure out how much you should be consuming everyday, you first need to figure out what your BMR is, or Basal Metabolic Rate. To quote the guru Tom Venuto:

“Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy (number of calories) you burn at rest just to maintain normal body functions such as breathing, circulation, digestion, thinking, etc. Genetically gifted people are like cars that idle too fast. They burn off fuel even while sitting still. When they become active, they move fast and burn off fuel at an enormous rate.”

There are TWO ways to calculate your BMR:

  1. If you know your Body Fat % (I explain how in this post), the BEST formula to use is the Katch McArdle equation
  2. If you DO NOT know what your Body Fat % is, you can use the Harris Benedict equation

Let’s start with #1. This formula is the BEST to use, as it’s the MOST accurate because it takes into consideration your lean body mass. It’s gender agnostic and very simple. Once you know your lean body mass in KG, simply calculate it out.

BMR = 370 + (21.6 x lean mass in kg)

Moving on to #2. This formula is great if you don’t have a set of body fat calipers, and therefore don’t know what your lean body mass is precisely. you can use this formula instead. There are two versions for male and female, and all you need to know is your height, weight and age.

BMR = 66.47 + ( 13.75 x weight in kg ) + ( 5.003 x height in cm ) – ( 6.755 x age in years )

BMR = 655.1 + ( 9.563 x weight in kg ) + ( 1.850 x height in cm ) – ( 4.676 x age in years )

Once you’ve figured out your BMR, or the MINIMUM level of calories you need to basically stay afloat, let’s figure out how many calories you need to MAINTAIN your body weight. From there, we can branch out into GAINING or LOSING weight.

How Active Are You?

The next step is figuring out what your activity level, or factor, is. It’s also pretty simple, it only depends on how physically active you are throughout any given week. Read below and select the number that you feel best represents you:

  • 1.2: Sedentary: little or no exercise (desk job, no working out)
  • 1.375: Lightly Active: light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week
  • 1.55: Moderately Active: moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week
  • 1.725: Very Active: hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week
  • 1.9: Extra Active: very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training

Maintain, Gain or Lose?

Now, the easiest part. To figure out your MAINTENANCE level of daily calories, calculate:

BMR x Activity Factor = Daily Maintenance Calories

If you are looking to GAIN weight, ADD 300 calories to this level. If you are looking to LOSE weight, SUBTRACT 400 calories from this level.

Effective Weight Loss Strategy: the 3-by-1 Method

I’ll spare you the research on this, but a VERY EFFECTIVE way to sustain weight loss that I have personally used with GREAT success is the “3-by-1″ method. Most people know if you chronically under-eat for your bodily requirements, you will hit a plateau and will cease losing weight. You may even go into something called “starvation mode”, which is as bad as it sounds.

To counteract this, the “3-by-1″ method has you eating UNDER your maintenance level for 3 days only, then AT your maintenance level for 1 day. Rinse. Repeat. Here’s an example.

Ex. Your maintenance level is 2,000 calories. For 3 days, you eat 1,600 calories. On day 4, you eat 2,000 calories. Repeat until you hit your desired weight, and then recalculate your BMR and continue eating at your maintenance level everyday.

Tracking Your Calories

It may seem tedious, however I do recommend that if you’re up for it, tracking your calories for at least a short amount of time can really help you get a sense of how much you’re eating, and get you used to understanding how many calories are in some of the everyday foods you may eat. Hello, did you know the Starbucks Gingerbread Molasses Cookies is OVER 400 Calories? I didn’t, until I started tracking my calories and looked it up. Eghad that was an ugly surprise.

Forget the log books and calculators. Toss that stuff back to the ’70s. The best way to keep track is through an app or website that’s dedicated to helping you track. I personally used MyPlate, but I know many people also like MyFitnessPal too. Both websites have companion apps that you can use when you’re on the go. I liked My Plate because you can save recipes you make often, you can save meals or combos of foods you consume regularly, and it has a MASSIVE user generated database of foods so you don’t have to look many items up – it’s all right there.

It got to be that I could do all my tracking in under 5 mins a day, especially when I would do meal planning for a week and would pretty much know what I’d be eating for most of my meals in a day. It was quite liberating because I would KNOW if I could have that extra treat guilt-free, or if I should steel my will power and avoid it.

So there you have it. Try not to get too obsessive over your calories everyday – remember that the general trend of caloric intake will be what get’s you your ultimate success. If you have a blip one day, just start fresh the next day. But remember, abs are made in the kitchen, and 70% of your weight loss success will be due to diet and nutrition, so it won’t hurt to be a little more aware of what goes in your tummy every day.

Happy Sweating,