How many calories do you need to eat each day?
I was at a Health Fair up at Whole Foods a few weeks back where I got my Basal Metabolic Rate checked. I gave a fitness expert my weight, height, age and a few other stats, and then stood on some electronic magnetic thingy magig that sent waves through my body to determine all my other factors. I was pretty shocked. Not only did I have 10% body fat, but I also had the metabolic rate of a 14 year old. Meaning that even though I am 29, on the inside my body only thinks it is 14 and has the metabolism of someone half my age. I was pretty flawed and needless to say proud of myself, and it seems so was the personal trainer who tested me as he grabbed all his colleagues to come and take a look at my results. I also got some other cool stats on my bone density, how many pounds of muscle I have, how much of my fat is visceral fat, how well nutrients are absorbed in my body etc.
The other thing I learnt that my BMR is roughly around 1800 calories per day. That means that if I just lie in bed all day and don't do any exercise, that this is what my body requires to maintain itself. The personal trainer also mentioned that if I increased my muscle mass by just 5 more pounds, I would see even greater results in my BMR and fat loss etc. I told him how hard I train and how religiously I eat, and he mentioned that I might need to increase my protein intake. I laughed at him, because I eat protein every 3 hours and eat more of it than anything else.
Now when it comes to nutrition, I know my stuff. I research it as well as read articles and websites about it every day. I know what I eat, how much I eat, every day and every week. Or so I thought. Yesterday in thinking of his advice, I decided to calculate how many calories and grams of protein I was actually eating so I could see if this personal trainer was right, and whether indeed I may need to increase some things to see more muscle gain. I was shocked at what I discovered.
I went through each any every piece of food I eat at every meal or every day, going so far as to include the one tablespoon of dijon mustard in the dressing I have at my lunch time salad. I looked at the nutrition information on the back of every product, and even googled the calories in each and every vegetable I eat. I threw it all into a spreadsheet and used formulas to calculate subtotals per meal and totals for the day.
Well remember how I need 1800 calories to just maintain my body weight each day, with no exercise or weight lifting? Well I calculated I was consuming only 1754 calories per day... I nearly fell off my chair. I thought I was eating so much more than that! Not only is that not enough to build muscle, but it is by far not enough to keep up with the full body workouts I do each week or the cardio I do every couple of days. No wonder I haven't seen any changes in my body composition recently, and why my strength hasn't increased. Not only that, I but I saw I was only eating about half the amount of protein I should be eating each day.
Needless to say I ran to the refrigerator and inhaled some chicken breast and flaxseed oil faster than a binge eater on cheat day.
So anyway, It made me realize the importance of calculating your calories each meal and each day to really see what you are consuming. No matter how disciplined you are, or how close you are to your food, lord knows I am as close as you can get, you need to calculate it or write it down because if you don't you could be totally under or overestimating what you are eating.
So how many calories should you be consuming? Well it's different for each person and it depends on what your goals are. It you are trying to lose weight, then you need less than your maintenance level. If you are trying to increase muscle, then you need to eat more than your maintenance. If you are trying to build muscle, whilst burning fat, then you need to cycle your calories every couple of days. Other factors include sex, age, weight and height. Below is a rough guide on how you can calculate what you should be consuming.
I did some research online, and it seems there are some variations on how exactly you should calculate your calories, and some ways are a little more complex than others, and require you to know your body fat % which I know a lot of my readers don't. So I have made it easy for you and found a calculator that will do all the work for you. I found this really cool calculator online at About.com which does it all for you. Just punch in a few details and it will tell you how much you need to gain or lose weight. Here is the link:
If you do want something a little more precise and want to build muscle, know your body fat % and would like to calculate it all yourself, Mark McManus has a great formula on his website, Musclehack.com, that you can check out.
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