How Many Calories Do Adults Need?

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
How Many Calories Do Adults Need?

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Many factors affect how many calories adults need. Some factors you cannot control. For example, your age and height. Activity level, on the other hand, is an example of something that impacts calorie needs that you can control.

Most people do not need to count calories. One way to ensure that you are eating enough — but not too much — is to get in tune with your body. We all have individual hunger and fullness cues. Try to get in touch with your personal cues. They are a helpful way to determine when and how much to eat:

  • Weakness, shakiness and irritability may be signs of hunger for many people.
  • Pacing yourself is an ideal way to assess fullness. For example, slowly eat half of your meal and then take a pause. Give your body a chance to begin to digest the food and think about how good it is to feel comfortably full and satisfied

That said, for those who are curious about the number of calories they need, there are lots of simple ways to find out.

Go with an Estimate

Calorie needs for adult women range from 1,600 to 2,200 per day. For men, the estimates range from 2,000 to 3,200 per day. The low end of the range may be better for you if you get little to no activity throughout the day. If you are very active throughout the day, the high end of the range may be more reflective of your needs. However, as we age, our calorie needs decrease.

For those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, calorie needs are higher and will depend on the trimester or the number of months after delivery, respectively. Ask your health care provider for a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist to learn more about your nutrition needs during and after pregnancy.

Use an Online Calculator

There are many free online calculators to help you figure out how many calories you need. The National Institutes of Health Body Weight Planner allows you to calculate your personal needs based on your height, sex, age, current weight and activity level — ranging from 1.4 (sedentary) to 2.5 (very active). The tool is set for a default value of 1.6, defined as someone who does light activity. For example, for an individual with a desk job who either takes walks or goes for a bicycle ride once a week.

The calculator also lets you obtain an estimate based on a goal weight and goal activity level.

Do the MyPlate Math

The MyPlate website also has an easy online tool for figuring out how many calories you need.  How does it work?

  • Go to the “Get Your MyPlate Plan” app on the MyPlate website.
  • Fill in your age, sex, weight, height and activity level.
  • Press “Calculate Food Plan.”
  • Read the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight.

You can also learn about the amounts that are recommended from each food group to help you meet your healthy eating goals:

  • Click on the button with your recommended calorie intake.
  • A page will open that lists the daily recommended amounts for you to eat from each of the five food groups.

Getting Too Few or Too Many Calories?

Some people have trouble maintaining a healthy weight.  And, not all weight changes are related to how much you are eating or drinking. Health conditions and medicines, for example, can impact weight changes. A registered dietitian nutritionist can work with you to develop an eating plan that meets your body’s needs as well as your taste preferences and lifestyle.

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