Love them or hate them they exist.
Unfortunately, there also exists a whole lot of misinformation around them. How some are better than others. How some are evil. How some cause weight gain regardless of energy balance. How eating certain ones after a certain time will ruin everything you’ve been working on. The list could go on and on.
Let’s clarify what a calorie actually is before giving you the simplest formula to work out how many you actually need…
A calorie is a unit of energy that is in a food or drink (in science-y speak, it’s the amount of energy required to raise 1g of water by 1 degree Celsius). In the real world, the energy is used to power your body and make everything from digestion, thinking and moving around on a day to day basis happen.
The concept of energy balance is simple. It’s like a seesaw:
If you put more calories into the system than you use up over an extended period of time then some will be stored as energy for future use – usually referred to as fat. This logically leads to weight gain.
If you put fewer calories into the system than you use up over an extended period of time then you will use up some of your stored energy to balance the books – this energy could come from the breakdown of fat or muscle.
So energy balance is all about maintaining an equilibrium between what is going in and what is being done. Some bodily processes are essential for survival, such as powering your immune system and keeping your internal organs functioning, and these use energy – this is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get to the formula that you came for:
Calories required on a daily basis = target bodyweight in pounds * (number of weekly training sessions + intensity factor)
Intensity factor will vary for males between 9/10/11/12 and for females between 8/9/10/11 depending on how intense the sessions are. The bottom end of the range is for easy sessions whilst the highest numbers are much more intense training sessions.
This simple formula works pretty well as it takes into account bigger people needing more energy just to stay alive as well as being adjustable depending on your personal goals and circumstances.
So, a couple of working examples:
A guy who wants to weigh around 185lbs who exercises 4 times a week at a fairly easy pace (185 * 13) should be eating somewhere in the region of 2400 calories per day.
A girl who wants to weigh 140lbs who exercises 5 times a week at a moderate intensity (140 * 16) should be eating somewhere in the region of 2200 per day.
Obviously, if these were the only pieces of guidance that we were publishing, we’d be doing everyone a disservice. If you want to know more, then please get in touch with us so we can continue this conversation, and keep your eyes peeled for future articles about nutrition.