How many calories can I eat a day?

The number of calories you need each day depends on your age, gender, activity level, and goals. As a general guideline, the average sedentary adult woman needs around 1,600-2,400 calories per day, while the average sedentary adult man needs around 2,000-3,000 calories per day.

Calorie Needs Based on Age and Gender

Calorie needs decrease as we get older. This is because metabolism slows down as we age. Here are general calorie estimates based on age and gender for sedentary adults:


  • 19-30 years old: 2,000-2,200 calories
  • 31-50 years old: 1,800-2,000 calories
  • 51+ years old: 1,600-1,800 calories


  • 19-30 years old: 2,400-2,600 calories
  • 31-50 years old: 2,200-2,400 calories
  • 51+ years old: 2,000-2,200 calories

These ranges are just general guidelines. Many other factors like height, current weight, and muscle mass also impact calorie needs.

Calorie Needs Based on Activity Level

People who are more physically active need more calories. Here are estimations for calorie needs based on activity level:


Little to no exercise beyond daily living activities like walking from place to place. Desk job.

  • Women: 1,600-2,400 calories
  • Men: 2,000-3,000 calories

Moderately Active

Light exercise 1-3 days per week. Occasional physically demanding tasks like yard work or climbing stairs.

  • Women: 2,000-2,200 calories
  • Men: 2,400-3,000 calories


Moderate exercise 3-5 days per week. Jobs that require walking, lifting, etc.

  • Women: 2,400 calories
  • Men: 2,800-3,200 calories

Very Active

Intense exercise 6-7 days per week. Physically demanding job like construction work.

  • Women: 2,400-2,800 calories
  • Men: 3,000-4,000 calories

Calorie Needs for Weight Loss

To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn each day. A calorie deficit of 500-1,000 calories per day will result in a 1-2 pound weight loss per week. Here are general calorie estimates for weight loss based on starting weight:

Starting Weight Calories for 1 lb/Week Weight Loss Calories for 2 lb/Week Weight Loss
200 lbs 1,700 calories 1,200 calories
175 lbs 1,500 calories 1,000 calories
150 lbs 1,300 calories 800 calories

It’s best to speak with your doctor to determine a safe daily calorie target for weight loss based on your health profile.

Calorie Needs for Weight Gain

To gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn each day. A calorie surplus of 500 calories per day will result in a 1 pound weight gain per week. Here are general calorie estimates for weight gain based on starting weight:

Starting Weight Calories for 1 lb/Week Weight Gain
120 lbs 2,200 calories
150 lbs 2,500 calories
180 lbs 2,800 calories

It’s important to gain weight slowly through muscle building rather than just fat. Speak with your doctor to set healthy calorie goals for a lean bulk.

How to Calculate Your Calorie Needs

Here are some options for calculating a more personalized calorie target based on your individual stats and goals:

Harris-Benedict Equation

This simple equation uses your height, weight, age, and activity level to estimate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Online calculators can figure this out for you when you plug in your stats.

Calorie Tracking Apps

Apps like MyFitnessPal allow you to log your food intake and weight changes to get a better picture of your actual TDEE based on your unique body and habits.

MET Values

MET (metabolic equivalent of task) values allow you to calculate calories burned through different activities. Multiply the MET value by your weight to get calories burned per hour.

Wearable Trackers

Devices like Fitbits estimate calories burned by tracking steps, heart rate, and activity. This can provide a rough idea of your daily calorie needs.

Talk to a Dietitian or Doctor

Consult a medical professional to help determine the healthiest calorie target for your individual needs and goals.

Factors That Affect Calorie Needs

Many factors beyond just age, gender, and activity influence daily calorie needs. Here are some other elements to consider:

Height and Weight

Bigger and taller people need more calories than smaller, shorter people. Current weight also impacts needs.

Muscle Mass

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Resistance training can help build muscle and raise TDEE.

Health Conditions

Issues like thyroid disorders, diabetes, PCOS, and others can all impact metabolic rate and calorie needs.

Stress Level

High cortisol from stress can cause metabolic changes that affect calorie needs and appetite.

Age and Sex Hormones

Calorie needs decline with age partially due to decreases in sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

Diet and Lifestyle Habits

Factors like sleep, nutrition, genetics, gut health, and more also play a role in calorie requirements.

The Importance of Flexibility

Your calorie needs fluctuate day to day based on many factors. It’s important to be flexible and make adjustments as needed rather than sticking to a rigid target. Monitor your weight, hunger levels, and energy to assess if you need to increase or reduce intake.

Sample Daily Calorie Plans

Here are some sample meal plans at different daily calorie levels:

1,200 Calories

  • Breakfast: 1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup milk, 1 tbsp peanut butter (300 calories)
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich with 2 slices whole wheat bread, 3 oz turkey, 1 slice cheese, lettuce, tomato (400 calories)
  • Dinner: 1 cup vegetable stir fry with 3 oz chicken breast (300 calories)
  • Snacks: 1 medium apple, 1 tbsp almond butter (200 calories)

1,500 Calories

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs, 1/2 cup potatoes, 1 slice toast (400 calories)
  • Lunch: Salmon salad with 4 oz grilled salmon, 2 cups greens, balsamic vinaigrette (500 calories)
  • Dinner: 1 serving hearty veggie soup, 3/4 cup brown rice (400 calories)
  • Snacks: 1 oz nuts, 1 oz dark chocolate (300 calories)

1,800 Calories

  • Breakfast: Omelette with 1 whole egg, 3 egg whites, sautéed veggies, 1/2 cup cottage cheese (400 calories)
  • Lunch: Burrito bowl with 4 oz chicken, 1/2 cup rice, beans, salsa, guacamole (600 calories)
  • Dinner: 6 oz salmon, 1 cup quinoa, 1 cup roasted broccoli (600 calories)
  • Snacks: Protein shake, 1 medium banana (200 calories)

Foods to Help Manage Calories

Certain foods can help keep you feeling full while managing calories:

High Volume, Low Calorie Foods

  • Non-starchy veggies like greens, broccoli, tomatoes
  • Soup broths
  • Plain popcorn
  • Melons and berries
  • Cottage cheese

High Fiber Foods

  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains like oats, quinoa, brown rice
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruit and veg skins
  • Chia seeds and flaxseeds

High Protein Foods

  • Lean meats like chicken, fish, and turkey
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Eggs and egg whites
  • Greek yogurt
  • Edamame and beans

Healthy Fats

  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coconut oil
  • Fatty fish like salmon

Tips for Managing Hunger

Here are some tips to help manage hunger while meeting your calorie goals:

  • Eat plenty of protein, fiber, and healthy fats to promote satiety.
  • Drink water before and during meals.
  • Slow down eating and chew thoroughly.
  • Have 5-6 small meals instead of 3 large ones.
  • Distract yourself with activity when cravings hit.
  • Get enough sleep and manage stress levels.
  • Consume more low energy dense foods.
  • Wait 15-20 minutes before getting second helpings.


Calorie needs are highly individualized based on many factors like age, gender, activity, health status, and goals. Use calculators and tracking as a starting point, but be ready to make adjustments. Focus on whole, filling foods, and practice portion control. Stay flexible to find the right calorie intake for your unique body and lifestyle.

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