How Many Calories Should I Eat for Breakfast?

Studio shot of healthy breakfast
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We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But does that mean that you should consume more of your daily calories in the morning?  Exactly how many calories should you eat at breakfast? The answer depends on a few factors.

Calculate Daily Calories

Before you can figure out how many calories to eat at breakfast, you should figure out how many calories to eat each day. Every person has  slightly different caloric needs.

Your total daily calorie intake is based on your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and your daily activity level.  If you're trying to lose weight, you reduce your calorie needs to reach the negative energy balance necessary for weight loss.

To calculate your recommended calorie intake you can use an online calculator. Or do some simple math and figure out the number on your own. Even if you are not counting calories to lose weight, it's helpful to know your number.  It will help to give you a general idea of how much to eat at each meal, including breakfast. 

Once you know how many calories you need each day, you should divide that number between the meals and snacks that you plan to consume. How you divide the calories depends on your lifestyle, your activity habits and your eating patterns. 

How Many Calories for Breakfast

Many women who are trying to lose weight, consume about 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day.

Men often consume 1,600 to 1,800 calories per day.  Many people simply divide their calories evenly between three daily meals to keep their breakfast, lunch and dinner calories simple. 

If you follow a popular commercial diet, like Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem, you'll find that calories are divided fairly evenly between three meals and also allow for one or two daily snacks.

That means that a woman might eat 300-400 calories at each meal and then eat two 100-calorie snacks in the late morning and afternoon. A man would consume 400-500 calories at breakfast, lunch and dinner and then enjoy two 150-calorie snacks during the day. 

But you don't have to follow a specific plan when you divide calories for your meals. You can evaluate when you need your calories most and them divide them up to meet your needs. For example, if you are a dieter who gets late morning hunger pangs, you should probably consume more calories first thing in the morning.  A meal that contains filling foods like protein-rich eggs or fiber-rich oatmeal might help you skip the high-calorie snacks or make better choices when the cravings hit.  

Sample Breakfast Calorie Counts

To get an idea of how you can divide your calories to accommodate your lifestyle and schedule, here are some typical scenarios. In this first example, a woman who consumes 1200 calories each day needs a few more calories in the morning because she does an early workout.

She might divide her calories like this:

  • Snack: 100 calories
  • Breakfast: 400 calories
  • Lunch: 300 calories
  • Dinner 300 calories
  • Snack: 100 calories

The early snack provides a quick burst of energy before her workout. And then the post-workout breakfast calories help to refuel her body. It's reasonable for her to consume more calories at breakfast because this is when she is most active.  

But if a big family dinner is part of her daily ritual, she may want to eat fewer calories in the morning. If she eats a healthy light breakfast, she'll have more room to eat a larger dinner and still reach a negative energy balance for weight loss.  She might divide her calories like this to reach a 1200 calorie target:

  • Breakfast: 200
  • Snack: 100
  • Lunch: 300
  • Snack: 100
  • Dinner: 500

Do Breakfast Calories Count More?

Breakfast is an important meal because it helps some people maintain more moderate eating habits throughout the day.  But this isn't the case for everyone.  Breakfast calories count just as much as lunch calories, dinner calories and the calories you should consume from snacks.  If you eat too many - no matter when - you won't lose weight.

Take five minutes to figure out your daily energy balance. Then evaluate your lifestyle and your eating patterns to create an allowance for each meal so you eat your calories at a time during the day when they help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and moderate eating habits.

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