How to Determine Caloric Intake Needs (Step by Step Guide)
Whether you’ve been diet hopping for a while trying to lose weight, trying to enhance your daily gym performance or you’ve been trying to achieve optimal health; understanding how to calculate your daily caloric needs, as well as your macros, is key to achieving our goals.
But, where do we start? As a certified Nutrition Coach for the past several years, I can understand the confusion when there is a new fad diet or calorie counting app coming out every other day it seems like, that’s telling us what and how much to eat.
Before we even begin, I want to share something with you that not too many health gurus have probably shared with you. Your caloric and macronutrient needs are 100% unique for you! No one diet, meal template, or even caloric formula can provide you with 100% accurate information. That is due to every human-being being incredibly different due to lifestyle stressors, goals, health needs, diet history, age, exercise history, and more.
Also, it’s important to note that the methods mentioned below are given with the assumption that all things are normal. By that I mean, there are zero metabolic adaptations or physiological problems that need to be resolved first, preferably under the guidance of a certified professional.
Okay, so let’s begin…
Step 1: Determining Caloric Needs
To be fully transparent, if you are anything like me, math hurts your brain. Thus, I will not show the actual formula(s) that can be used to determine daily caloric needs. Instead, I believe in the K.I.S.S. method aka Keep It Simple Stupid! There are two popular calculators with proven track records I use to determine a client’s BMR*, as well as their optimal caloric needs based upon their activity level.
TDEE Calculator - old reliable, it’s rare when I don’t use this one. This typically is the most accurate and provides the fastest results.
Precision Nutrition Calculator - the new trendy kid on the block. Gives a detailed report of what to eat, how much to eat, and even includes tips on how to visually portion out foods if you hate calorie tracking. However, it has a habit of overestimating calories and can ultimately lead to an individual being in a caloric surplus instead of maintenance.
What I’ll typically do is use both formulas and “guesstimate” that an individual’s caloric needs are somewhere in the middle. It’s worth repeating though, no formula can 100% know your daily caloric needs so we have to be aware of how we are feeling daily as well as seeing how the scale fluctuates on a weekly average basis. If the scale is consistently going up after several weeks of staying at the same calories (while assuming there are zero physiological issues), then it’s safe to assume that you are in a caloric surplus and the calories need to come down 50-100 calories until you reach a balanced state.
*Basal Metabolic Rate - the minimum amount of calories we need just to perform normal life-sustaining functions such as breathing and cell production.
Step 2: Determining Protein, Carb, Fat Ratios
Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are also known as “macronutrients,” the nutritional compounds that our body’s need in significant quantities for daily functioning. Now I will say if you are an absolute beginner in tracking calories and macros, to avoid feeling overwhelmed, remember that at the end of the day, the most important numbers to track are calories and protein. Everything else can come later once you’ve built some confidence.
But, it’s important to track macros as well as calories due to the effect that macros and having the appropriate ratio has on overall body composition, performance, and recovery. The first macro you’ll always want to determine is protein since it’s the only macronutrient that has thermogenic effects, meaning it’s the only macro that can directly affect the speed of the metabolism. In my experience, most individuals that struggle with losing weight and breaking weight plateaus also have a history of chronically undereating protein.
Protein Formula: 0.8g - 1.2g protein multiplied by lean body mass or bodyweight depending upon current weight. To determine what end of the ratio to use all has to do with lifestyle goals, health needs, diet history, exercise routines, and more.
The next macronutrient to track is our fats as they are the second essential macronutrient (protein being the first) meaning, we cannot survive without them.
Fat Formula: 0.3g - 0.5g fat multiplied by lean body mass. This will work for most individuals but what I’ve noticed works best is basing fat consumption off of percentages. Fat macro percentages can range anywhere from 20%-70% depending upon age, exercise routines, health needs, goals, etc. Most individuals will do fine with the recommended daily amount of 35%.
The last macro to track is our carbohydrates as they are a non-essential macronutrient. This is the nutritional fact that keto zealots constantly preach upon but remember, carbs are our friends! We need them for daily energy, exercise recovery, hormone balancing, digestion aid, and more.
Carb Formula: Whatever calories are left over after protein and fat calories have been determined. Well, that was simply right?! “Hold on...how do we determine the calories from protein and fats Taz?” I’m glad you asked!
Whatever number you got from determining your protein requirements, you take that and multiply it by 4 calories (since there are 4 cals per gram of protein). Then take your fat number you determined by the formula and multiply it by 9 (since there are 9 cals per gram of fat). Then, you take those two numbers and add them together. THEN, you take that combined number and SUBTRACT it by your maintenance calorie amount you figured out at the start of this whole process. That new number is the calories you have left to consume by carbs. Take that number and divide it by 4 (since there are 4 cals per gram of carbohydrates). BOOM! You have your macronutrient numbers! Confused yet? Just leave a comment or email me and I’ll show you a visual aid.
And that ladies and gentlemen are how we determine our daily caloric needs as well as our macronutrient needs! Hopefully, I didn’t fry too many brain cells by writing this all out but I received numerous requests on how I determine my client’s caloric needs so I wanted to make it a point to write this article. It’s long but hopefully, it provided some value into your life.
If you are struggling to determine how many calories or macros are right for your lifestyle, request your free consultation so we can help you finally achieve your health and performance goals!
"Coach Taz" aka Taylor Rodriguez is the owner and head coach of Taz Fitness & Nutrition. He is a Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach located in Deltona, FL that coaches individuals online and in person. Taylor was a former partying pro wrestler turned fitness enthusiast after the economic downturn of 2008-2010. After losing almost 70 lbs, his new passion is to help struggling individuals find new confidence within themselves to achieve any goal that they see possible. To begin coaching with Taylor or to request a free consultation, contact us today.
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