As I’ve explained, your daily calorie intake is by far the most important part of your diet plan no matter what your goal is (losing fat, building muscle, etc.).
And, the starting point for figuring out exactly how many calories you need to eat per day revolves around something called your calorie maintenance level.
Your calorie maintenance level is where your body is at when you consume and burn the same number of calories.
Meaning, when Calories In = Calories Out, you’ve reached your calorie maintenance level.
Here’s an example…
Let’s say you burn 2500 calories per day from a combination of exercise (weight training, cardio, etc.), normal daily activities (getting dressed, showering, driving, etc.), and your body doing the things it needs to do to sustain itself (breathing, pumping blood, digesting food, etc.).
That means 2500 calories is your daily calorie maintenance level in this example. If you then consumed 2500 calories each day, your body would remain pretty much the same. Your weight will not go up or down. Everything will just be “maintained.”
Why? Because you ate the same number of calories that you burned, and that means all of the calories you consumed were used by your body. There was no surplus or deficit. It was even.
And, the amount of calories that makes this happen is your calorie maintenance level.
Why Your Calorie Maintenance Level Is So Important
Isn’t it obvious? No? Fine, let’s use a chart to make it obvious…
|The Cause||The Effect||Required For|
|Below Maintenance Level (Caloric Deficit)||Stored calories (body fat, muscle tissue, or both) will be burned.||Losing Fat|
|At Maintenance Level (Maintenance)||Maintenance||Maintaining Your Current Weight|
|Above Maintenance Level (Caloric Surplus)||Calories will be stored (as either muscle tissue, body fat or both).||Building Muscle|
As you can see from the chart above:
- To lose fat, you need to create a caloric deficit. Meaning, you need to be BELOW your calorie maintenance level so that you end up burning more calories than you consume. When that happens, your stored body fat will be burned for energy instead.
- To maintain your current weight, you need to be AT your calorie maintenance level so that you’re consuming and burning the same number of calories.
- To build muscle, you need to create a caloric surplus. Meaning, you need to be ABOVE your calorie maintenance level so that you’re consuming more calories than you burn. When that happens, your body will have the extra calories it needs to create new muscle tissue.
Sounds pretty good, right?
The thing is, in order to do any of these things, you first need to figure out what your calorie maintenance level is so you know exactly what it is you need to be above, below or even with.
So, let’s figure out what yours is…
How To Calculate Your Calorie Maintenance Level
In case it’s not obvious enough, calorie maintenance levels are different for everyone because we all have different daily calorie requirements. It’s not like everyone with a certain goal or body type has the same maintenance level or anything like that.
Instead, your calorie maintenance level is dependent on many factors that are specific to you and your exact situation.
These factors include:
- Activity level
- Metabolic Rate
- Thermic Effect Of Food
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
As you can see, your specific calorie maintenance level is tailored to you and you alone. Even if you are the same age, height and weight as someone and have the exact same activity level and goals as they do, you can both still have very different calorie maintenance levels and daily calorie requirements in general.
Luckily though, there are a few quick and easy ways to get an accurate estimate of what your daily calorie maintenance level is.
Here are my favorite methods…
Method #1: Body Weight (lbs) x 14-17 = Estimated Daily Calorie Maintenance Level
Just take your current body weight in pounds and multiply it by 14 and 17. Somewhere in between those 2 amounts will usually be your daily calorie maintenance level.
For example, a 180lb person would do 180 x 14 and 180 x 17 and get an estimated daily calorie maintenance level of somewhere between 2520-3060 calories.
People who are female, older, less active or feel they have a “slow metabolism” should probably stick more towards the lower end of their estimate. People who are male, younger, more active, or feel they have a “fast metabolism” should probably stick more towards the higher end of their estimate.
If you’re unsure, just pick a number somewhere in the middle. We’ll make sure it’s perfectly accurate later on. Don’t worry.
Method #2: The Daily Calorie Requirements Calculator (using the Harris-Benedict Equation)
While method #1 is usually pretty accurate for most people, it still has the potential to be off to some degree because it doesn’t account for many of those individual factors I mentioned before (like age, gender and activity level), all of which affect what our daily calorie maintenance level is.
And that’s where the Harris-Benedict Equation comes into play.
The Harris-Benedict Equation is one of a handful of well accepted (and slightly complex) equations used for estimating your daily calorie requirements based on many of the factors I mentioned before, therefore increasing the potential for accuracy.
Rather than make you do any more math (math sucks, I know), I’ve included a calculator below that will do it all for you. Just fill it in and click the “Calculate!” button.
Method #3: The Experiment
While one or both of the methods described above will usually provide a fairly accurate estimate of a person’s daily calorie requirements, it’s important to remember that they are still just estimates.
The only way to truly find your EXACT calorie maintenance level is by doing a simple common sense experiment…
- Basically, eat the same amount of calories each day for a couple of weeks and monitor what your weight does.
- If it stays the same, you’ve found your exact maintenance level.
- If it goes up or down, then just adjust your calorie intake in small increments, wait another couple of weeks, and see what your weight does then.
- When it stays the same, you’ll know for sure that you’ve found your exact daily calorie maintenance level.
I explain this experiment much better here: How Many Calories Are Needed To Maintain My Current Weight?
Now, do you NEED to do this experiment? Probably not.
Method #1 and/or method #2 will usually be perfectly sufficient. Plus, in the next step, I’m going to show you how to ensure your calorie intake ends up being exactly right even if your estimate was slightly off.
Speaking of which…
Now For The Most Important Step Of All
Whether you used method #1, method #2, or a combination of both (or did the experiment described in method #3), you should now have a really good idea of what your daily calorie maintenance level is.
Again, don’t worry about your estimate being 100% accurate now. We’ll make sure it’s perfect in the next step. But for right now, all that matters is that you have your estimated daily calorie maintenance level figured out.
Now comes the most important part of all: using that estimate to figure out exactly how many calories you need to eat per day to reach your specific goal.
So, just select your goal below and then move on to your next step…
- To Lose Fat: How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day To Lose Weight & Lose Fat?
- To Build Muscle: How Many Calories Do I Need To Eat Per Day To Build Muscle Or Gain Weight?
- To Maintain Your Weight: How Many Calories Are Needed To Maintain My Current Weight?
(This article is part of a completely free and amazingly awesome guide to creating the absolute best diet plan possible for your exact goal and preferences. Check out the entire guide here: The Best Diet Plan)