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How to count calories with a formula?

By November 28, 2016Nutrition
how to calculate calorie intake

Everyone needs calories! Be it an athlete or an office worker, we all need to have calories in an appropriate amount. If our calorific intake is not optimized we either lose weight or gain too much weight. Calories are the king when it comes to configuring your body. So how do you optimize your calorific intake? Fear not we will answer that very soon.

The way our bodies are going to be depends upon the workouts we do and the calories we ingest. When you train for strength your body gets muscular and when you train for endurance you become lean and efficient at using energy most efficiently i.e. not so muscular! And when you train for both strength and endurance you get both. That’s why we advocate training for strength as well as endurance. It gives you the best of both worlds aka Greek God Physique! Keep in mind that this process is going to happen only when you dial in good nutrition. Otherwise you will keep spinning your wheels and get nowhere.

So what you need to build an aesthetic physique is pretty simple. You need to do workouts focusing on Strength as well as Endurance and you need to eat good food providing the right amount of calories. Before we discuss what’s the right amount of calories we need to remember that our body needs a certain minimum amount of calories to function properly and the remaining amount of calories is used for our other activities.

The calories you need depend on: age, sex, duration, intensity, frequency of physical activities that you do (or you do not). Now 60% of your daily wallet i.e. your calories are spent on maintaining your basic metabolic activities and the remaining 40% is used for other physical activities including your workouts and a few cents (calories) are spent on digestion too.

Now as a calisthenics athlete you will be training pretty hard (or will be planning to do so in near future) and you will want to get strong and muscular. There are a lot of formulas available online and I used one for calculating Required Energy (RE) given by my good friend Nicoleta, which is a certified nutritionist, specialized in sports nutrition. 

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)]

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)

Example: my case

  • age: 26
  • body weight: 89 kg. (considered as a normal bodyweight, without having the needs of increasing or reducing the mass)
  • height: 1.84 meters
  • physical activity coefficient: 2 (because I train very intense for at least 1 hour/day. It doesn’t matter if I do cardio or strength workout. The intensity is the same).
    RE = aprox. 4000 kcal/day.

Now after doing the calculations I found that I need 4000 kcal/day to maintain my muscle mass along with hardcore training. And If I wanted to gain some more muscle mass I will need to eat a few hundred calories in excess of these 4000 kcal/day. 

But!!! No formula is 100% accurate. When I eat around 4000 kcal/day I gain bodyfat along with mass! It’s very important for me to keep my workouts at high intensity. Otherwise, 3000 kcal/day to maintain my muscle mass is more than enough, and a few hundred extra calories help me gain mass without getting fat.

So what’s the message? No formula can tell you the exact answers because they can never account for all the variables which decide it for you.  But that doesn’t mean the 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 it with to find your sweet spot.

Each day is different and you cannot train at the same intensity forever. So, I suggest you use different physical activity coefficients and calculate again the RE. In this way you will know if it’s okay to eat less or more.

You should know that the macronutrients are those which provide the energy needed for your organism. The alcohol contains calories too, 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 intake of calories when they are consumed in excess.

Below you can find how many calories each nutrient provides you per gram, so you can understand when you read the product packaging or food lables:
  • carbohydrates provide 4 kcal/gram
  • lipids (fats) provide 9 kcal/gram
  • proteins provide 4 kcal/gram
  • pure alcohol provides 7 kcal/gram

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

You can use food composition tables (food labels) in order to see how many grams of each nutrient contains each food. These way you can make an idea of how much you eat at every meal and during the whole day. Doing this exercise for couple of days, you will get to estimate easily your intake of calories. So, the good news: You don’t need to count forever your calories.

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

Here you can find a reliable food composition data base: CLICK. There are also some mobile apps that you can use, one is called “Nutrition facts”.

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 sugars, sodas and the food with high glycemic index if you are a fat person.

In several months we will release our eBook about Sports Nutrition. Subscribe here and get notified about it.

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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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