Friday, December 21, 2018
“How many calories should I be eating?” Of the many questions trainers get, this may be one of the most common. Anyone that dedicates significant time to their fitness will inevitably come to a point where they need to incorporate nutrition changes into their regiment. Whether it be to lose, gain, or maintain weight, caloric intake is a major component of health and nutrition.
There are a wide variety of online tools and calculators that will give you an estimate of how many calories you should be consuming each day. But that’s all they give you... an estimate. There are no calculators or tools out there that are 100% accurate. I’ve done enough research on this subject to have learned that the hard way. There are too many variables that aren’t considered, such as individual metabolism and body composition, exercise and health history, previous and current metabolic conditions (as well as any corresponding medications), etc. Each of these can have a significant impact when determining calorie consumption.
Will certain tools work for a percentage of the population that use them? Absolutely. Will the majority of the population get an accurate goal from these online tools? Probably not. When dealing in variations from person to person, there are no “one-click” answers.
Calculating Caloric Intake
As I mentioned above, there are no calculators or tools that are 100% accurate. There is, however, a process that can be used to give as accurate a number as I’ve seen.
Let me be clear. I haven’t created a new tool or method that you can’t already find on the Internet. I’ve simply conducted my own research into this topic and put that information in one spot to, hopefully, give you an easy-to-use process.
First, step on the scale. Do this in the morning, after your first restroom break, and before you’ve consumed any calories for the day. This will be your baseline weight. Over the next 2-3 weeks, measure yourself every 3-4 days at the same time. Keep track of these readings. You’ll use them for your final calculation.
Second, you need to find a baseline caloric intake for weight maintenance. Meaning, if you were to take in this amount of calories on a daily basis, you wouldn’t lose or gain any significant amount of weight. Again, this isn’t to be written in stone; it’s just a starting point. Normally, this is anywhere from 12-15 times your body weight.
BODY WEIGHT (in LBS) x 12-15 = weight maintenance
Example: 200 lbs x 13 = 2600 calories
Next, find a method for tracking your calories consumed and calories burned. I use MyFitnessPal, but there are many quality calorie counting apps out there. Find one that works for you, and stick with it. Keep track of everything that you consume, from food and liquids to spices and condiments. BE HONEST with yourself. If it has calories, and you eat or drink it, keep track of it. In addition, keep track of any exercise and/or activity you do, such as weight training, walking, biking, or even mowing the lawn (MyFitnessPal can also track those activities for you). This will help to estimate any calories you’ve burned, and can take away from your total consumption for the day. Same rule applies; be honest.
Lastly, after a 2-3 week period, look back over your weight measurements for each day you stepped on the scale. Is your weight roughly the same as when you started, with no major fluctuations in the measurements? If so, you’ve just found your baseline for weight maintenance.
Did your weight go up over these last 2-3 weeks? No worries. Just modify your daily caloric intake to 500 less than it was. Keep this in place for the next 2 weeks and see if your weight drops. If you’re looking to add weight, simply adjust your calories to 500 more per day.
Remember that I said there are no “one-click” answers to calorie consumption. It’s a process; a method that takes time to customize for each individual. If you have a goal weight that you want to achieve, it’s going to take time and work to make sure that your body adjusts safely and efficiently to the change in weight and calorie consumption.
I hope this article helps get you one step closer to your goals. But, if all else fails, don't hesitate to ask a local trainer for some advice. We're always happy to help!
Tim Sleeter Greater Green Bay YMCA
ACE Certified Personal Trainer