How many calories should I eat a day by age?

The number of calories you need each day depends on your age, gender, activity level, and whether you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight. As we age, our metabolism slows down and we require fewer calories to maintain our weight. Children and teens need more calories to support growth and development.

Calorie Needs by Age and Gender

Here are general calorie recommendations for maintaining weight based on age and gender:

  • Infants (0-12 months): 1000 calories
  • Toddlers (1-3 years): 1000-1200 calories
  • Pre-schoolers (4-5 years): 1200-1400 calories
  • School-age children (6-12 years):
    • Girls: 1400-1600 calories
    • Boys: 1600-2000 calories
  • Teenagers (13-18 years):
    • Girls: 1800-2000 calories
    • Boys: 2000-2500 calories
  • Young adults (19-30 years):
    • Women: 2000-2200 calories
    • Men: 2400-2600 calories
  • Adults (31-50 years):
    • Women: 1800-2200 calories
    • Men: 2200-2400 calories
  • Older adults (51+ years):
    • Women: 1600-2000 calories
    • Men: 2000-2200 calories

These numbers are just general guidelines and your calorie needs may vary depending on your activity level.

Adjusting Calorie Intake for Weight Goals

If you want to lose weight, you’ll need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day. To lose 1 pound per week, you’ll need a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day. So subtract 500 calories from the maintenance level for your age and gender.

For example, if you are a 30 year old woman who needs 2000 calories to maintain your weight, you would need to eat 1500 calories per day to lose 1 pound per week.

If you want to gain weight, you’ll need a calorie surplus, eating 200-300 more calories than your maintenance level each day.

Calorie Needs Based on Activity Level

Your activity level also impacts how many calories you need each day. More active individuals need more calories, while sedentary individuals need fewer calories.

Use this general guide to determine your calorie needs based on activity level:

Activity Level Calorie Adjustment
Sedentary (little or no exercise) -300 calories
Lightly Active (light exercise 1-3 days/week) No adjustment needed
Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days/week) +300 calories
Very Active (hard exercise 6-7 days/week) +500 calories
Extremely Active (very hard exercise, physically demanding job) +800 calories

For example, if you are a moderately active 35 year old man who needs 2400 calories for weight maintenance, you would need 2700 calories per day (2400 + 300 calories).

Using Online Calorie Calculators

For a more customized estimate of your calorie needs, use an online calorie calculator. These tools will ask you for your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level and use that information to calculate your maintenance calories as well as calories for losing or gaining weight.

Some popular calorie calculator options include:

Be sure to use your actual body stats and honest activity levels when using these tools to get the most accurate estimate.

Foods to Help Meet Your Calorie Goals

To meet your daily calorie goals for weight loss, maintenance, or gain, focus on eating a balanced diet full of nutritious foods like:

  • Fruits and vegetables – they provide important nutrients and fiber with relatively low calories
  • Whole grains – choose 100% whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, and brown rice
  • Lean protein – eat fish, poultry, beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy
  • Healthy fats – include avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon

Avoid or limit highly processed snack foods, sweets, fried foods, sugary beverages, and fatty meats as these provide a lot of calories but not much nutrition.

Focus on creating balanced, portion-controlled meals and snacks to meet your unique calorie goals each day.

Tips for Managing Calorie Intake

Here are some tips to help manage your calorie intake:

  • Track your calories – use an app or food journal to stay aware of how many calories you eat each day
  • Measure portions – use measuring cups and spoons to portion out meals and snacks
  • Read nutrition labels – check calories and serving sizes, especially on packaged foods
  • Eat more whole foods – choose minimally processed foods over refined and convenience products
  • Watch condiments – sauces, dressings, oils, butter and spreads add extra calories
  • Hydrate with water – skip sugary drinks and get calories from food instead
  • Slow down – eat mindfully and don’t rush through meals
  • Meal prep – plan and prep healthy meals and snacks in advance
  • Limit eating out – restaurant portions are often very large and high calorie


How many calories you should eat each day depends primarily on your age, gender, activity level, and weight goals. Use general calorie recommendations as a starting point but calculate your needs more specifically using an online calorie calculator. Focus on eating a balanced diet with moderate portions to meet your unique calorie needs.

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