How to Calculate the Appropriate Caloric Intake for Your Body

basal metabolic cycle

Determining the number of daily calories an individual needs to sustain their current activity level and to support all of their bodily functions should be one of the first steps in putting together a fitness program that will obtain their personal fitness and wellness goals. 

In addition to determining how many calories your body burns on a daily basis, you should also determine the daily caloric deficit that is required to obtain your personal fitness and weight loss goals within the timeframe that you have defined.

Next, you will want to determine the total number of calories that you will eliminate from your daily food intake and the total number of additional calories you will burn through performing an exercise routine.

Finally, you will want to define the specific details associated with your daily food intake (i.e. the total number of calories you will consume per day, the types of foods you are going to consume, etc.) and your specific exercise routine (i.e. types of exercises, duration of each exercise type, the number of days per week that you will participate in each type of exercise, etc.).

Once you have completed the items listed above, you will then be ready to execute your plan and obtain not only your immediate personal fitness goals, but a life that is filled with health, fitness and mental well-being. 

Your Daily Base Caloric Needs

Below is the Harris-Benedict Formula (basal metabolic rate (BMR) based on total body weight) that can be used to calculate the total number of calories that an individual burns on a daily basis to sustain proper body functionality while at rest.

Subject: Female, 30 years of age, 5' 6" tall (167.6 cm), 120 pounds (54.5 kilos)

BMR Formula (Standard English)

Women BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

Calculated BMR: 655 + 522 + 310 - 141 = 1,346 calories/day

BMR Formula (Metric)

Women BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kilos) + (1.8 x height in cm) - (4.7 x age in years)

Calculated BMR: 655 + 523 + 302 - 141 = 1,339 calories/day

NOTE: Although the standard English and Metric calculations yield a slightly different result, it is not statistically significant.

Calculate Your TDEE value

Now that you have calculated your BMR using the Harris-Benedict approach, it is time to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) value, which takes into account your physical activity in addition to your internal biological functions. To do this, simply multiply your BMR value by your activity multiplier from the chart below:

Activity Multiplier

  • Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)

  • Lightly Active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)

  • Moderately Active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)

  • Very Active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)

  • Extremely Active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or 2X day training, etc.)

Our female subject's BMR (Metric) is 1,339 calories/day, activity level is moderately active (work out 3-4 times per week), so her activity factor is 1.55.

TDEE: 1.55 X 1,339 = 2,075 calories/day (the average number of calories she burns/day)

BMR Formula (Standard English)

Women's BMR Formula = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

Men's BMR Formula = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

BMR Formula (Metric)

Women's BMR Formula = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kilos) + (1.8 x height in cm) - (4.7 x age in years)

Men's BMR Formula = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kilos) + (5 x height in cm) - (6.8 x age in years)

Note: 1 inch = 2.54 cm. and 1 kilogram = 2.2 lbs.

Calories and Activity

Below is a specific activity caloric expenditure table that can be used to assist in determining your specific TDEE value.

Please be aware that figuring out how many calories you specifically burn during an activity is almost impossible to determine exactly. However, utilizing the figures below coupled with the previous Harris-Benedict formula, you will be able to sufficiently calculate your daily caloric value, and hence define your daily caloric intake level and your personal fitness goals.

  • Aerobics - 354 calories/hour

  • Basketball - 472 calories/hour 

  • Bowling - 177 calories/hour 

  • Canoe Paddling - 177 calories/hour 

  • Cleaning - 148 calories/hour 

  • Cooking - 148 calories/hour 

  • Frisbee - 177 calories/hour 

  • Playing Catch - 148 calories/hour 

  • Kayaking - 295 calories/hour 

  • Lawn Mowing - 325 calories/hour 

  • Light Running - 472 calories/hour 

  • Light Swimming - 236 calories/hour 

  • Light Bicycling - 325 calories/hour 

Cutting Calories to Meet Your First Goal

weight loss through exercise

By consuming the number of calories calculated above (TDEE value) on a daily basis, an individual would achieve caloric equilibrium. In other words, the individual would burn the exact same number of calories that they are consuming, each and every day. Hence, they would not gain or lose weight. ,/p>

However, supposing that our sample female wanted to lose 1 pound by the end of her first week, she would need to eliminate 3,500 calories from her diet throughout that first week. This would be equivalent to eliminating 500 calories per day (7 days in a week: 7 x 500 calories per day = 3,500 calories per week).

Using Activity to Facilitate Weight Loss

After deciding that she will consume 500 calories per day below her TDEE value, she can then improve her weight loss approach by adding additional physical activity to her weekly routine. By doing so, she will create an even greater weekly caloric deficit, and lose weight at a more rapid rate. A fitness and weight loss routine that couples a decrease in caloric intake with an increase in physical activity is the recommended approach of this website.

Below is an example of coupling a deficit in caloric intake and an increase in physical activity to obtain an even more rapid achievement of your personal fitness goals. 

  1. Female is moderately active and thus needs to consume a TDEE value of 2,086 calories per day.

  2. She decides to consume 500 calories per day below her TDEE value, thus creating a 500-per-day caloric deficit. 

  3. In addition, she decides to add one hour of swimming (236 calories) each day of the week (7 days a week).

  4. This would translate to a total daily caloric deficit of 736 calories (500 calories from decreased food consumption and 236 calories from increased physical activity) per day. This results in a weekly caloric deficit of 5,152. Burning 3,500 calories results in 1 pound of weight loss. Hence, she would lose 1.47 pounds per week instead of 1 pound per week. 

Transferring This Information Into Your Own Program

As you can see from the previous examples, determining your appropriate daily caloric intake (TDEE value) is relatively easy. With a little simple math, you can monitor your daily caloric intake and predict the rate at which you will lose weight.

Should you desire to lose weight at an increased rate, you can simply add a few days of physical activity per week and obtain your weight loss goals in an even shorter period of time.

It is important to remember that it is an unsafe practice to decrease your caloric intake to the point that it begins to diminish the level at which you are feeding your body and providing it with the nutrients that it requires.

weight loss success

By choosing a restrictive "fad" diet, you'll typically deprive yourself of several crucial nutrients, many of which actually sustain normal body functioning and facilitate natural, healthy metabolism and weight loss.

Remember, the United States is not only the most overweight country per capita, but the most malnourished as well (when compared to all other developed nations).

In summary, the recommended approach to losing weight in a safe and effective manner is as follows:

  • Decrease your daily caloric intake to a level that is slightly below your personal TDEE value.

  • Ensure that the food that you are consuming is nutritious, balanced and easily digested.

  • Begin an exercise routine.

By following these simple steps, you will incorporate the safest, most effective and healthiest long-term approach to creating a lifestyle that is filled with good health, fitness and mental well-being.