How to Know How Many Calories to Eat

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Mon Jul 31 2023.

Calorie Log.

If you or your loved one need to gain, lose, or maintain weight, you also need to know how many calories to consume daily. 

Calculating calorie count can be daunting, especially if you don’t like math, but it’s not as hard as you think. Below, we explain which factors to consider when determining your caloric intake and provide step-by-step instructions for getting started.

Why is calculating calories important?

Calories are units of energy. Whenever you eat food or drink a beverage, your digestive system breaks it down and releases the energy (calories) inside. Those calories are then converted to fuel that supports various bodily processes.

The average adult needs between 1,600 and 3,000 calories per day. So, it’s important to find the right balance to support your energy levels and health.

Calculating calorie count is particularly important if you need to gain or lose weight. By sticking to your recommended caloric intake, you can maintain your ideal weight and achieve your wellness goals. 

What You’ll Need:

To calculate your caloric intake you need:

  • Paper

  • Pen or pencil

  • Calculator or Smartphone

If you aren’t good with numbers or find calculations confusing, use this free calorie calculator

Estimated Calories for Men and Women

Before you can know how many calories to eat, you need to determine the recommended daily calorie intake for a person of your age and activity level. 

The two tables below feature the recommended daily calories for women and men from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

If your weight is above the normal average for your age and activity level, you need to eat fewer calories to lose weight. On the other hand, if your weight is below the normal average for your age and activity level you need to eat more calories to gain weight.

Calorie Needs for Women

AgeCalories (Sedentary)Calories (Moderately Active)Calories (Active)
61 and Up1,6001,8002,000

Calorie Needs for Men

AgeCalories (Sedentary)Calories (Moderately Active)Calories (Active)
76 and Up2,0002,2002,400

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025)

Steps to Calculate How Many Calories to Eat

Step 1: Visit Your Doctor or a Registered Dietitian

Calorie intake estimates are just that –– estimates. Since everyone has different caloric needs, it’s always good to meet with your primary care physician, a registered dietitian, or a nutritionist first. 

They can review your medical records, ask about your goals (for example, whether you want to lose or gain weight), and gather information about your activity level. 

Once your doctor or dietitian has this information, they can make personalized recommendations to help you stay on track.

Step 2: Identify Factors that Impact Your Caloric Intake

Everyone has unique caloric needs. As a general rule of thumb, men need more calories than women and active people need more calories than people who live sedentary lifestyles. Likewise, younger people need more calories than older people, because our metabolisms slow down with age.

Other things that may affect your caloric intake include:

  • Height

  • Weight

  • Hormones

  • Medications

  • Vitamins and supplements 

Step 3: Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is a measurement of how many calories your body burns to complete basic functions, like digestion and breathing. It’s determined by your age, sex, and body type.

For women, BMR = 655.1 + (9.563 x your weight in kilograms) + (1.850 x your height in centimeters) - (4.676 x your age in years)

For men, BMR = 66.47 + (13.75 x your weight in kilograms) + (5.003 x your height in centimeters) - (6.755 x your age in years)

Carewell Tip

To calculate your weight in kilograms divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.

Step 4: Calculate Your Active Metabolic Rate (AMR)

The Active Metabolic Rate is a measurement of how many calories you burn when doing activities like work or exercise.

To determine this number, you need to multiply your BMR against a set number that represents a specific activity level.

Activity LevelEquation
Sedentary (little or no exercise)AMR = BMR x 1.2
Light active (excercise 1-3 days per week)AMR = BMR x 1.375
Moderately active (exercise 3-5 days per week)AMR = BMR x 1.55
Active (exercise 6-7 days per week)AMR = BMR x 1.725
Very active (hard exercise 6-7 days per week)AMR = BMR x 1.9

Your total AMR represents the number of calories you need daily to maintain your current weight. If you want to lose weight, you need to increase your activity level or eat fewer calories. Conversely, if you want to gain weight, you need to reduce your activity level or eat more calories.

This explanation is admittedly pretty “math-y”, so if you don’t feel comfortable doing the calculations on your own, use an online BMR/AMR Calculator. To do that, simply input your own numbers into the calculator columns and then click the “calculate” button on the left-hand side of the page. 

Step 5: Use Your AMR to Guide Your Snack and Meal Decisions

Once you know your AMR, you can use it to gain or lose weight (depending on your goals). 

For example, if your BMR is 1,600 (the average BMR for men) and you’re very active, your AMR would be 3,040 (1,600 x 1.9). 

A pound of fat is equal to about 3,500 calories. So, if you wanted to lose one pound per week, you would need to eat 500 calories less per day (3,500/500 = 7). 

Because calculations can be tricky, we recommend speaking with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any drastic changes to your diet or exercise program. They can guide treatment to your needs and make adjustments to support any medical conditions you’re living with. 

How to Know How Many Calories to Eat - Commonly Asked Questions

1) Do I have to count calories if I want to lose weight?

Counting calories can help you stay on track, but it isn’t necessary to achieve your weight loss goals. Simple lifestyle changes often make a similar impact. For example, eating a healthy, balanced diet and focusing on portion control can limit empty calories and keep extra pounds from adding up. 

2) What are “empty” calories and why should I avoid them?

“Empty” calories, like those found in fast food, soda, and alcohol don’t have vitamins, minerals, or fiber. While these calories provide a quick energy boost, they cause you to crash and feel tired afterward. In short, these calories lack nutrition.

It’s ok to splurge occasionally, but you’re more likely to maintain a healthy weight if you eat a diet that has fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. 

3) Is it better to eat healthy or count calories?

Counting calories provides guardrails if you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight. But calories only measure the energy that a specific food provides. As a result, calorie calculations don’t take other factors, like vitamins, minerals, and nutrients into account. 

Everyone’s nutritional needs vary, but generally speaking, it’s better to focus on eating a healthy and balanced diet first. Counting calories can help complement this process, but it isn’t key to improved health.

Contact Us If You Have Diet or Nutrition-Related Questions

Many family caregivers are responsible for grocery shopping and meal preparation. If you have questions about your loved one’s caloric intake or need help choosing nutritious foods, get in touch! 

Our Care Specialists are familiar with all of the products we carry and regularly assist caregivers with nutrition and diet inquiries. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to We’re available 24/7 and dedicated to making your caregiving responsibilities easier.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.