How many calories should I eat per pound of body weight?

When it comes to determining how many calories you should eat, the most important factor is your body weight. Here are some key questions and answers:

How many calories do I need to maintain my weight?

The number of calories you need per day to maintain your weight depends on your body size and activity level. As a general guideline, adult women need between 1,600-2,400 calories per day to maintain weight, while adult men need 2,000-3,000 calories per day.

How many calories should I eat to lose weight?

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day. A good starting point is to reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories per day. This should result in about 1 pound of weight loss per week. You can increase the deficit to lose weight faster, but it’s not recommended to go below 1,200 calories per day for women or 1,500 for men.

How many calories per pound of body weight?

As a very general rule of thumb, you can estimate needing 15-20 calories per pound of body weight to maintain your current weight. So for example, a 150 pound person would need between 2,250-3,000 calories per day. To lose weight, you would aim for 12-15 calories per pound of body weight.

Does the calorie rule change with age?

Yes, your calorie needs tend to decrease as you age. This is because metabolism slows down as we get older. Someone who is 60 years old typically needs about 200 fewer calories per day than when they were younger, if activity levels remain the same.

Do men and women need different calorie intakes?

Yes, men generally need more calories than women. This is because men tend to have less body fat and more muscle mass than women. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue at rest. Men also tend to be taller and have larger frames than women on average.

How many calories should I eat to gain weight?

To gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn each day. Aim for a calorie surplus of 300-500 calories per day to gain weight at a slow, steady pace. Eating more than 500 calories above your maintenance level can lead to excess fat gain.

Do calories from different foods count differently?

No, a calorie is a calorie regardless of the food source. Calories from protein, carbs, fat, and alcohol all provide 4 calories per gram. The differences come in how satiating foods are and their effects on health and metabolism.

Should I count calories forever to maintain weight loss?

Counting calories isn’t something you necessarily have to do forever. As you get used to portion sizes and making better food choices, you may be able to intuitively eat the right amount without tracking. But periodically counting calories for a few days can help ensure you stay on track.

What are some tips for calculating my calorie needs?

Here are some tips for calculating your calorie needs:

  • Multiply your weight by 15-20 calories per pound for maintenance
  • Subtract 500 calories from maintenance for weight loss
  • Use an online TDEE calculator for a more customized estimate
  • Adjust up or down based on activity level
  • Recalculate TDEE every 10 pounds of weight lost
  • Consider age, muscle mass, and health conditions

Online TDEE Calculator

One of the best tools for calculating your calorie needs is an online TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) calculator. These calculators take into account your age, weight, height, and activity level to provide a customized calorie target. They also allow you to plug in goals like weight loss to determine your deficit. Some popular TDEE calculators include:

Activity Levels

Your activity level plays a big role in TDEE. Here are some examples of different activity levels:

  • Sedentary – little exercise beyond daily movement
  • Lightly Active – light exercise 1-3 days/week
  • Moderately Active – moderate exercise 3-5 days/week
  • Very Active – intense exercise 6-7 days/week
  • Extremely Active – very intense exercise and physical job

Recalculating as You Lose Weight

As you lose weight, your TDEE decreases because it takes less energy to fuel a smaller body. Recalculate your TDEE every 10 pounds lost for the most accurate target.

How many calories should I eat for my body type?

General calorie guidelines based on body type:

Body Type Daily Calorie Needs for Weight Loss
Ectomorph (slim) 13-15 calories per pound
Mesomorph (muscular) 15-17 calories per pound
Endomorph (curvy) 11-13 calories per pound

However, the best approach is to use a TDEE calculator for your specific height, weight, age, and activity level rather than going by body type alone.

What is my BMR and how many calories should I eat above it?

Your BMR, or basal metabolic rate, is the number of calories your body burns at rest just to perform basic bodily functions. It’s the minimum amount you need to survive. To maintain weight, you should not eat less than your BMR unless under medical supervision.

To gain or lose weight in a healthy way, aim to stay within 500 calories above or below your BMR. So if your BMR is 1600 calories, eat 2100 calories per day to gain weight slowly, or 1100 calories to lose. More extreme deficits can cause muscle loss and starvation mode.

What about calories burned from exercise?

Calories burned through exercise and other movement are included in your TDEE but not your BMR. To account for exercise, you can either:

  • Use an activity multiplier (sedentary, moderately active, etc) in a TDEE calculator
  • Add estimated calories burned to your BMR
  • Wear a fitness tracker to record active calories separately

In general, it’s best not to “eat back” more than half of the exercise calories to account for overestimates.

Should I eat fewer calories as I get older?

As you get older, it’s common for your metabolism to slow down. This means you burn fewer calories doing the same activities. For example, at age 40 you may burn 100 fewer calories per day compared to age 20.

The key is to adjust your calorie intake gradually downwards as you notice your metabolism declining with age. Reduce calories by 50-100 per day every few years to account for the slower metabolism.

Be sure to also stay active through aerobic exercise and strength training. Muscle mass naturally decreases with age, so maintaining strength can help minimize metabolic slowdown.

What calorie intake is too low?

Eating too few calories can be dangerous and counterproductive. Calorie minimums based on gender are:

  • Women: 1,200 calories per day
  • Men: 1,500 calories per day

Going below these levels can cause fatigue, hair loss, irregular periods, loss of bone density, and other issues. Severe calorie restriction can also lead to binge eating and weight regain.

Sample meal plan for 2,000 calories

Here is an example 2,000 calorie meal plan for weight loss:

Breakfast (400 calories)

  • 1 cup oatmeal – 300 calories
  • 1 cup blueberries – 80 calories
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter – 100 calories

Lunch (500 calories)

  • Tuna salad sandwich (3 oz tuna, 2 slices bread, 1 tbsp mayo) – 450 calories
  • 1 medium apple – 80 calories

Dinner (600 calories)

  • 4 oz chicken breast – 180 calories
  • 1 cup brown rice – 200 calories
  • 1 cup broccoli – 30 calories
  • 2 tbsp salad dressing – 120 calories

Snacks (500 calories)

  • 1 oz almonds – 170 calories
  • 1 oz dark chocolate – 150 calories
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt – 150 calories
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter – 100 calories

This provides a good balance of protein, carbs, fat, and fiber to promote satiety.


Determining your optimal calorie intake requires taking into account your weight, activity level, age, and weight goals. As a very general guideline, aim for 12-15 calories per pound of body weight to lose fat and 15-20 calories per pound to maintain weight.

But the most accurate way is to use an online TDEE calculator. Reassess your needs periodically and make diet adjustments as needed. Focus on a balanced diet, calorie quality, and sustainable changes over the long term.

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