How Many Calories Do I Need Each Day?

Calculate your calorie need

Breakfast and Salad. Yagi Studio / Getty Images

Knowing how many calories you need to consume each day is essential for losing, gaining, or maintaining weight. But how do you go about determining that number? Easy! Get out your calculator and use the Harris-Benedict formula.

The Harris-Benedict formula is used to determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is also called the resting energy expenditure (EER). Your basal metabolic rate is determined by your sex, age and body size, and calculating this number tells you how about how many calories you burn just being alive and awake.

Of course, since you get out of bed and move around every day, you need to adjust this number. You can determine your active metabolic rate (AMR) by multiplying your BMR by a number representing on your activity levels. This number ranges from 1.2 for being sedentary, up to 1.9 for being extra active. Here's how it works:

Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Calculate your active metabolic rate by starting with your basal metabolic rate and adjusting it by estimating your current level of activity. If you are:

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise): your AMR = BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (light exercise/work 1-3 days per week): your AMR = BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise/work 3-5 days per week): your AMR = BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise/work 6-7 days a week): your AMR = BMR x 1.725
  • Extra active (very hard exercise/work 6-7 days a week): your AMR = BMR x 1.9

Your AMR should represent the number of calories you need to consume each day to stay at your current weight. If you want to lose weight, you need to increase your level of physical activity or decrease your caloric intake by eating less.

How Do I Use This Information?

Unfortunately, the Harris-Benedict formula isn't perfect. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, research studies have indicated the formula is about 90 percent accurate around 60 percent of the time.

That means it could be way off about 40 percent of the time, which is rather disheartening. Even worse, when the formula was wrong, it overestimated the calorie needs of the research subjects, so they were burning fewer calories than they thought.

The formula's problems with accuracy may be due to physical or genetic factors, and there's a good chance that many people overestimate how physically active they are.

So why use the formula if it's not always accurate?

Well, because it's a good place to start. Calculate your daily caloric need, and if you don't lose or gain weight, adjust your daily calorie count goal down (or up). But please don't consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day without medical supervision. You'll also need to recalculate your daily calorie need as your weight changes.

Online Calorie Calculators

Okay, so it really isn't difficult to grab a calculator and figure this all out by hand, but it's easier to use an online calculator like the United States Department of Agriculture's Supertracker, or with Verywell's Weight Loss Calorie Calculator.

Online calorie calculators are easy to use and make the perfect starting place for anyone who wants to get their calorie counts under control. You can also find calorie counts for the foods you eat and keep track of the calories you burn with exercise every day.

A Word from Verywell

Although it's easy enough to find online calculators and diet planners that will help you determine how many calories you need to consume everyday, it's nice to know how that information is calculated. And you can see how reducing your calorie intake or burning more calories with extra physical activity will help you gain or lose weight.

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library. "In non-obese individuals, what is the prediction accuracy and maximum overestimation and underestimation errors compared to measured resting metabolic rate when using the Harris-Benedict formula?" 

Crystal C. Douglas, Jeannine C. Lawrence, Nikki C. Bush, Robert A. Oster, Barbara A. Gower, Betty E. Darnell. "Ability of the Harris Benedict formula to predict energy requirements differs with weight history and ethnicity." Nutr Res. 2007 April; 27(4): 194-199. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2007.01.016. 

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