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How to calculate total calories for your goals

What is a calorie?

Calories can be defined as measures of heat energy stored in food. The higher the number of calories in a specific type of food, the more energy will be released to perform biological functions or sustain physical activity. When we utilize fat in our body we are simply burning stored calories, which are released to fuel our energy. Every pound of body fat (or 0.45 kilograms) contains around 3500 calories. If we want to lose two pounds (one kilogram), we would need to burn off 7000 calories of stored energy.

Energy balance

In order to lose weight we need to burn more calories than we eat on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time.

In order to maintain our weight, we need to find an exact balance between calories consumed and calories expended.

In order to gain weight, we need to store excess calories consumed on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time.

It’s important to highlight that a surplus of any type of food, even healthy food, may cause weight gain. Pay attention to portion sizes and caloric intake in order to meet your specific goals.

Influencing factors

There are several different factors that will influence your daily nutritional requirements and how many calories you burn. This includes:

1-  Your age and gender

The older we get, the slower our metabolism becomes. We can reverse this process and actively speed up our metabolism as we age by eating well, exercising and lifting weights. Gender also plays a role, as men generally require more calories than women due to a larger body frame and more muscle mass.

2-  Weight and muscle mass

The heavier you are, the more energy you will require to fuel your body. Muscle is also a metabolically active tissue, which requires more energy than fat. The more muscle mass in your body, the more calories will be required to sustain it and the more you’ll be able to burn at rest without any movement.

3-  Basal metabolic rate (BMR) and activity levels.

Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns on a daily basis (WITHOUT physical movement) for biological functions, such as digestion, blood circulation, respiration, etc. This includes the number of calories you burn on a daily basis without doing any physical activity, even when you’re relaxing on the couch. Your activity levels also influence your caloric requirements - the more active you are the more energy will be required to fuel your workout.

Develop a plan of action

One of the most accurate formulas for estimating your total caloric intake is the Harris-Benedict equation. The first step is to calculate your BMR (as mentioned, your basal metabolic rate is the number of calories utilized to perform biological functions without physical activity). The next step is to calculate your activity levels, in order to determine total caloric requirements. Finally, deduce how many calories you should be eating on a daily basis to meet your goals.  Have a calculator handy! Note: these general guidelines are also practiced by Tom Venuto who has helped millions of people across the world get leaner. 

Determine your BMR


Your BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kilograms) + (5 x height in centimeters) – (6.8 x your age)


Your BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kilograms) + (1.8 x height in centimeters) – (4.7 x age)

Example: you are a female that weighs 70 kilograms, is 165 cm tall, 35 years old and moderately active.

Your BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 70) + (5 x 165) – (6.8 x 35) = 1612 calories a day

Total daily requirements:

The final step needed in order to calculate your total daily calories is to multiply your BMR by your physical activity level. This will be the total number of calories needed to MAINTAIN your weight.

Sedentary (no exercise) = BMR x 1.2

Lightly active (low intensity exercise 2-4 times a week) = BMR x 1.375

Moderately active (moderate intensity exercise 3-5 days a week) = BMR x 1.55

Very active (high intensity exercise 6-7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725

Extremely active (athletes or exercising up to twice a day) = BMR x 1.9

Following the example of our moderately active female: 1612 (her calculated BMR) x 1.55 (moderately active) = 2498 calories for her total caloric expenditure. This is the total number of calories she can consume on a daily basis to maintain her weight.

Calories required for your specific goals:


For maintenance = BMR x physical activity levels (using the Harris-Benedict equation as illustrated above).

Fat loss

For fat loss, simply eat 15-30% below your maintenance level. Starting out at 15% is a conservative deficit, whereas 30% is more aggressive. For gradual and healthy fat loss, don’t drop your calories below 30% of your maintenance level. Start out with 15% and as you get closer to your goal, you can bump it up to 20%, 25% then 30%. Only decrease your calories further if you feel like your weight loss is starting to slow down. If you are rapidly losing weight following a 15% deficit, there would be no need to cut back further. 

Following the example of our female, she maintains her weight at 2498 calories a day. She would start out with a 15% deficit. This becomes (2498 x 0.15) = 374 calories a day for the deficit. This would mean she needs to eat 2124 calories a day (2498 – 374 = 2124) for fat loss.

If she decides to bump up her deficit to 30%, she would need to eliminate 749 calories (2498 x 0.30 = 749). This would total 1749 calories a day (2498 – 749).

It always pays to start off by eating more calories and gradually eliminate them as your fat loss progresses. This gives you room to explore other options if you hit a plateau. What would you do if you’re on a very low calorie diet and your fat loss stalls? You won’t be able to cut back any further. It makes no sense to start off eating 1200 cals a day if you can lose weight while eating more. I reached the leanest I’ve ever been eating up to 2000 calories a day!

Keep in mind that you might have to recalculate your maintenance level and adjust your calories accordingly as you lose weight. The less you weigh, the less calories will be needed to maintain your weight, meaning a larger deficit will be required for continued fat loss. In the example of our female, if she drops from 70 kilograms to 65, she would have to redo her calculations and will have new caloric requirements to maintain her weight and continue with fat loss.

Muscle building

If your goal is to bulk up and gain muscle, the first step to take is to determine whether or not your body fat is in a healthy zone. If your weight is above average and not in a healthy zone, focus on cutting first and reducing your body fat. If you’re already in good shape, then you can consider bulking up and gaining lean muscle mass.

The safe rule for bulking and minimizing fat gains is to calculate a 20% fat loss deficit (below your maintenance) and eat 1000 calories above that. Here is an example. (See above to learn more about calculations for fat loss).

You maintain your weight at 3500 calories. A 20% deficit is 700 calories (3500 x 0.20). Your total caloric intake for a 20% deficit would total 2800 calories (3500 – 700). In order to gain lean muscle mass; add 1000 calories to your 20% deficit. This would total 3800 calories (3500 + 1000) for bulking and gaining size.

Meal planning

Once you’ve estimated your total caloric needs to meet your specific goals, the final step would be to design your meal plans. Click here to learn more about meal planning. If you find any of the above difficult, have any questions or need help estimating how many calories are required for your goals, drop me an email.




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