I am going to share with you how you can set your calories (based on your goals and stats), but there are (at least) three reasons why the number of calories I (or anyone else) am eating will not be relevant for you determining your calorie needs:
1. My daily calories vary depending upon whether I am:
a. tracking macros/calories to bulk,
b. tracking macros/calories to cut,
c. carb cycling, or
d. eat intuitatively.
2. My daily calories needs are likely to be different from yours. I am 6ft 4 for a start. My activity levels may be different to yours. My current position may be different to your current position. My metabolism is likely to be different to yours.
3. My goals may be different to yours. Your goals will determine your calorie needs. Are you trying to loose body fat? Add muscle tone? Increase strength?
So, how do you determine how many calories should YOU be eating?
Firstly, you need to set your own personal goals. What those goals look like will depend on your current fitness and health. You can read my blog post on setting SMART goals here.
You need to be clear about what you want to achieve. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do you want to start a fitness regime and lose body fat?
- Have you hit a plateau and you want to break through it?
- Do you want to gain muscle mass?
- Are you breastfeeding?
Once you have established your goals then that will guide where you set your calories.
Setting your calories
The starting point is your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) – this is the number of calories you burn in a day at rest to perform everyday functions like breathing, pumping blood around your body, staying warm, digesting food etc.
There are online calculators that will work out your BMR for you, but the calculation for women is:
10 x weight(kg) + 6.25 x height(cm) - 5 x age (years)
Once you know your BMR you can then work out your calorie need to MAINTAIN your weight depending on how active you are or “Daily Need” (this is the Harris Benedict Formula). It can be calculated as follows:
Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
Lightly active (easy exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
Extremely active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job): BMR x 1.9
The online calculators will often factor in activity levels too to give you your Daily Need.
Note that everyone’s metabolic rate is different so you will need to be a bit of detective and adjust calories as you go depending on how much fat/weight you are losing or gaining.
Next you need to adjust your calories according to the goals you have set.
To achieve fat loss you need to eat less than you burn. Less calories in than calories out. That is the basis of all diets in one way or another!
You should not cut too much too quickly as this will send your body into starvation mode and actually stop fat loss. The goal is to lose fat while retaining lean muscle mass – that requires a gradual weight loss.
Generally a cut in your Daily Need by about 500kcal will give a steady weight loss of 1 – 2lb a week.
If you are breastfeeding I would suggest that you start with less of a deficit and monitor your milk supply. Start with a cut of around 200kcal and see how you go then adapt as necessary. Don't forget that in the first week you may loose more than 1-2lbs because of the initial water loss.
I would recommend that initially you track your food intake to check that you are eating the number of calories you think you are eating. We often over or under estimate!!
Take pictures as well as weighing yourself and taking measurements so that you can get a full picture of your progress on the reduced calories.
If you are looking to improve strength or break through a plateau as someone that is already lifting and tracking then you may wish to implement macro counting and carb cycling. Both of these topics (along with more information on fasting and intuitive eating) will be the subjects of future blogs and some live chats on FB and IG during September! So watch this space!
Any questions send me an email