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Contents of this Article
Contents of this Article
When it comes to calorie recommendations, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all.
It requires combining individualized data, such as: your height, current and goal weight, age, gender, activity level, current or planned workouts per week, waist size and body fat (if you know it).
With this, our calculator can estimate some awesome metrics, such as:
- how many calories you’d burn if you stayed motionless all day
- total number of calories you burn per day
- your lean and fat body mass
- your body mass index
- number of calories you can eat without losing muscle mass
- you minimum recommended daily calories
- workout and rest calories
- and approximations of time to reach your weight goals.
A little bit about the equations used
Most of the stuff in our calorie calculator above is self-explanatory.
But then you got to the formulas and felt like you were in sophomore algebra all over again, right?
What if you were to learn that there are about 248 such estimation equations in existence when it comes to measuring BMR?(1)
Suddenly the 4 BMR formulas used by our calculator doesn’t seem so bad. 😊
Don’t worry, we’ll try to simplify this as much as possible without leaving out the crucial aspects.
Basically, in order to adjust your weight up or down, you first need to measure how many calories you can consume daily and still weigh the same (a.k.a. your BMR).
What is the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)?
It is the energy required for performing vital body functions while you are at rest. (2)
Imagine standing still and doing nothing, just breathing. Even then your body is doing more stuff in the background, such as:
- circulating blood
- controlling your body temperature
- growing cells
- controlling nerve and brain function
- contracting muscles, etc.
In a nutshell, it’s still burning up energy to keep you alive, even while at rest!
Now the way this all ties into caloric affairs is because your BMR affects the rate at which you burn calories.
In other words, it’s the number of calories you’re burning no matter what. In fact, BMR accounts for about 60-75% of your daily calorie expenditures! (3)
Thus, accurately estimating BMR is crucial when it comes to developing weight management strategies.
Please note that these formulas all serve as estimates, and the results are all approximations.
Easily convert from metric to imperial: 1(kg) = 2.2(lbs) | 1(in) = 2.54(cm).
Now, let’s briefly go over the BMR formulas used by our calculator.
MIFFLIN-ST JEOR FORMULA (4)
Believed to be the formula with highest accuracy for modern lifestyles; a 1990 revision of and 5% improvement upon the Harris-Benedict formula below.
Men | BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) - 5 x age (y) + 5
Women | BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) - 5 x age (y) – 161
HARRIS-BENEDICT FORMULA (5)
First published in 1919 by the Carnegie Institute of Washington, it has now officially been in circulation and use for 100 years!
Metric | BMR = 66.5 + (13.75 × weight in kg) + (5.003 × height in cm) – (6.755 × age in years)
Imperial | BMR = 66 + (6.2 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) – (6.76 × age in years)
Metric | BMR = 655.1 + (9.563 × weight in kg) + (1.850 × height in cm) – (4.676 × age in years)
Imperial | BMR = 655.1 + (4.35 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 × height in inches) - (4.7 × age in years)
KATCH-MACARDLE FORMULA (6)
To use this formula, you first need these two figures: Basal Metabolic Rate and Lean Body Mass.
It’s one of the two formulas in our calculator that requires you to know or provide an estimate of your body fat percentage.
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x Lean Body Mass in kg)
Lean Body Mass = (Weight(kg) x (100-(Body Fat)))/100
Note: If you’re lean and know your body fat percentage, this is the formula to use for most accurate results.
CUNNINGHAM FORMULA (7)
This would be the other formula in our calculator that relies heavily on an accurate body fat percentage figure.
BMR (cal/day) = 500 + 22 * (Lean Body Mass in kg)
Multipliers applied to the formulas
The formulas above are all used to provide your BMR, the number of calories you need per day to maintain your current weight, if you were doing nothing.
But you’re always doing something! Walking, running, swimming, climbing stairs, biking, working, etc.
To better estimate how many daily calories you truly need to maintain, lose, or gain weight; we need to account for all your daily physical activity! So, we apply an activity multiplier to your BMR. The multiplier will depend on your typical level of exercise. (8)
- Sedentary = BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active = BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active = BMR x 1.55
- Very active = BMR x 1.725
- Extra active = BMR x 1.9
You now have a better understanding of the importance of calculating your BMR and some of the leading predictive equations out there. You also know the reasoning and method behind the minimum daily caloric benchmarks set forth by our health authorities.
Next, we take a closer look at these so called “calories” and find out why we can’t live without them.
What are calories?
A calorie is a scientific unit used to measure energy.
- One calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C. Also known as a small calorie or cal. (9)
- A thousand of these calories (equal to 1 kilocalorie) is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water through 1 °C. This kilocalorie unit is the scientific way to measure the energy value of foods and drinks.
Thus, the calories figure you see on food or supplement labels is in kilocalorie or kcal units. Also known as nutritional calories, large calories, or food calories.
So, when a food says 250 calories, it really means 250,000 small calories; which is equivalent to 250 kcal printed on the label.
Here's an informative video that succinctly explains calories:
Scientific Note: Since the adoption of the International System of Units,
- 1 calorie is now 4.184 joules,
- 1 kcal is now 4.184 kilojoules. (9)
There you have it; calories are just a way to measure energy.
Where do calories come from?
The energy calories measure could come from several sources (think burning coal, gasoline, etc.)
Now stop thinking of those sources, and think about nutritional ones like proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and alcohol (caloric, though not necessary). Because those are the crucial sources of energy (and thus calories) we’ll focus on!
The foods we eat are an example of a thing called potential energy,(10) and our bodies are energy-converting devices. They convert the food’s stored energy mentioned above (measured in calories) into the power you need to do things, like lift weights (or think).
Thus, calories come from the food we eat, they measure the amount of energy our food provides us with. Our food is just out there in the wild aisles of the grocery stores, storing energy, waiting to be bought and eaten so that it can help a lucky shopper get through another day.
Sources of calories in a typical diet
You now know that all foods and beverages contain calories.
But the total number of calories depends on something called the “macronutrients” of that food.
Nutrients are dietary components your body needs for various functions, such as growth and metabolism.
The nutrients which provide you with energy, are called macronutrients. Macro means large in Greek, and these nutrients are prefaced with that word because we require them in large amounts.
The main classes of macronutrients and thus the main sources of calories in a typical person’s diet are (11) :
Proteins – Provide 4 calories per gram or 17 kilojoules. Two types: complete proteins and incomplete proteins.
Carbohydrates – Provide 4 calories per gram or 17 kilojoules. Two types, simple and complex.
Fats – Provide 9 calories per gram or 37 kilojoules. Four types: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fatty acids.
Alcohol – Contains 7 calories per gram or 29 kilojoules. Not a necessary diet component. (We don’t recommend that individuals begin drinking or drink more for any reason).
When we eat or drink, we “burn” these calorie sources (proteins, carbs, fats, alcohol) in our “oven” (our bodies) through metabolic processes to get their energy.
Though their main purpose (provide energy) is the same across the board, their amounts differ.
Does this mean there are also different levels of “quality” when it comes to calories?
The short answer is yes, the source of calories matters when eating to attain optimal health and weight, as there are high-quality and low-quality foods. (12)
Sorting calories into different groups
In this article, we classify foods into three calorie groups: high-calories, low-calories, and something called empty-calories. (13)
This can help you immensely when it comes to energy needs, diet management, and better understanding the impact of the food you’re consuming.
We define these as foods that are calorically dense, containing a high number of calories relative to their serving size. They include fats, oils, fried and sugary foods.
Examples: Dark chocolate, avocado, chia seed, peanut butter, quinoa, granola, chickpea, nuts, salmon, brown rice, tahini, salad dressing, raisin, sweet potatoes, yogurt, bananas, pasta & noodles, cookies, whole wheat bread, olive oil, and others.
We define these as food that have a smaller number of calories relative to their serving size; veggies, fruits, and others.
Examples: Eggs, popcorn, berries, watermelon, apples, celery, spinach, cottage cheese, radish, cauliflower, arugula, asparagus, chicken, shrimp, scallops.
These are low nutrient density foods that have calories from solid fats and/or added sugars, both of which supply food energy but few to no other nutrients.
Examples: alcohol, cakes, donuts, cookies, pastries, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, cheese, pizza, ice cream, sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs.
In the section below, you’ll learn about recommended calorie amounts set forth by the health authorities.
How many calories do you need?
Since you’re here, you’ve probably asked yourself the “how many calories should I eat?” question.
At the beginning of this article you learned about the Basal Metabolic Rate.
Re-stated in plain English, the minimum number of calories your body is burning per day just to keep you alive, even when you’re not doing anything.
But not everyone’s BMR is the same, many individual factors come into play. Thus, there is no 100% accurate one-size-fits-all answer; body composition, weight goals and activity levels differ from person to person.
Nevertheless, there are some standards and benchmarks set forth by health authorities.
Calories per day as set forth by 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
These guidelines are grounded in the most current scientific findings. They provide estimated number of calories for various age and sex groups at three different levels of physical activity as presented below. (11)
Calories per day for Men
Calories per day for Women (does not include pregnant women or those breastfeeding)
Though they offer us a good starting point, these standardized generalizations don’t provide you with enough individualized information. To accurately estimate the closest number of calories you need to either keep, shred, or gain weight, certain personal data and lifestyle info are needed, such as: current and desired weight, height, age, gender, activity level, etc.
When you put all your info into our calculator, it does all the work for you and outputs the estimated daily calories you need to achieve your weight goals by applying lifestyle multipliers to your BMR.
Where should your calories come from?
We’re back to the question of whether it matters where your calories come from, and according to the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, it should. (14)
By examining the types and proportions of foods Americans typically eat and converting them to their most nutrient-dense forms and appropriate amounts, they have developed guidelines for how much calories you should eat per day from each food group to properly meet your calorie level.
According to the USDA, if an adult person wishes to follow a Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern, they should adhere to the following guidelines.
|1,600||1.5 c-eq||2 c-eq||3 c-eq||5 oz-eq||5 oz-eq||22 g||130|
|1,800||1.5 c-eq||2.5 c-eq||3 c-eq||5 oz-eq||6 oz-eq||24 g||170|
|2,000||2 c-eq||2.5 c-eq||3 c-eq||5.5 oz-eq||6 oz-eq||27 g||270|
|2,200||2 c-eq||3 c-eq||3 c-eq||6 oz-eq||7 oz-eq||29 g||280|
|2,400||2 c-eq||3 c-eq||3 c-eq||6.5 oz-eq||8 oz-eq||31 g||350|
|2,600||2 c-eq||3.5 c-eq||3 c-eq||6.5 oz-eq||9 oz-eq||34 g||380|
|2,800||2.5 c-eq||3.5 c-eq||3 c-eq||7 oz-eq||10 oz-eq||36 g||400|
|3,000||2.5 c-eq||4 c-eq||3 c-eq||7 oz-eq||10 oz-eq||44 g||470|
|3,200||2.5 c-eq||4 c-eq||3 c-eq||7 oz-eq||10 oz-eq||51 g||610|
When it comes to calories, know that all food and beverage choices matter, and you should focus on variety, amount, and nutrient density. Using these guidelines, you are now better equipped to develop a healthy eating pattern comprised of calories from various food groups.
Calorie counting for weight loss
“How many calories should I eat to lose weight?” is one the most often asked question.
Followed closely by, “how many calories are in a pound of fat?”
Quick answer: Assuming one pound of fat is .45 grams, pure fat contains 8.7 to 9.5 calories per gram, and body fat tissue is 87% fat (15). We roughly estimate 1 pound of body fat contains 3,436 to 3,752 calories.
As for the calories to lose weight question, well, that one requires a little bit more detail. 😊
The short answer
To safely lose 1 to 1.5 pounds per week, total daily calories should be reduced by 500-750 calories. (11) So, for example:
- To lose 1 lb (.45kg) of weight per week, an average man needs 2,000 calories per day.
- To lose 1 lb (.45kg) of weight per week, an average woman needs 1,500 calories per day.
Results vary, and these are just average figures. More accurate figures depend on various individualized factors, which our calculator takes into equation. So, should you count calories?
The longer answer
In order to safely lose weight, most people need to reduce their daily food and beverage calories and/or increase their physical activity. Truth is, there exist many approaches to losing weight and there is no set ideal which works for every single person. Counting calories, however, is one of the most effective and sustainable weight loss methods.
Counting your calories is just one piece of the puzzle though, here are some steps to take alongside keeping track of your calories in order to increase your chances of losing weight and keeping it off.
#1 Determine your starting point
To best estimate where you’re starting from and approximately how many weeks it would take to accomplish your goal weight, input your info into our calculator above.
What’s your weight status: You can use the Body Mass Index for this. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t measure body fat directly, but it has been correlated with more precise body fat measures. (16) It doesn’t paint the whole picture, but it’s quick and easy.
|Body Mass Index (BMI)||Weight Status|
|Between 18.5 - 24.9||Ideal / Normal Weight|
|Between 25.0 - 29.9||Overweight|
|30.0 and Above||Obese|
If you don’t know your body fat percentage: The results will show your current daily calories burned if you stayed motionless all day and/or if you’re active/workout. They’ll provide you with a measure of body and visceral fat, based on height to weight, and waist to height measures.
If you know your body fat percentage: The results will show all of the above, plus your lean and fat body mass, estimate the number of calories you can eat below your total daily calories burned and not lose muscle mass, and even offer a minimum recommended calories amount based on your info.
Note: For the most accurate starting point, a trained healthcare provider should perform appropriate health assessments in order to evaluate an individual’s health status and risks.
#2 Set the right weight loss goals
As the wise old saying goes, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” Thus, your weight loss goal should have certain attributes if you are to succeed. Namely, your goals should be:
Specific: Instead of saying “I want to lose weight,” set a more specific goal such as, “I want to eat 500 calories less per day for 2 months and exercise at least once per week for 30 minutes.”
Attainable: Instead of saying “I want to lose 50 pounds,” set a more realistic and detailed metric such as, “I want to lose 10 pounds of body fat in 2 months by tracking and reducing my daily intake by 500 calories and running on the treadmill twice per week for 30 minutes or more at 6mph.” Note: For your health & safety, it’s not advisable to aim at losing more than 3 pounds per week. (17)
Forgiving: Unless you’re a super disciplined person, and towards the start of your journey, your goal shouldn’t be perfect. It should leave room for errors in discipline, which can be adjusted for over the course of a typical week. For example, 2-3 workouts per week vs. 7 workouts per week.
#3 Develop a healthy eating pattern
Most Americans are not following a healthy eating pattern and are completely unaware of, or disregard, the USDA recommended amounts in our food group table in the previous section. (18)
Keeping track of daily calorie amounts and sources can raise your nutritional awareness and help develop a healthy eating pattern. Which will help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and support nutrient adequacy. Here’s how to start.
Opt for nutrient dense foods: These foods are high in nutrients and relatively low in calories. They contain minerals, vitamins, complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats. First you must internalize the recommended daily amounts from the different food groups for your daily calories goal. Then you must try your best to choose nutrient-dense foods in each of those groups; to meet nutritional and energy needs while not consuming extra calories in the process. (19, 20)
Small shifts towards healthy eating: Opting for the above entails shifting your appetite from a typical “you see food, you eat it” diet, to one focused on choices from recommended nutrient dense food groups. It also entails limiting food and beverage calories from saturated fats, added sugars and reducing sodium intake.
Naturally, changing your eating pattern can certainly be overwhelming and is no small feat by any measure. But with every smart food choice comes an opportunity towards a healthier you.
Here is but a glimpse of realistic, small shifts you can make in adopting a healthy eating pattern:
|Typical Foods||Nutrient-Dense Alternatives|
|High calorie snacks||Nutrient-dense snacks|
|Fries as side dish||Veggies or green salad|
|Fruit products w/ added sugars||Just real fruit|
|Refined grains||Whole grains|
|Snacks w/ added sugars||Unsalted snacks|
|Solid fats (i.e. butter!)||Oils|
|Drinks w/ added sugars||No-sugar-added drinks|
|Always eating chicken and beef||Include seafood, focus on variety|
|Processed meat and poultry||Fresh poultry, seafood, pork, lean meat|
|Whole milk, sweet yogurt, regular cheese||Fat-free milk, fat-free yogurt, low-fat cheese|
Smaller plates as a temporary method: If all this seems a little overwhelming, there’s another proven method you can try to help maintain your calorie goals. Studies have suggested that by opting for a smaller plate size one could help reduce their calorie intake. (21) But because the evidence for portion control is graded as fair, this should serve only as a temporary method on your weight loss journey, while you develop and adapt to a wholesome healthy eating pattern.
#4 Track your progress
When you take in more calories than you burn, you’re bound to gain weight. (22, 23) Keeping track of your food can help you better understand your habits and food in general; also increases the likelihood of achieving your set goals. In fact, studies have shown that even by irregularly tracking your food intake, your chances of losing and keeping weight off are increased. (24, 25)
Calorie counting: Thankfully we live in a digital age where counting calories is relatively easy. Not only do we have a selection of fancy kitchen scaled and measuring cups to choose from, but there are tons of FREE websites and apps designed to help you seamlessly track calories.
These include My Fitness Pal, MyPlate.govs, SparkPeople, Cron-o-Meter, and Lose It!
They simplify what was once a daunting task to swiftly displaying an items full nutrient profile either by simply scanning its barcode or selecting it from their ever-growing databases.
To help you get started we’ve compiled a list of common foods and their calories ahead.
Weighing yourself: Not every day, but weekly is a good benchmark. You should aim to weigh yourself under the same conditions each time, such as in the morning before eating anything.
Lose fat, not muscle: Weight loss alone doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to health and fitness. Be careful not to lose too much muscle mass instead of body fat. (26) Because when you’re at a caloric deficit, your body will burn both body fat AND existing muscle for energy, to keep you going. Ideally, you’d achieve fat loss while maintain or even growing muscle mass; by working out and eating the right foods with proper amounts of macronutrients (especially protein).
- Look for the Maximum Fat Metabolism (MFM) results output by our calculator if you know your body fat %.
When it comes to counting calories for weight loss purposes, it pays to have a strategy in place and the right tools to succeed. By using our calculator to determine you starting point, setting the right goals, developing a healthy eating pattern and keeping track of it all, you should be on your way to slow and steady weight loss and a newer, healthier you.
Calorie intake for weight gain and building muscle
You may believe that gaining weight is easy, and that losing it is the hard part. But getting it right and gaining weight the healthy way requires a strategic approach, especially for building muscles.
In its simplest form: To gain weight and build muscle, you need a calorie surplus while training regularly. Which means you must consume more calories than you burn in a day, all things considered.
Now let’s take a more detailed approach as to the relationship between calories and building muscle.
What’s the difference between fat and muscle?
Fat tissue is bulkier than muscle tissue, so it takes up more space under your skin; but muscle tissue is denser. Don’t interpret this to mean that 1 pound of muscle is heavier than 1 pound of fat! It’s not.
It’s all about volume, as you can easily conclude by examining two people who weigh the same but look completely different. You’ll realize that, though one looks skinnier, they likely have more muscle tissue.
Difference in volume: Fat tissue density is 0.9 g/mL and muscle tissue density is 1.1 g/mL. That means one liter of fat weighs about 1.98 lbs, whereas one liter of muscle weighs about 2.3 lbs.
Calories burned by each when at body is at rest: When it comes to calories, muscle tissue is roughly 3 times more metabolically active at rest than fat tissue. One pound of muscle burns 4.5 to 7 calories per day, whereas one pound of fat may only burn about 2 calories per day. (27)
By having more lean tissue your body processes calories more efficiently. Muscle also stores key nutrients (such as glycogen, water, and amino acids) and is connected to numerous positive effects, such as illness and injury recovery. (28) Gaining muscle also means you can eat more food while still looking fit, and having more lean mass can make it easier to maintain fat loss. (29)
Why do I need to know my body fat percentage?
Because knowing this figure will help you live a healthier life. A high body fat percentage can put one at risk for numerous illnesses such as: high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. (30) Knowing yours gives you a clear and measurable path from where you are, to where you need to be.
How is body fat percentage measured?
For the most accurate results, methods include: (16)
- skinfold thickness measurements (with calipers)
- underwater weighing
- bioelectrical impedance
- dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA)
- and isotope dilution.
As you can imagine, these methods are not easily accessible to regular people; as they can be expensive, and/or require highly trained personnel. An alternative (with a higher margin of error, naturally) is to get an at-home scale from Amazon. Though if you’re able to do so, go for a more accurate approach.
What are the recommended body fat percentages?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, recommendations are as follows. (31)
|Age||Female (% body fat)||Male (% body fat)|
Classified by Groups
|Classification||Female (% body fat)||Male (% body fat)|
|Obese People||32% and higher||25% and higher|
Can you build muscle and lose fat at the same time?
Yes, it’s possible.
Let us first start by oversimplifying some processes.
Stored energy: It all boils down to body fat, which your body stores as energy that it can tap into as needed. So, when you don’t meet your daily calories through food, your body turns to these “stored calories” in the form of body fat in order to fill the calorie gap and give you energy.
How do you lose weight? Continuously take in fewer calories than you burn daily for an extended period. When you don’t feed your body enough calories through food, it taps into the “stored energy” above. It basically breaks down parts of itself for energy thus reducing your weight.
- By far the biggest aspect of losing body fat is the food you eat; so, watching what you eat and doing so in a sustainable way is truly the way to go.
How do you build muscle? 1. Lift heavy things to break down and rebuild muscle. 2. Eat a diet based on your goals, it must provide your body with enough energy (measured in calories) and protein (#1 nutrient for creating new tissue) for muscle building. 3. Finally, give your body rest days so it can recover from these processes. 4. Repeat. (34, 35)
Now let’s look at how you gain weight: You gain weight by taking in more calories than your body needs to perform everything you ask of it daily. Your body takes the extra calories and stores them as fat (“stored energy” above). The higher the amount, the more your body will have to use when you’re building muscle while maintaining a caloric deficit. Don’t assume that building muscle while burning fat means your weight will increase, it can in fact drop. (36)
Now ask yourself this question:
“What happens inside your body when you’ve been working out and breaking down your muscles, but didn’t eat enough daily calories for regular body functions AND to fuel muscle repair?”
The answer holds the key to building muscle while losing fat at the same time. In the case above, assuming you have enough body fat, your body would tap into your “stored energy” (a.k.a. body fat) and use it for rebuilding the muscle you tore down. This is how your body can lose fat while building muscle. But it only works if your body has enough amounts of body fat stored in its reservoir. If not, then it’s going to turn to burning the muscle tissue to fill the calorie gap. (35)
How do I gain muscle fast?
We live in a world where instant gratification is expected, but when it comes to building muscle it’s just not possible, you’re going to have to work for it. But you’ll be more than glad you did!
On average, under the best possible circumstance, as a consistent beginner who trains effectively and eats properly, you can realistically aim at: (37)
- Male: About 1kg/2lb of muscle mass per month.
- Female: About .5kg/1lb of muscle mass per month.
This is strictly muscle weight and not weight from fat, water, or glycogen. Additionally, the newbie gains are the most noticeable. Then once you’re ripped and insanely strong, it’s harder to gain more, you must work extra hard for a smaller return compared to when you first started. The caveat is, once you gain muscle and lose it, you can regain it much faster than the first time around (muscle memory!) (38)
Here’s what that looks like in the first three years for an average male per the McDonald Model: (39)
|Effective Training||Weekly Muscle Gain||Monthly Muscle Gain||Yearly Muscle Gain|
|1 year||0.25kg / 0.5lb||1kg / 2lb||9-12kg / 20-24lb|
|2 years||0.12kg / 0.25lb||0.5kg / 1lb||4.5-6kg / 10-12lb|
|3 years||too small to track||0.25kg / 0.5lb||2.2-3kg / 5-6lb|
|4+ years||too small to track||too small to track||.9-1.4kg / 2-3lbs|
These are averages using a relatively simplified model. This is not to say there aren’t deviations. Some men can gain more than the 1kg/2lb of muscle per month. Older individuals may not gain muscle as quickly. Skinny underweight teens may gain muscle more rapidly due to raging hormones and having a natural anabolic steroid cycle called puberty on their side.
- If you have more hard science on this, please share in comments or send our way for examination.
Determining the amount of calories you need to gain weight
Where you start from matters. Differences exist in calorie needs based on starting body composition and level of training. Our calculator can help you set your target goal, whether you’re bulking up or acquiring lean gains. It will provide you estimated calorie figures needed on your journey from current weight to goal weight.
#1 Determine your starting point: Enter all your info into our diet calculator and take note of your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) figures first.
Example A: Let’s say you’re a sedentary 145lb, 5ft 10” tall 30yr old male, who wants to bulk up to 175lbs. Your estimated:
- BMR is 1,627 kcals
- TDEE is 1,952 kcals
- Rest Calories is 2,147 kcals
- Time to goal of 175lbs is 77 weeks.
Example B: Let’s say you’re a moderately active 145lb, 5ft 10” tall 30yr old male, who wants to gain lean muscle and weigh 175lbs. Your estimated:
- BMR is 1,627 kcals
- TDEE is 2,522 kcals
- Rest Calories is 2,270 kcals
- Workout Calories is 3,026
- Time to goal of 175lbs is 84 weeks.
#2 Add your calorie surplus: Now that you have the total number of calories you’re burning in both scenarios, it’s time to increase the daily calories for the desired goal of safe weight gain.
Example A: To safely gain about 1-3lbs per week you’d adjust your daily calorie intake.
|Calories||Slow Weight Gain||Faster Weight Gain|
|Current Daily Total||1,952||1,952|
|Additional Calories to Eat||300-500||700-1,000|
|Total Daily Calories Needed||2,252 to 2,452||2,652 to 2,952|
Example B: To safely gain about 2-3lbs of lean mass (not just muscle!) per week, working out 4 times a week, you’d adjust your daily
|Calories||Slow Weight Gain||Faster Weight Gain|
|Current Daily Total||2,522||2,522|
|Additional Calories to Eat||300-500||700-1,000|
|Total Daily Calories Needed||3,326 to 3,526||3,726 to 4,026|
#3 Calculate your macros: Earlier in this article you learned about macronutrients, or macros for short. The reason counting your macros is so important is because as we discussed earlier, it really does matter where you get your calories from. In the next section we cover macro counting in greater detail and tie it all together.
Each macronutrient offers a certain number of calories per gram.
|Food Components||Kcal per (g)||Kcal per (oz)||kJ per (g)||kJ per (oz)|
Brief look at each macro
Protein: Considered the most essential macro in pursuit of fitness goals. Putting protein first will help you in building muscles and prevention of muscle loss. It is the most satiating, so you feel fuller, longer.
Carbs: Main source of energy. Comes in two forms: simple and complex. Simple carbs (such as sugars and fruit) digest easily and provide you with quick energy. Complex carbs provide more sustained energy. They have a higher fiber count, are more nutritious, and take longer to digest, keeping you fuller.
Fats: These essential nutrients help keep hormone levels balanced, store and provide energy, provide essential fatty acids that our bodies need but can’t produce, proper functioning of nerves and brain, etc.
Recommended macro figures
This allows you to count your macros and keep track of where your calories are coming from, because when it comes to successfully achieving your weight and fitness goals, tracking really should matter.
Here are the daily macronutrient goals based on dietary reference intakes and recommendations from the “Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes.” (40)
|Male (14-18)||Female (14-18)||Male (19-30)||Female (19-30)||Male (31-50)||Female (31-50)||Male (51+)||Female (51+)|
|Dietary Fiber (g)||14g||30.8||25.2||33.6||28||30.8||25.2||28||22.4|
|Added Sugars (%kcal)||DGA||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%|
|Total Fat (%kcal)||AMDR||25-35||25-35||20-35||20-35||20-35||20-35||20-35||20-35|
|Saturated Fat (%kcal)||DGA||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%||<10%|
|Linoleic Acid (g)||AI||16||11||17||12||17||12||14||11|
|Linolenic Acid (g)||AI||1.6||1.1||1.6||1.1||1.6||1.1||1.6||1.1|
How to count macros?
First you must determine how many daily calories you need to take in per day for your fitness/wellness goal. Our calculator is designed to help you do just that. Once you have that figure, you combine it with the calories per macronutrient and recommended macro figures above to determine how much of each macro you need per day.
For example, let’s use three super simplified, completely hypothetical scenarios to illustrate.
Higher-carb for bodybuilding ratio of 55% Carbs / 30% Protein / 15% Fat
If you’re a 24yr old male on a 4,000 calories per day diet, that equates to:
- Carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.55) * 4,000 = 2,200
- Grams: 2,200 Calories / 4 = 550(g) of Carbs
- Protein (4 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.30) * 4,000 = 1,200
- Grams: 1,200 Calories / 4 = 300(g) of Protein
- Fat (9 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.15) * 4,000 = 600
- Grams: 600 Calories / 9 = 67(g) of Fat
Moderate-carb for maintenance ratio of 40% Carbs / 35% Protein / 25% Fat
If you’re a 31yr old male on a 2,600 calories per day diet, that equates to:
- Carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.40) * 2,600 = 1,040
- Grams: 1,040 Calories / 4 = 260(g) of Carbs
- Protein (4 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.30) * 2,600 = 780
- Grams: 780 Calories / 4 = 195(g) of Protein
- Fat (9 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.30) * 2,600 = 780
- Grams: 780 Calories / 9 = 87(g) of Fat
Lower-carb for fat loss ratio of 20% Carbs / 45% Protein / 35% Fat
If you’re a 28yr old female on a 1,500 calories per day diet, that equates to:
- Carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.30) * 1,500 = 450
- Grams: 450 Calories / 4 = 113(g) of Carbs
- Protein (4 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.40) * 1,500 = 600
- Grams: 600 Calories / 4 = 150(g) of Protein
- Fat (9 kcal per gram)
- Calories: (.30) * 1,500 = 450
- Grams: 450 Calories / 9 = 50(g) of Fat
By determining your daily calories number for your fitness goal, you can then proceed to setting a macronutrient ratio to aim for daily when putting together your meals. A great place to start is the recommended macro figures above, followed by the where should your calories come from section.
Keep in mind that results vary, and it will take patience and dedication to achieve your goals.
Amount of calories in common foods
Keep in mind that all food and beverage choices matter – focus on variety, amount, and nutrition.
This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list, please read labels to find out just how many calories are in the specific products you decide to buy.
- Unless otherwise stated, the items are uncooked.
- Unless otherwise stated “cup” implies chopped item.
- Unless otherwise stated:
- 1 can = 12 fl oz.
- 1 cup = 8.11 fl oz (US) or 8.44 fl oz (imperial) or 240 millilitre
- 1 tablespoon = 14.2 gram
- Data pulled from: myfooddata.com
Milk & Eggs
|Boiled Eggs||1 large (50g)||78||64%||3%||34%||326|
|Fried Eggs||1 large (50g)||90||70%||2%||28%||377|
|Low Fat Milk 1%||16oz glass (488g)||205||21%||48%||31%||858|
|Low Fat Milk 2%||16oz glass (488g)||244||36%||38%||26%||1,021|
|Whole Milk||16oz glass (488g)||298||48%||31%||21%||1,247|
|Skim Milk||16oz glass (490g)||167||3%||59%||38%||699|
|Soymilk (unsweetened)||16oz glass (486g)||160||44%||22%||34%||670|
|Coconut Milk||16oz glass (452g)||890||91%||5%||4%||3,724|
|Almond Milk (unsweetened)||16oz glass (524g)||79||71%||14%||14%||331|
|Plain||1 cup (8 fl oz) (245g)||149||47%||31%||23%||624|
|Low-fat||1 cup (8 fl oz) (245g)||154||22%||44%||33%||645|
|Kefir (low-fat plain)||100g||41||20%||44%||37%||172|
|Tofu yogurt||1 cup (8 fl oz) (245g)||246||17%||68%||15%||1,029|
|American||1 slice (3/4oz) (21g)||69||70%||10%||20%||289|
|Blue Cheese||1 oz (28g)||100||73%||3%||24%||419|
|Cream||1 tbsp (15g)||51||87%||6%||7%||214|
|Cottage (blended)||4 oz (113g)||111||40%||14%||45%||465|
|Cheddar||1 oz (28g)||115||74%||3%||23%||481|
|Feta||1 oz (28g)||75||72%||6%||22%||314|
|Gouda||1 oz (28g)||101||69%||3%||28%||423|
|Swiss||1 oz (28g)||112||71%||2%||27%||468|
|Ground Beef (raw, grass-fed)||85g||168||60%||0%||40%||703|
|Ground Lamb (broiled)||3 oz (85g)||241||64%||0%||36%||1,108|
|Ground Pork (cooked)||3 oz (85g)||252||64%||3%||36%||1,054|
|Bacon (pan-fried)||1 slice (12g)||54||69%||2%||30%||226|
|Lean Chicken (cooked)||6 oz (170g)||267||18%||0%||82%||1,117|
|Polish Sausage (pork)||3 oz (85g)||277||80%||2%||17%||1,159|
|Ground Turkey (cooked)||4 oz (82g)||166||46%||0%||64%||695|
|Lobster (cooked)||3 oz (85g)||76||10%||0%||90%||318|
|Smoked Salmon||3 oz (85g)||33||35%||0%||65%||138|
|Pink Salmon (raw)||3 oz (85g)||108||33%||0%||67%||452|
|Canned Sardine||1 can (3.75 oz) (92g)||191||51%||0%||49%||799|
|Crayfish||3 oz (85g)||101||13%||5%||81%||293|
|Shrimp (cooked)||3 oz (28g)||100||73%||0%||24%||423|
|Rainbow Trout (cooked)||1 fillet (71g)||119||41%||0%||59%||498|
|Apples||1 large (223g)||116||3%||95%||2%||485|
|Avocado||1 whole (201g)||322||76%||20%||5%||1,347|
|Bananas||1 large (136g)||121||3%||93%||4%||506|
|Blueberries||1 cup (148g)||84||5%||91%||5%||351|
|Sweet Cherries||1 cup (154g)||97||3%||91%||6%||406|
|Grapes||1 cup (92g)||62||4%||92%||4%||259|
|Kiwi Fruit||1 cup (180g)||110||7%||86%||7%||460|
|Peaches||1 cup (154g)||60||5%||86%||9%||251|
|Plums||1 cup (165g)||76||6%||88%||6%||318|
|Raspberries||1 cup (123g)||64||10%||81%||8%||268|
|Figs||1 large (64g)||47||4%||93%||4%||197|
|Grapefruit||1 cup (230g)||74||3%||89%||8%||310|
|Oranges||1 cup (180g)||85||2%||90%||8%||356|
|Pears||1 cup (140g)||80||2%||97%||2%||335|
|Pineapple||1 cup (165g)||83||2%||95%||4%||347|
|Strawberries||1 cup (166g)||53||8%||84%||8%||222|
|Tomatoes||1 cup (180g)||32||9%||73%||18%||134|
|Watermelon||1 cup (152g)||46||3%||91%||6%||192|
|Arugula||1 cup (20g)||5||19%||48%||32%||21|
|Asparagus||1 cup (134g)||27||4%||62%||35%||113|
|Bell Pepper||1 cup (149g)||30||8%||79%||13%||126|
|Broccoli||1 cup (91g)||31||7%||66%||27%||130|
|Cabbage||1 cup (89g)||22||3%||79%||17%||92|
|Carrots||1 large (72g)||30||5%||86%||9%||126|
|Celery||1 cup (101g)||16||12%||71%||18%||67|
|Sweet Corn (cooked)||1 cup (149g)||143||13%||75%||13%||598|
|Cucumber||1 cup (104g)||16||5%||79%||16%||67|
|Eggplant||1 cup (82g)||21||7%||80%||13%||88|
|Garlic||1 clove (3g)||4||3%||81%||15%||17|
|Green Beans||1 cup (135g)||38||6%||76%||18%||159|
|Portabella Mushrooms||1 cup (86g)||19||12%||58%||31%||79|
|Onions||1 cup (160g)||64||2%||88%||10%||268|
|Potatoes (baked)||1 cup (160g)||94||1%||90%||9%||393|
|Pumpkin (cooked)||1 cup (245g)||49||4%||83%||13%||205|
|Spinach||1 cup (30g)||7||13%||50%||37%||29|
|Zucchini||1 cup (124g)||21||15%||60%||25%||88|
Nuts & Legumes
|Almonds||1 oz (28g)||164||72%||14%||14%||686|
|Mung Bean Sprouts||1 cup (104g)||31||5%||63%||32%||130|
|Black Beans||1 cup (104g)||227||4%||70%||26%||950|
|Cashews||1 oz (28g)||138||54%||33%||13%||682|
|Chia Seeds||1 oz (28g)||21||15%||60%||25%||577|
|Chickpeas (cooked)||1 cup (164g)||269||14%||65%||21%||1,125|
|Flaxseed||1 oz (28g)||152||67%||20%||13%||636|
|Peanuts||1 oz (28g)||161||73%||11%||17%||674|
|Pecan||1 oz (28g)||196||88%||7%||5%||820|
|Pinto Beans (cooked)||1 cup (171g)||245||4%||71%||24%||1,025|
|Red Kidney Beans (boiled)||1 cup (177g)||218||2%||69%||30%||912|
|Soft Tofu||1 piece (120g)||73||49%||7%||43%||305|
|Walnuts||1 oz (28g)||186||83%||8%||9%||778|
Grains & Pasta
|Brown Rice (cooked)||1 oz (195g)||218||6%||85%||8%||912|
|Brown Rice (cooked)||1 cup (158g)||205||2%||89%||9%||858|
|Cooked Pasta (spaghetti)||1 cup (151g)||239||5%||80%||15%||1,000|
|Cooked Pasta (elbows)||1 cup (132g)||209||5%||80%||15%||874|
|Cooked Pasta (lasagna)||1 cup (116g)||183||5%||80%||15%||766|
Drinks & Beverages
|Apple Juice||16 oz (496g)||228||0%||2%||98%||0%||954|
|Coconut Water||1 cup (240g)||46||0%||10%||75%||15%||192|
|Orange Juice||1 cup (248g)||112||0%||4%||89%||6%||469|
|Grape Juice||16 oz (506g)||304||0%||2%||97%||2%||1,272|
|Beer||1 can (356g)||153||63%||0%||33%||5%||640|
|Coca-Cola||1 can (370g)||155||0%||5%||95%||0%||648|
|Diet Coke||1 can (8 fl oz) (355g)||71||0%||0%||100%||0%||297|
|Pepsi||1 can (335 ml)||150||0%||0%||100%||0%||628|
|Sprite||16 fl oz (492g)||197||0%||0%||100%||0%||824|
|Gatorade G2 (low-calorie)||8 fl oz (237g)||19||0%||0%||100%||0%||79|
|Whiskey||1 fl oz (28g)||70||100%||0%||0%||0%||293|
|Gin||1 fl oz (28g)||73||100%||0%||0%||0%||305|
|Vodka||1 fl oz (28g)||64||100%||0%||0%||0%||268|
|Red Wine||1 fl oz (29g)||25||88%||0%||12%||0%||105|
|White Wine||1 fl oz (29g)||24||88%||0%||12%||0%||100|
|Green Tea||16 fl oz (473g)||0||0%||0%||0%||0%||0|
|Black Tea||16 fl oz (473g)||0||0%||0%||0%||0%||0|
Candy & Sweets
|McDonalds Apple Pie||2 oz (77g)||249||43%||53%||4%||1,042|
|Coconut Custard Pie||1 piece (104g)||270||45%||46%||9%||1,130|
|Cheesecake||1 piece (80g)||257||62%||31%||7%||1,075|
|Chocolate||1 oz (28g)||155||52%||45%||4%||648|
|Almond Joy Bar||1 snack bar (19g)||91||49%||48%||3%||381|
|Glazed Doughnut||3-inches (41g)||169||40%||57%||3%||707|
|Vanilla Ice Cream||1/5 cup (66g)||137||48%||45%||7%||573|
|Pumpkin Pie||1 slice (133g)||323||36%||57%||7%||1,351|
|Gingerbread Cake||1 piece (74g)||263||41%||55%||4%||1,100|
Calories burned from common exercises
If you’re to successfully track and meet your daily calories, you ought to know how many you’re burning.
Whether you’re in the gym working out, doing yard work, hiking outdoors, playing sports, doing home improvement, or just out dancing with friends; your body is burning calories to keep you going.
Here’s a list of common exercises and the number of calories you burn by doing them for 30 minutes. (41)
|Activity||125(lbs) Person||155(lbs) Person||128(lbs) Person|
|Lifting Weights (general)||90||112||133|
|Lifting Weights (vigorous)||180||223||266|
|Rowing Machine (moderate)||210||260||311|
|Rowing Machine (intense)||255||316||377|
|Spin Bike (intense)||315||391||466|
Training, Sports, & Fun
|Activity||125(lbs) Person||155(lbs) Person||185(lbs) Person|
|Bicycling (>20 mph)||495||614||733|
|Bicycling (12-13.9 mph)||240||298||355|
|Bicycling (14-15.9 mph)||300||372||444|
|Bicycling (16-19 mph)||360||446||533|
|Golf (using cart)||105||130||155|
|Golf (carrying clubs)||165||205||244|
|Jogging (<10 min)||180||223||266|
|Running (12 min/mile)||240||298||355|
|Running (11.5 min/mile)||270||335||400|
|Running (10 min/mile)||300||372||444|
|Running (9 min/mile)||330||409||488|
|Running (8 min/mile)||375||465||555|
|Running (7 min/mile)||435||539||644|
|Running (6 min/mile)||495||614||733|
|Softball (for fun)||150||186||222|
|Volleyball (for fun)||90||112||133|
|Walking 3.5 mph (17 min/mi)||120||149||178|
|Walking 4 mph (15 min/mi)||135||167||200|
|Walking 4.5 mph (13 min/mi)||150||186||222|
We hope this tool, along with our indepth guide, serve as an invaluable resource on your weight management journey.
Leave a comment below, should you have any questions or feedback.
We leave you with the following helpful resources that will help your fitness and nutrition goals immensly.
Federal Resources for Information on Nutrition & Physical Activity
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans - http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans - http://www.health.gov/paguidelines
- MyPlate - http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - http://www.hhs.gov/
- Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion - http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/
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About the Author
Rick Grimes is the administrator and editor on top10supps.com. He is a former D1 athlete, and a current fitness nut with over 10+ years in the health and fitness industry. After getting his bachelors degree he became devoted to contributing accurate, concise and research-based information to the bodybuilding industry. When he’s not researching supps, you can find him on Twitter & Quora giving back to the community. Feel free to contact Rick with any questions.