Monday, June 14, 2010

How many Calories do I need?

When you set out to get into shape (whether to lose weight, maintain your current weight or gain weight), one of the first thing you need to figure out is how many calories to consume each day.

The reason for this is very simple. The amount of calories you take in (through food) and the amount of calories you spend (through exercise and other daily activities) determines whether you will lose weight or gain weight. Everything else is irrelevant. Remember this simple rule. It is not the type of food that you eat which will make you lose weight. It is the amount of calories you consume.

So how do you determine your daily calorie needs? The jury is still out on this one as to the exact formula to be used to compute your calorie requirements. Dietitians use different formulas to arrive at something called the BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) of each individual and then factor in your activity level to determine your daily calorie needs.

Let's see how this works in reality. All formulas need the following 5 bits of information. Age, Weight, Height, Gender and Activity Level. Some calculator use metric values and some imperial values. I have listed my vitals stats in both for this exercise.

Vital Stat Metric Value Imperial Value
Age 44 44
Weight 72 Kg 159 Pounds
Height 172 cms 5' 7"
Gender Male Male
Activity Level Active Active

Armed with this information, let's see what the internet has to offer.

1. Mayo Clinic: This is a very slick looking calculator that is offered in both metric and imperial units. When I plugged in the above numbers, It came with the result of 2350 calories per day for me to maintain my current weight.

2. Free Dieting: Another good calculator. This one allows you to enter weight in either Kilos or Pounds but weight has to be entered only in imperial unit. The result I came with is 2294 calories per day.

3. Calculator.Net: This one uses the St. Jeor equation that is also mentioned on the site. When I plug in my numbers, I get 2433 calories per day.

So each site comes us with different results for the same input data. The difference between the lowest number (2294) and the highest number (2433) is 139 calories which is about 1 chocolate bar!.

So which formula to rely on. In my case, I decided to play it safe and rely on the lower values. This works out to somewhere around 2200 calories per day for me.

Once the daily calorie needs are determined, the simply rule of thumb is:
  - Decrease your calories by 500 to lose approximately 1 pound per week (about 1700 calories for me).
  - Increase your calories by 500 to gain approximately 1 pound per week.

So there you have it. My next article will discuss what kind of food I consume that constitutes those 1700 calories.

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