Your ideal calorie intake depends on things like age and activity level. Most people assigned female at birth need at least 1,600 daily calories to maintain weight, while people assigned male at birth may need at least 2,000.

Reducing the number of calories you eat per day can be an effective weight loss method (1).

However, figuring out exactly how many calories you should eat can be tricky, as it depends on a variety of factors, including your age, sex, size, and activity level.

## How do I calculate how many calories I need?

### How to use this calculator

This calculator uses your age, size, sex, and activity level to estimate the number of calories you should eat per day to maintain your weight.

You can adjust this number based on your goals if you’re trying to gain or lose weight.

Keep in mind that this tool only provides general guidance, as activity levels and many other factors influence your daily calorie needs. Thus, this calculator will likely provide a number that’s close to your calorie needs, but it’s not a perfect tool.

Your doctor or dietitian can offer more individualized advice on your ideal calorie intake, depending on your health status and goals.

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## How many calories should you eat on average?

When trying to lose weight, it’s important to create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you normally do or by exercising more. Some people choose to combine the two, eating a little less while being more physically active (4).

Still, it’s important to ensure that you’re consuming enough nutrients, even if you’re trying to lose weight, or you risk developing nutritional deficiencies and metabolic changes that make long-term weight maintenance difficult (5, 6).

Here’s a closer look at how many calories you should eat based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (7).

### People assigned female at birth (AFAB)

AgeDaily calorie requirements
19–30 years1,800–2,400 calories
31–60 years1,600–2,200 calories
61+ years1,600–2,000 calories

Keep in mind that these estimates don’t apply to those who are pregnant or nursing, as they’ll need significantly more calories.

### People assigned male at birth (AMAB)

AgeDaily calorie requirements
19–30 years 2,400–3,000 calories
31–60 years 2,200–3,000 calories
61+ years2,000–2,600 calories

People who are very active or have certain health conditions may require more calories. The number you need within these ranges also varies based on your height and weight.

### Children

AgeDaily calorie requirements
2–4 yearsAMAB: 1,000–1,600 calories
AFAB: 1,000–1,400 calories
5–8 yearsAMAB: 1,200–2,000 calories
AFAB: 1,200–1,800 calories
9–13 yearsAMAB: 1,600–2,600 calories
AFAB: 1,400–2,200 calories
14–18 yearsAMAB: 2,000–3,200 calories
AFAB: 1,800–2,400 calories

Keep in mind that cutting a child’s calorie intake may increase their risk of nutritional deficiencies, slow growth, and foster an unhealthy relationship with food or an eating disorder (8).

Instead of counting calories, it’s best to encourage eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods.

summary

The amount of calories that your body needs can vary depending on your age, sex, activity level, and body size.

## What are calories?

Simply put, a calorie is a unit that measures energy. Calories are usually used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages.

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns each day. Conversely, to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you expend (1).

Keep in mind that while the “calories in, calories out” concept of weight loss may seem simple, many factors contribute to weight loss or the inability to lose weight, including medical diagnoses, hormonal changes, genetics, and age (9).

summary

Calories are units that measure the energy content of foods and beverages. While many factors can influence weight loss, you generally need to eat fewer calories than you burn to lose weight.

## How to reduce calorie intake

Although decreasing the number of calories you consume can be effective for weight loss, cutting calories without considering which foods you eat isn’t a sustainable way to lose weight.

Here are five strategies that may help you lose weight.

### 1. Eat more protein

When it comes to losing weight, protein is incredibly important.

Studies show that increasing your intake of protein may help keep you full and curb your appetite (10, 11).

Protein may also help fight cravings. According to some research, high protein snacks help enhance feelings of fullness while decreasing hunger and appetite (12).

In addition to promoting weight loss, some research suggests that maintaining a high protein diet may prevent or reduce weight regain and help maintain muscle mass (13, 14).

Therefore, if you want to achieve long lasting, sustainable weight loss, consider increasing your protein intake by eating more eggs, meat, poultry, tofu, nuts, seeds, or legumes.

### 2. Limit sugary drinks

Another change you can make is to limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas, fruit juices, chocolate milk, and other drinks with added sugar.

Your brain doesn’t register liquid calories the same way it does solid calories, so they affect your feelings of hunger and fullness less significantly (15).

Additionally, studies associate drinking sugary beverages with an increased risk of obesity (16, 17).

The harmful effects of sugar also go far beyond weight gain. In fact, added sugar may contribute to other health issues, including heart disease, liver problems, and type 2 diabetes (17).

### 3. Drink more water

One thing you can do for your health is to drink more water.

Adequate hydration is associated with improved brain health and weight management, as well as a reduced kidney stone risk (18).

What’s more, drinking water immediately before meals may reduce hunger and help you eat fewer calories (19, 20).

When combined with a healthy diet, drinking more water — especially before meals — appears helpful if you need to lose weight.

### 4. Exercise

Resistance-training activities like weightlifting have been shown to limit muscle loss, which may help minimize metabolic changes during long-term calorie restriction (21).

Cardio exercises, such as walking, swimming, or jogging, are also important — both for increasing weight loss and supporting overall health (22).

Additionally, exercise has a variety of other benefits that go beyond weight loss, such as increased longevity, enhanced energy levels, improved mental health, and a decreased risk of chronic disease (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28).

### 5. Reduce your intake of refined carbs and ultra-processed foods

The term “refined carbs” refers to grains that have lost their bran and germ, including white bread, pasta, crackers, and white rice. It also includes sugar and other sweeteners.

Refined grains typically lack fiber, which supports weight loss by decreasing your appetite and increasing feelings of fullness (29).

Eating fewer refined carbs may promote weight loss by altering levels of specific hormones that regulate your appetite, such as peptide YY (30). It’s also best to avoid ultra-processed foods.

Summary

Eating more protein, exercising, staying hydrated, and limiting your intake of refined carbs and sugary beverages are a few simple ways to decrease your daily calorie intake.

## A few basic weight loss tips

In addition to cutting calories, there are several steps you can take to lose weight in a sustainable, long lasting manner:

• Practice mindful eating. Mindful eating can help reduce food cravings and promote long-term weight loss (31).
• Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are low in calories but high in fiber, which makes them ideal for weight loss (32, 33).
• Stock up on healthy foods. Following a healthy diet is much more challenging when you have a kitchen full of processed foods. Make sure you have healthy snacks and foods on hand.
• Find support. Studies show that social support may aid weight loss (34).
• Try meal prepping. Many people find that meal prepping is a convenient way to eat well and save time.
summary

In addition to decreasing your daily calorie intake, the tips outlined above may support long-term weight loss.

## Potential downsides of counting calories

Although counting calories can be an effective strategy for weight loss, it’s important to remember that there are many other factors to consider when choosing what and how to eat.

Instead of focusing solely on calories, it’s best to follow a balanced diet that’s rich in a variety of nutritious, whole foods.

If you do decide to cut calories, be careful not to decrease your intake too much, as doing so may cause several serious side effects (4).

Research shows that young adults who use calorie-tracking apps to monitor how many calories they consume may be more at risk for developing disordered eating patterns that could develop into eating disorders (36).

That said, for people who are not at risk for developing disordered eating habits, restricting how much you eat can be a successful weight loss strategy, at least in the short term (37). However, eating too few calories may also slow your metabolism, making it harder to maintain weight loss in the long term (5).

summary

Cutting calories too much may harm your health and make it harder to maintain weight loss. Instead of focusing only on calories, concentrate on a well-rounded diet that’s rich in nutritious, whole foods.

## Frequently asked questions

### Are 1200 calories enough for a day?

Although it may help you lose weight, eating 1200 calories or less a day does not provide enough energy or nutrients for most healthy adults.

### How many calories should you eat for breakfast?

The number of calories you should eat for breakfast depends on many factors, including your daily needs, personal preferences, health goals, and overall diet.

### How many calories should you eat for lunch or dinner?

While some people may enjoy eating a large lunch and smaller dinner, others may decide to distribute their calorie intake more evenly. Therefore, everyone’s needs and preferences are different.

### How many calories should you eat to gain muscle?

To gain muscle, you may have to increase your calorie needs by a few hundred calories per day. A sports dietitian can help you develop an appropriate plan (38).

summary

The number of calories that you should eat at each meal or to reach a specific weight goal can differ. Therefore, it’s best to experiment to find what suits your needs.

## Takeaway

How many calories you need per day depends on whether you want to maintain, lose, or gain weight, as well as various other factors, such as your sex, age, height, current weight, activity level, and metabolic health.

Many websites and apps can help you track your calorie intake. You can try using a calorie counter or tracker for at least a few days to see the amount of calories, carbs, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals you’re eating.

That said, working with a registered dietitian (RD) can also help you gain, maintain, or lose weight while ensuring that your nutrient needs are being met.

### Just one thing

Try this today: Preparing your own meals at home puts you in control of what’s on your plate and makes it much easier to manage your calorie intake. It’s also a great way to control portion sizes and make healthy swaps using your favorite nutritious ingredients.

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