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How Many Calories Should I Eat?

How many calories should I eat to <insert goal>? A question that never gets old and has just as many answers as there are calories in a Hardee’s MonsterThick Burger (1,420..yikes!). No matter what anyone tells you, the calorie conversation is REAL.  I’m not saying you should exclusively focus on calories, but managing your calories is a MUST to achieve your goals. Calories get eaten, they get used for energy, and they get stored.  Let’s do some calorie calculation to figure out the right amount for you…

Q: What goes into figuring out how many calories I should eat?

A: Age, Weight, Height, Activity, Goal.  It’s (relatively) that simple for most of us.  You need to figure out how much fuel (calories) that your body needs to sustain life, maintain your systems, fuel your activity, and support your activity.  Age, Weight, etc…give us a great starting estimate on how many calories we need to support these elements. 

Q: What is the easiest way for me to figure this out?

A: Use the Harris-Benedict Equation.  Find it here:  Lots of science/research you can read about the equation, but the main thing is, it’s pretty accurate.  A great place to start. I’ve used this to build nutritional programs and set guidelines from my weight loss and health clients at the Greenville Hospital System to my 350+ Professional & Olympic athletes. You’ll probably be surprised at the numbers, most individuals find themselves not eating ENOUGH calories.  

Q: Once it tells me how many calories, now what?

A: Now you need to figure out your goal.  Lose weight, then you need to either burn more calories than you take in or eat less calories than you burn. Gain weight, get to the gym or wherever, stress your muscles (use resistance/weight training), and eat more calories than you’re burning.  Maintain weight, eat as many calories as the Mr. Harris and Mr. Benedict tells you to! I wholly believe in the calorie IN vs. calorie OUT theory.  There are ways to optimize weight loss/gain with different foods and macronutrient ratios (protein/carbs/fats), but it still comes down to management of calories. 

Q: Ok, so ALL I have to do is focus on my calories?

A: No, that’s just a very important start.  Now that we’ve figured out the number of calories we should eat, we start bringing in the health/wellness components.  The first to consider is, what should the composition of these calories be.  What % of these calories are going to come from Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats.  Once you’ve figured that out, you then move on to eating the best foods, such as Vegetables, Meats, Butter, Pasta, <Insert This Year’s Superfood>. 

Q: What about those weight loss diets that say I can eat as many calories as I want, just focus on the foods/types?

A: I’ve never seen any of them work.  Please send me data on a person that burns 3,000 calories but eats 10,000 calories and doesn’t gain weight.  Doesn’t matter if it’s mostly all fat (Keto) or protein (Atkins), or even cabbage soup (Crazy), if you eat more calories than you burn, you WILL gain weight. You may hear, “I ate as much as I wanted and still lost weight on so-so diet” but when you really look at how many calories they consumed compared to what they were eating before, it’s always less.  Long term, healthy, weight loss – gain – maintenance, is adjusting your calories directly to your goals…no more, no less. 

Q: How do I calculate the composition calories?

A: Say you’re supposed to eat 2000 calories per day.  And you chose a nutritional lifestyle that is 60% protein, 20% carbohydrates, and 20% fat (see how all that adds up to 100%!). Your calculation would result in:  1200 calories from Protein (2000 x.60 = 1200), 400 from Carbs, and 400 from Fat.  

Q: How do I figure out MY nutrition composition?

A: Trial and error.  It’s not necessarily one size (ratio) fits all. Some people like Keto (30/10/70), some like high protein (70/10/30), some like traditional balance (40/40/20).  Through some time and tweaking, you can figure out which is best for you. I realized I tend to gain weight when I eat too many carbs, so I keep my carb % 30 or below, but my friend gains weight when eating protein, so she keeps hers around 40%.  Protein, Carbs, Fats, they are all terrific (when they are the right sources),  you just need to figure out the best ratio for you. 

Q: How big is the role of foods?

A: Very important.  If you burn 2,000 calories a day and you only eat 1500 calories from Snickers, eventually you will lose weight.  You’re deficient by 500 calories.  But it won’t be the right weight, you’ll probably end up a diabetic with a variety of metabolic diseases, and you won’t feel, look, or whatever good.  Once you figure out how many calories to eat and where you want them coming from (protein, carbs, fats), you then need to find the best SOURCES, the source is whole foods with the least amount of damaging nutrients.  Which is another conversation…for another email. 

Q: Do I have to eat exactly the right calories and ratio every day for success?

A: No, not at all. I strive to hit my numbers on a weekly basis.  When I am really intense on my goals, like when it’s 30 days before hitting the beach, I’ll go for every 2 days.  Your body adapts, you don’t have to be perfect all the time, you just have to be consistent and not let yourself fall too far off the wagon!