It's an age old question in the health industry. I'm sure we've all wondered at some point in our lives, and as a professional in the field I have DEFINITELY been asked it. If I'm being completely honest though, there is no one right answer, so what you are about to read may be different from what you've heard in the past. It's up to you to do the research, talk to your health care providers, and decide what works best for you!
So really, how many calories SHOULD you be eating in a day? well, "According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women are likely to need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day, and men from 2,000 to 3,000" (1) Of course we have to keep in mind that these numbers vary based on age, height, current weight, and current lifestyle. Also, this is the average amount of calories that one should consume in order to maintain their current health and fitness level, meaning you're in a maintenance phase, you don't want to gain weight and you don't need to lose it.
Now, if weight loss is your goal, you need to be in a caloric deficit. This means you are consuming fewer calories than you are burning off. In order to do this in the safest, healthiest way for your body, you need to decrease your food/beverage calorie intake AND increase your physical activity. Find a balance. If you consume too few calories, you can burn out easily, make yourself physically sick, and end up back where you started or worse. Also, if you do too much physical activity (i.e. spending hours and hours on cardio machines), it will also be counterproductive and who has THAT much time to spend in the gym? Remember, you can't out train a bad diet so if you "over eat", the answer is not hours of cardio. Instead, start fresh tomorrow. One bad day isn't going to make or break you. We see results from the things we do MOST often.
Lastly, don't forget to incorporate a solid workout routine, and don't be afraid of using weights. They will help your weight loss journey!
If you have no idea what workouts to do and are looking for an easy at-home option, click here to download my 9 week at home workout guide! New to working out? That's OK! It's beginner friendly, I break every exercise down into step by step easy to follow photos. And for you seasoned gym pros, there's a printer friendly version with just the workouts! Also, every single workout in the guide is under an hour long, just 30-40 minutes A DAY!
Anyways, moving on, if your goal is to put weight on and grow your muscle mass, you will want to be in a caloric surplus. This is when you are consuming MORE calories than your body is burning off throughout the day. (A.K.A. you're looking to see some GAINS). You cannot grow muscles and put on mass if you are consuming too few calories. Your body needs fuel and nutrients to grow. Also, if you are trying to gain muscle mass, you need to be hitting the heavier weights 3-4 days a week. "No pain, no gain" right?
So this is all great information but it still leaves the question of how many calories should YOU specifically be consuming in a day? C'mon, you guys know I've always got your back, so below is the link to a FREE CALORIE counter. I have no affiliation with this site, it is simply a great tool I discovered while researching. All you do is put in your age, height, current weight, and gender, and they calculate how many calories you should personally be consuming for your specific goals.
Like I said about carbs in the last blog post, not all calories are created equal. It's up to you to make sure the calories you are consuming throughout the day are helpful to your goals. Eat the colorful fruits and veggies. Avoid fast foods. Be aware of your snacks through out the day.... they add up. Don't forget about the beverages you are drinking, those count too. Be aware of your seasonings and condiments because they can also add on a TON of extra calories that you aren't even thinking about! And, if you slipped up today, do better tomorrow! We're in this for the long haul y'all! One snack, one meal, one day, and even a whole weekend is not going to affect your progress from the whole week. In fact, I strongly encourage 1-2 treat days (not cheat days!) a week because this helps get the little cravings out of the way for you to kick ass all the other days. This also makes staying on track more sustainable for the duration.
Remember, it's a lifestyle, not an over night fix.
One more thing, before I leave you guys this week, I just wanted to add in here a friendly warning because I feel like its important to address...
Although I feel counting calories is a great tool on your health and fitness journey, there is point where it can go too far. If you feel like you are becoming obsessive over your calories, please take a step back and just eat food that makes you feel good for a few weeks and re-set. I've seen it far too many times, counting calories can lead to obsession which opens up to certain eating disorders. So please, if you feel you may have gone too far and need help it's OK! Here is a link to the Eating Disorder Helpline as well as their toll free (800) number and text number.
National Eating Disorder Helpline. CALL (800) 931-2237 Monday—Thursday 11am—9pm ET Friday 11am—5pm ET TEXT Translation services are available on the phone. (800) 931-2237 Monday—Thursday 3pm—6pm ET Friday 1pm—5pm ET Standard text messaging rates may apply.