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Determining Your Daily Calorie Intake

So, in the previous post, using the Harris-Benedict Equation you figured out your required daily calorie intake based on your activity level. That’s awesome! That is probably one of the most important steps in achieving your fitness goals because it gives you a solid foundation to start from.
In this next section, we’re going to cover two topics: learning about exactly what calories are, and where they come from; and, what changes need to be made to your required daily calorie intake in order to put you on the path to your goal.

What are Calories?

Now, I could get all scientific on you, but for simplicity’s sake, all you need to know is that calories are your energy source. Calories obviously come from your food, but what part of the food? Many people who go on “diets” don’t actually understand this concept. Calories come from 3 sources (4 if you count alcohol, but there’s no nutritional value in alcoholic calories, so we won’t count those). The three sources of your calories are:

  1. Carbohydrates
  2. Proteins
  3. Fats

I’ve always thought it funny when the people on diets say something along the lines of “oh I can’t eat that because it has X amount of calories,” when what they really should be paying attention to is WHERE those calories are actually coming from. Even if something only has “90 Calories,” those 90 Calories could all be from 10 Grams of fat, which is what they’re trying to avoid in the first place (though please keep in mind that you NEED fats, even if losing fat is your goal. There ARE good fats!!).

Carbs, proteins, and fats are what we call Macro Nutrients (you’ll often hear bodybuilders refer to their “macros,” or how many “macros” they need according to their diet, these are what they’re referring to). Macros are broken down like this:

  1. You get 4 calories per 1 Gram of Carbohydrates
  2. You get 4 calories per 1 Gram of Protein
  3. You get 9 calories per 1 Gram of Fat

Doing some simple math, a food product that has 10 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of fat results in a total of 165 Calories.

  • (10 x 4) + (20 x 4) + (5 x 9) = 165

Now that you understand where calories come from, you can determine where those calories need to come from. Based on your goal, the percentages of which macros you need will differ. On a general scale, the most common percentage breakdown for building muscle is whats called the 50/30/20 — meaning 50% carbs, 30% proteins, and 20% fats. Now each person is different, and this can be tailored and should be changed to meet your specific needs and goals, but it’s an idea of where to start.

For building mass and muscle, the most common “rule of thumb” has been to intake 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, while adjusting your carbs to meet that requirement.

Alternatively, the most common practice for losing fat or “cutting” is taking in 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, and again adjusting your carbs and fats.

So let’s take a look at an example person. Their goal is to gain weight in the form of muscle mass. Protein is known as the “muscle building” macro, that’s why it is the focus for this type of goal. Carbohydrates are known as the energy macro, so they give your body the necessary energy to perform it’s job. So let’s call this example person Chad.

Chad wants to gain muscle, and he currently weighs 160 lbs., is 25 years old, and is 5′ 10″. Using the BMR Calculator mentioned on our previous page, The Three Major Fitness Goals, he’s figured out that his Basal Metabolic Rate is 1782 calories per day. Remember that this is the amount of calories he needs to take in each day just from doing nothing.

Now that Chad knows his BMR is 1782 calories per day, he uses the Harris-Benedict Equation to determine how many calories he needs based on his activity level. He is moderately active, which means he exercises a couple days a week, maybe plays sports here and there as well. That means he’ll take his 1782 and multiply is by 1.55, giving him a total of 2762 calories per day. This is how many calories he needs a day to maintain his current weight at his activity level. But Chad wants to gain weight, so what does he do?

Adjusting your Daily Calorie Intake to Meet your Goals

When it comes to gaining weight or losing weight, it comes down to a very simple concept: in order to gain weight, you must take in more calories than you burn per day; in order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you take in per day.

One pound of body weight is equal to roughly 3500 calories. If you look at a typical Monday through Friday workout schedule, that means in order to gain weight you must take in an additional 500 calories on top of your required daily calorie intake to gain roughly 1 pound per week, while in order to lose weight you must reduce your daily calorie intake by 500 calories per day to lose roughly 1 pound per week.

As we mentioned above, Chad is trying to gain weight. That being said, he must take in an additional 500 calories per day on top of his 2762, resulting in a total required daily calorie intake of 3262 calories. On the other end of the spectrum, if he were trying to lose weight (at a rate of roughly 1 pound per week), he’d have to take away 500 calories per day, resulting in 2262 calories per day.

Now keep in mind, you don’t have to go at a rate of 1 pound per week, that’s just the most common measurement in the fitness world and an easy example. If you wanted to gain/lose only half a pound per week, you would increase/decrease your daily caloric intake by 250 calories, so on and so forth.

Determining your Required Daily Calorie Intake

Determining your Macros

Now that Chad has figured out that his required daily calorie intake is 3262 calories in order to gain 1 pound of weight per week, it’s time he figures out how to get those calories based on his macros. Again, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll go with the example above that he needs to take in 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Let’s start with that.

We said Chad currently weighs in at 160 lbs., which means that his daily protein intake is easy — he needs 160 grams of protein a day. Using the math above and knowing that 1 gram of protein equals 4 calories, 160 x 4 = 640 calories. Easy enough, subtract that 640 from his required daily 3262 and he’s left with 2622 calories for his carbs and fats.

Since the 640 of the 3262 is only 20% of his daily intake, that means he’s going to take in a higher carb amount and moderate amount of fats. He knows that he doesn’t want his fat intake to be more than 25% of his total calories (remember, there are GOOD fats, and you NEED fats to maintain a healthy body, so don’t let the word scare you), so he’ll figure that out next. What is 25% of 3262? Easy enough, 3262 x 0.25 = 815.5 — Looking back up top and knowing that 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, we’ll do 815.5 / 9 = 90.6 or 91 for easy math. That means that Chad can eat 91 grams of fat per day. Not too bad if you ask me!

Last, and certainly not least, is his carbohydrates intake. What do we have left over? 640 calories from protein plus 815 calories from fat equal 1455. So again, we’ll take his total of 3262 calories per day, minus 1455 of the already used calories, leaving him with 1807 calories from carbs. Take the 1807 and divide by 4 (again, 4 calories per 1 gram of carbs) and that means his daily carb intake should be 451.75 grams or 452 grams if we’re rounding up.

When it’s all said and done, here are Chad’s macros and calorie breakdown to gain 1 pound of weight per week:

  • Carbohydrates = 452 grams per day = 1808 calories per day = 55.4%
  • Proteins = 160 grams per day = 640 calories per day = 19.6%
  • Fats = 91 grams per day = 815 calories per day = 24.9%

As mentioned above, this is not set in stone, and personally if I were Chad, I’d probably end up increasing my protein intake slightly while simultaneously decreasing my fat intake slightly. It’s all based on personal preference once you’ve determined the model to go off of, and again based on what your goal is. Please keep in mind I also rounded numbers just to make the math a little cleaner.

I hope this has helped you determine what your daily calorie intake should be, along with where to get those calories from based on your macros. The next topic we’ll cover is what the percentages of macros should be based on the three major fitness goals discussed previously, as the percentages of fats vs. proteins vs. carbs are different based on what you’re trying to achieve. We’ll also go over what exercise sets and reps you should be aiming for based on what those goals are.

If this was helpful to you, please be sure to share it with others!

Click the link below to go to our next topic:

Determining Your Goal Specific Macros

Be Better Than Yourself! Be Apex Tough!