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How to Estimate Your Required Energy?

how to calculate calorie intake

Right in the beginning I would like to make it clear that the need to watch your required calorific intake exists even if you are sedentary and is not reserved only for individuals who are working out, being sedentary necessitates watching calories to an even bigger degree as the risk of getting overweight is way higher. And, as working out has a strong impact on how your physique will appear, not following a workout regimen and having a sedentary lifestyle will lead to the following three outcomes:

  • You will either deposit fat and might become really overweight or obese
  • Or on the flip side you may get skinny
  • And in the third scenario your body type will become a hybrid between the above two i.e. skinny-fat.

In any case, your body will not be athletic, or pleasant looking. The most important thing in transforming your physique is to always begin with relatively low body-fat levels because building up from there is a lot easier in addition to a good training and diet plan.

fit and toned

And you will not believe it but before I had my present day physique I was looking like the aforementioned body-type, I was pretty fat and I managed to turn it around because I knew how to be disciplined with my calorific intake, nutrition plan and calisthenics workouts regimen.

There are two ways to determine how many calories you actually need, one is by consulting the chart I am giving you and another method is to calculate using the formula stated below. The second option will be a little more accurate than the first. However, the result from both of these methods will at best be only an estimate because the required energy for a day will always be different everyday depending on how intense or frequent is your training routine and other activities.

The Institute of Medicine has given us a chart where the estimates are rounded to the nearest 200 calories:

Gender Age (years) Activity Level
Sedentary Moderately Active Active
Child 2-3 1,000 1,000 – 1,400 1,000 – 1,400
Female 4 – 8 1,200 1,400 – 1,600 1,400 – 1,800
Female 9-13 1,600 1,600 – 2,000 1,800 – 2,000
Female 14-18 1,800 2,000 2,400
Female 19-30 2,000 2,000 – 2,200 2,400
Female 31-50 1,800 2,000 2,200
Female 51+ 1,600 1,800 2,000 – 2,200
Male 4-8 1,400 1,400 – 1,600 1,600 – 2,000
Male 9-13 1,800 1,800 – 2,200 2,000 – 2,600
Male 14-18 2,200 2,400 – 2,800 2,800 – 3,200
Male 19-30 2,400 2,600 – 2,800 3,000
Male 31-50 2,200 2,400 – 2,600 2,800 – 3,000
Male 51+ 2,000 2,200 – 2,400 2,400 – 2,800
  • These levels are based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the IOM Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrients report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals. “Reference size,” as determined by IOM, is based on median height and weight for ages up to age 18 years of age and median height and weight for that height to give a BMI of 21.5 for adult females and 22.5 for adult males.
  • Sedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
  • Moderately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
  • Active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.
  • The calorie ranges shown are to accommodate needs of different ages within the group. For children and adolescents, more calories are needed at older ages. For adults, fewer calories are needed at older ages.

The formula is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine:


RE = 662 – 9,53 * (age in years) + physical activity coefficient * [15,91 * (body weight in kilograms) + 539,6 * (height in meters)]


RE = 354 – 6.91 * (age in years) + physical activity coefficient * [9.36 * (body weight in kilograms) + 726 * (height in meters)]

*Use a calculator because it is very easy to get a wrong result. 

The physical activity coefficient:

  1. sedentary with normal daily activities (walking, home stuff): 1.25
  2. light physical activity (normal daily activities + 30-60 min. of moderate physical activity): 1.5
  3. moderate physical activity (normal daily activities + 60 min. of moderate physical activity): 1.75
  4. intense physical activity (normal daily activities + at least 60 min. of moderate physical activity + 60 min. of intense physical activity or 120 min. moderate physical activity): 1.9 – 2.5 (average is 2.2)


I will take one fictive overweight male, named Bob with the following data:

  • Age: 35
  • Height: 1.8 meters
  • Weight: 97 kilograms
  • Sedentary: 1.25 (physical activity coefficient)

I have placed the data in the formula and the result is 3600 kcal/day. According to the result, Bob must eat around 3600 kcal every day to maintain his current bodyweight. His optimal weight from my experience should be around 78 kilograms and not 97 kilograms. Obviously, he will have to lose the extra poundage.

So, his long-term goal will be to lose 19 kilograms while the short-term goal will be to lose 1 kilogram per week. In this case he will have to set a realistic goal that will not bring him entirely out of his comfort zone, and therefore the chances of being committed in the long journey will be higher.

The chapter from the Institute of Medicine says that at his age, being sedentary and having a median height, Bob should consume roughly 2200 kcal every day to maintain his optimal weight. He will have to be on a calorific deficit, by cutting calories from his food intake and also by training. Therefore, I estimated that an intake of 1800-2000 kcal every day plus spending several hundred calories by working out, Bob will be able to lose 1 kilogram per week.

I calculated again with this new data:

  • Age: 35
  • Height: 1.8 meters
  • Weight: 78 kilograms
  • Light Physical Activity: 1.5 (physical activity coefficient)

The formula and the chart both yield an estimated 2200 kcal/day. Bob ate a lot more than 2200 kcal every day to end up in the overweight state he is in. First result comes to be 3600 kcal because the formula estimates the required calories for maintenance regardless of the body-fat percentage.

  • First result will tell you the maintenance level for your current weight
  • Second result will tell you the maintenance level for your optimal weight

Start with the second result because it is the one that will tell you whether you need to be on a caloric deficit, or you need to increase the amount of calories in order to gain size.

So what’s the message?

No formula can give you the exact answers because they can never account for all the variables which decide it for you.  But that doesn’t mean that formulas are useless when it comes to counting calories. You need to understand that the formulas are there to guide you. As a beginner you will need to get an approximate idea of the calories you need to ingest and you need to experiment with it to find your sweet spot.

Every day is different and you cannot train at the same intensity. So, I suggest you use different physical activity coefficients and calculate the required energy again. You might discover that your RE is different for that day.

You should know that the macronutrients are those which provide the energy needed for your organism. Alcohol also contains calories, but it should be avoided or included just in small quantities at special occasions. It is not a necessary nutrient for the organism. The alcoholic beverages can affect the energetic balance by rising the ingested calories drastically when consumed in excess.

Vitamins, minerals, water and dietary fibers don’t provide energy. However their role is very important!

You can use food labels in order to see how many grams of each nutrient are present in different food items. This way you can get an idea of how much you eat during every meal and throughout the whole day. Repeating this exercise for a couple of days you will be able to estimate your calorific intake easily. So, the good news is that you don’t need to count your calories forever.

To be honest, I never count calories myself. I have enough experience to know what works for me and what doesn’t. But, I have studied these things and paid attention to them since the beginning.

basics of nutrition

If you don’t want to calculate your calories then follow the example given above for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I always divide my dish similar to this in order to make sure that I am in a deficit, and you will also need to do this:

  • Reduce the amount of fat-dairy or simply eliminate it and reduce the carbohydrate intake from grains, to decrease the calories
  • To increase the amount of calories you will simply have to add more grains, proteins.

Check out my article about basics of nutrition to understand more about macros and the foods that provide us with calories: Basics of Nutrition.

Final thoughts:

  • Every formula is not 100% correct. You need to find your own sweet spot by experimenting
  • Try to gain calories from complex carbohydrates. These are the best fuels for the organism
  • Avoid added sugars (table sugar), sodas and the food with high glycemic index if you are a fat person: junk food, jam, jellies, cookies, appetizers, dairy products

If you want to lose weight easy and sustainably then read my 10 commandments:

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Author Adorian Moldovan

Adorian Moldovan is the founder of Old School Calisthenic, a site dedicated to helping people achieve aesthetic and strong physique through bodyweight training. His calisthenics programs helped a lot of people transform their bodies. He is also the author of the programme: High-Volume Calisthenics Workouts.

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