Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your weight, a basic understanding of how many calories your body needs can help you figure out how many calories you’re consuming. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) collects data on recommended calorie ranges for men and women. Depending on your activity level and the body composition, your numbers may vary.

The total number of calories you consume per day is a major determinant of your body weight. Once you have a basic idea of   how much energy your body needs, you can make adjustments to your energy balance and, as a result, change your weight. But note that calories are estimates, and this process will not be perfect.

Calorie intake recommendations

Can you guess how many calories most Americans consume each day? According to some reports, the number reaches 3,600. This number has been on the rise for the nearly half a century. High calorie intake is likely to contribute to increased rates of obesity in society as a whole.

The USDA recommends an average daily caloric intake for men and women, which varies based on a number of factors including age, weight, height, and level of physical activity.

USDA Recommended Daily Calorie Intake for Men
Age Recommended Daily Calorie Intake
19–30 years 2,400–3,000 calories
31–40 years 2,400–3,800 calories
41–50 years 2,200–2,800 calories
51–60 years 2,200–2,800 calories
61–70 years 2,000–2,600 calories
71+ years 2,000–2,600 calories

 

The reference man used in these calculations is the 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 154 pounds.

USDA Recommended Daily Calorie Intake for Women
Age Recommended Daily Calorie Intake
19–30 years 1,800–2,400 calories
31–40 years 1,800–2,200 calories
41–50 years 1,800–2,200 calories
51–60 years 1,600–2,200 calories
61–70 years 1,600–2,000 calories
71+ years 1,600–2,000 calories

 

The reference woman used in these calculations is the 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 126 pounds.

Measuring average calories per day

Although averages can be useful, calculating your individual needs based on your measurements provides a more accurate range. To see how many calories you get on average per day, keep a simple food diary over the course of a week.

Choose a week in which your daily food intake, activity level, and access to food are normal. Don’t do this when you’re starting a new exercise program, on vacation, or when testing other changes to your regular routine. There are plenty of free apps out there to keep track of your calories if you prefer. MyFitnessPal and check it out! They are two common options.

If your goal is weight loss, patience is key. You may feel excited to start losing weight. However, without a clear picture of the starting point, it can be difficult to identify areas for improvement. Temporary food tracking gives you a chance to learn basic skills, such as recording and measuring portions. Spending some time tracking helps lay the foundation for weight loss success by making you more aware of your regular eating habits.

Daily calorie log

There is no “best” way, but many people find smartphone apps easier because calories and other nutrients are automatically generated after choosing your foods.

Handwritten food diaries also work, as long as you are consistent. Measuring and recording everything you eat and drink during this test period will give you the most accurate data to work with. The USDA National Nutrient Database provides nutritional information for all foods and drinks for those who track them on paper. Follow these guidelines for keeping an accurate food diary:

Be honest about what you eat. There is no point in underestimating (or exaggerating) your calorie intake. Changing your diet during the recording phase is also the counterproductive. Without an accurate recording of everything you normally eat, you will have a hard time calculating your energy balance for weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance.

Measure portion sizes. Understand the difference between the serving size and the serving size. If possible, use a digital scale to get accurate measurements of the parts you are consuming. It can be tedious, but this process gets easier the more you practice to doing it.

be specific. Don’t just write down the number of calories. Pay attention to macronutrients, too. Writing down the amount of fat, carbs, and protein for each food can help you identify nutritional gaps or imbalances. For some, the reduction in calorie intake occurs naturally after adjusting their intake of macronutrients. Changes such as eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates can lead to weight loss simply by promoting satiety.

Record snacks and drinks. Don’t forget to write down foods and drinks. It’s easy to eat extra calories from snacks without even realizing it. It’s important to keep in mind that drinking more calories also increases. Simply changing what you drink can be the key to permanent weight loss in some cases.

 

Calculate average calories

 

At the end of the week, add up the calories you eat each day. Add the seven days together and divide the number by seven to get the average daily calorie intake. This is an example:

Example Daily Calorie Log
Day Total Calories
Monday 1,900 calories
Tuesday 2,500 calories
Wednesday 2,000 calories
Thursday 2,100 calories
Friday 2,000 calories
Saturday 2,400 calories
Sunday 1,800 calories

 

Using this example, the total calories consumed during the week were 14,700. When divided by seven days, this is an average of 2,100 calories per day.