If you’re on a journey to get slimmer or to bulk up, you may already have a specific goal weight in mind. This could be the amount you need to be to fit into your favorite outfit, maybe it’s the size you want to be for a special event coming up, or perhaps it’s the ideal weight you need to hit to get back to a healthy condition. Whatever your target is, the process of getting to that number revolves around energy—as in, the relationship between how many calories you expend and how many calories you take in.
To figure out how many calories you should eat and burn in a day to reach your weight goal, it’s important to first understand some basics about caloric intake and the connection between calories and weight. Then, you can use a total daily energy expenditure calculator to estimate your optimal daily calorie intake.
What is the Recommended Daily Caloric Intake?
Spoiler: There’s no simple answer for a recommended daily caloric intake that single-handedly works for everyone. This is because the number would be influenced by different factors, including your age, gender, level of physical activity, and metabolism.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adult women need an estimated 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day while adult men need an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 per day. As mentioned above, where you fall in that range depends on how active you are. Those who are more sedentary generally need less calories than those who are more active.
These recommendations are based on average total daily energy expenditure calculations and are meant to ensure one maintains an energy balance. This means simply that the calories you consume are enough to satisfy your body’s energy needs.
Understanding Calories and Weight
Every piece of food you eat and every sip of a drink you take has a certain amount of energy in it, which is measured in calories. Our body needs that energy to function, but if it gets more calories than necessary, it stores it as body fat, which in turn leads to weight gain.
Some people think that all they have to do to lose weight is to eat fewer calories, but it’s not as simple as that. It also matters whether or not we’re burning the right amount of calories, too. You could be eating fewer calories but still not burning off enough through physical activity to see any real progress in your weight loss.
The trick is to find the right balance between how many calories you’re taking in through eating and drinking and how many you’re expending through physical activity.
How Many Calories Should I Burn Relative to What I Eat?
To figure out how many calories you need to burn in a day to achieve your target weight, start by learning how many calories your body is already burning off naturally. This is measured as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE for short, and one of the easiest ways to figure this out is to plug your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level into an online total daily energy expenditure calculator.
If you want to maintain your weight, how many calories you eat per day should match your TDEE. For those who want to lose weight, you should be eating fewer calories than your TDEE. If you want to gain weight, you should be eating more calories than this number.
Conveniently, GIGA Calculator’s TDEE calculator not only shows the estimated number of calories you expend in a day, but it also tells you the calories you should be consuming per day to lose 1 pound, lose 2 pounds, gain 0.5 pounds, or gain 1 pound, over the course of a week.
Remember, this free online TDEE calculator factors in physical activity. Therefore, if you adjust your activity level (to reflect you burning more or fewer calories), you’ll see how that either increases or decreases the number of calories you should consume a day.
How to Eat Fewer Calories and Burn More Energy
Now that you have the numbers in mind, it’s all about putting it into practice. Given that the goal is to maintain energy balance, you can either reduce your caloric intake or increase your TDEE.
Here are some ways you can eat fewer calories:
- Cut down on sugary drinks like soda and juice since these are full of calories.
- Cook and eat more healthy, homemade meals so you can control your portion sizes as well as the amount of fats and sugars you ingest.
- Choose nutritious snacks like nuts and fruit over processed foods like chips and candy.
- Don’t feel like you have to finish a plate of food in front of you if you’re already full.
- Make simple swaps like cooking with olive oil instead of butter, or using oil and vinegar instead of packaged, pre-made dressing.
- Limit how many alcoholic beverages you drink.
Here’s how you can burn more calories:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Go for a short walk to break up long periods of sitting.
- Do simple exercises while watching TV.
- Add more cardio or weightlifting to your workout routine.
- Join a local recreational sports team.
- Swap your chair for a stability ball for a portion of your workday.
All of the above would increase your daily energy expenditure and shift the caloric balance towards weight loss. For a more of the latest science on the topic of weight loss, check out our calorie calculator for weight loss.
Whether you want to maintain, lose, or gain weight, calorie intake and expenditure are key. With a total daily energy expenditure calculator, you can figure out how many calories you should eat in comparison to how many calories your body burns in order to achieve your weight goal.
Remember, it’s a good idea to consult your physician before you begin your weight loss journey so they can advise you about the healthiest way to reach your target weight.
Cindy is a freelance writer and editor with previous experience in marketing as well as book publishing. Along with her content writing for a diverse portfolio of clients, Cindy’s work has been featured in Thrillist, The Points Guy, Forbes, and more.