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How Many Calories Do You Really Need?

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Whether you're trying to lose weight, gain weight, or stick to your current weight, you might be tempted to look up the suggested calories per day for your gender, age, and activity level. The following chart should only be used as a reference point because every person is so different metabolically even when they are the same size and gender. The following suggested calorie ranges are generated using the Institute of Medicine’s estimated energy requirement calculation.

To maintain weight, the chart below shows you your daily calorie limit. It's based on your age, activity level, and the BMI (body-mass index) of 21.5 for women and 22.5 for men.

To lose weight -- about 1 pound a week -- reduce total calories in the chart by 500 a day.

To gain weight, add 500 calories per day for each pound you want to gain per week. 

For successful weight loss that you can maintain over time, experts recommend choosing foods that are lower in calories but rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients.

 

Gender Age Sedentary* Moderately Active* Active*
Females

19-30

31-50

51+

1800-2000

1800

1600

2000-2200

2000

1800

2400

2200

2000-2200

 

Males

19-30

31-50

51+

2400-2600

2200-2400

2000-2200

2600-2800

2400-2600

2200-2400

3000

2800-3000

2400-2800

 

 

 

*Sedentary means a lifestyle that includes light physical activity associated with typical activities of daily living.  Moderately active consists of walking 1.5 to 3 miles daily at a pace of 3 to 4 miles per hour (or the equivalent). An active person walks more than 3 miles daily at the same pace, or equivalent exercise.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD on May 30, 2014

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