How many calories on average should I eat a day?

The number of calories you should eat per day depends on many factors like your age, gender, height, weight, activity levels and health goals. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to estimate your calorie needs.

Average calorie needs by age and gender

As a rough starting point, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the following calorie intakes:

Age Women Men
19-30 years 2,000-2,400 2,400-3,000
31-50 years 1,800-2,400 2,200-3,000
51+ years 1,600-2,400 2,000-2,800

These numbers are just averages and your needs may be higher or lower. Men generally need more calories than women because they tend to have more muscle mass and a faster metabolism.

Factors that influence calorie needs

Some of the main factors that affect how many calories you should eat include:

Height and weight

Bigger and taller people need more calories than petite people. A 5’10” man will need more calories than a 5’2″ woman for example.

Muscle mass

The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest. Athletes and people who strength train generally need more calories than sedentary folks.

Activity levels

People who are very active through exercise and daily movement need more calories than inactive people. Exercise significantly increases calorie needs.


Some people just have a naturally faster metabolism than others and burn more calories at rest. Things like age, genetics and medical conditions affect metabolism.

Health goals

If you are trying to lose weight, you may need fewer calories. If you are trying to build muscle, you will likely need more. Your calorie needs fluctuate based on your goals.

Estimating your calorie needs

To get a more personalized estimate of your calorie needs, you can use the following methods:

Harris-Benedict equation

This is one of the most commonly used equations to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories your body burns at rest:

For men: BMR = 66 + (6.2 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.76 x age in years)

For women: BMR = 655.1 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by an activity factor between 1.2-1.9 depending on your activity levels.

USDA Body Weight Planner

The USDA has an online Body Weight Planner tool that calculates your calorie needs based on your age, gender, height, weight and activity level. You can find it here:

Fitness trackers

Devices like Fitbits and Apple watches can estimate your calorie burn based on your heart rate, movement and other metrics. They aren’t perfectly accurate but can provide a general idea.

Nutrition tracking apps

Apps like MyFitnessPal allow you to log your food intake and track your calorie and nutrient data over time. You can use the data to adjust your intake as needed to achieve your goals.

Adjusting your calorie intake

Once you have a starting estimate for your calorie needs, you may need to adjust up or down depending on how your body responds. Give it 2-4 weeks to see how your weight changes at a certain calorie intake before making adjustments.

If you are losing weight too fast, increase calories. If you are gaining weight and don’t want to, decrease calories. Listen to your body and how you feel at a certain intake level as well.

Sample meal plans by calorie level

Here are some sample meal plans at different calorie levels as a guide:

1,200 calories

Breakfast: Oatmeal (150 calories) with blueberries (50 calories) and almond milk (40 calories)
Snack: Medium apple (95 calories) and 1 Tbsp. peanut butter (100 calories)

Lunch: Veggie and hummus sandwich (300 calories) and baby carrots (30 calories)
Snack: Nonfat Greek yogurt (120 calories) with chopped nuts (90 calories)

Dinner: Tofu veggie stir fry over rice (350 calories)

1,600 calories

Breakfast: 2 eggs any style (140 calories) with 1 slice whole wheat toast (70 calories) and 1/2 grapefruit (40 calories)
Snack: 1 oz. mixed nuts (165 calories)
Lunch: Turkey and swiss sandwich (300 calories) with melon (60 calories) and baby carrots (30 calories)

Snack: Part skim string cheese (80 calories) and whole wheat crackers (70 calories)
Dinner: Grilled chicken breast (230 calories), 1 cup brown rice (215 calories) and steamed broccoli (40 calories)

2,000 calories

Breakfast: Oatmeal (150 calories) with berries (50 calories), ground flaxseed (50 calories), almond milk (40 calories)

Snack: Cottage cheese (130 calories) with sliced almonds (50 calories)
Lunch: Burrito bowl with chicken (400 calories), brown rice (215 calories), black beans (120 calories), salsa (20 calories), guacamole (80 calories)
Snack: Apple (95 calories) and string cheese (80 calories)
Dinner: Baked salmon (250 calories), quinoa (170 calories) and mixed vegetables (100 calories)

Foods to help manage calorie intake

To help stay within your target calorie intake, focus on eating:

  • Lean proteins like chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt and beans
  • Fiber-rich complex carbs like oats, quinoa, fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds
  • Lots of low-calorie foods like veggies, broth-based soups and fresh fruit

Limit empty calorie foods like sugary drinks, salty snacks, refined carbs and processed foods. These provide a lot of calories but little nutrition.


How many calories you should eat per day depends on factors like your age, gender, activity levels, goals and current health status. Use calculators and tracking tools to get an estimate, then adjust as needed based on your unique needs and how your body responds.

Focus on getting enough protein, fiber, healthy fats and nutrient-dense foods within your calorie budget. Be physically active to increase your calorie burn. See a registered dietitian if you need help planning an appropriate diet.

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