Old-fashioned calorie counting, it seems, is back in fashion.

For years, diets like keto, paleo, and “healthy eating” have reigned supreme, with an emphasis on limiting specific foods instead of overall food intake. But according to the 2021 Food and Health Survey released by the International Food Information Council, it appears that counting calories is once again the most popular way to diet.

Now, do men need to count every calorie to be healthy or to reach their fitness goals? Absolutely not.

But, is it helpful to have a basic understanding of how your body uses energy from food? You bet.

Without a doubt, you have some understanding of what a calorie is. After all, calorie counts are listed on packaged foods and fast food menus, and it’s hard to have a conversation about nutrition or fitness without at least a few calorie endorsements. Maybe you’ve even tried a popular calorie tracker like MyFitnessPal or Noom.

But do you really know what calories are and why they are so essential? And, do you have any idea how many calories you actually need per day? (We mean the real number, not a general recommendation that a weight loss app might spit out.)

Here, we’ll go over the true definition of a calorie, along with the factors that influence your energy needs (i.e. your metabolism) and how to estimate how many calories are right for you.

What is a calorie?

Technically speaking, when we talk about calories, we are actually talking about kilocalories. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a kilocalorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.

So, calories are a measure of energy. The three macronutrients contain a set number of calories per gram: 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein and 9 calories per gram for fat. (Alcohol, which is not a macronutrient and has no nutritional value, contains 7 calories per gram.)

In addition to the unique functions of each macronutrient, their calories provide energy that our bodies use to function. We need calories to move around, but also for all of the basic bodily functions that occur when we are at rest, from synthesizing DNA and producing hormones to sending chemical messengers around. whole body so that everything goes well.

How many calories do men need to eat?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American man under the age of 40 is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 197 pounds. At a moderate activity level (moderate exercise 3-5 times per week), he would need about 2,822 calories per day to maintain his weight.

Losing weight

If weight loss is the goal, the USDA says reducing your calorie intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day can lead to safe weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds of weight loss per week. For our average American, that’s between 1,822 and 2,322 calories per day. That said, drastically cutting calories can backfire, as you might be so hungry that you will overeat.

It’s also important to consider exercise: if you burn 500 calories a day through physical activity, cutting 1000 calories would actually lead to a 1500 calorie deficit, which is too much.

To gain weight

If you’re trying to gain weight, the Cleveland Clinic recommends increasing your calorie intake by 300 to 500 calories per day, or 3,122 to 3,322 calories per day for the average man, assuming his activity level remains the same. same.

“The main factors that determine how many calories a person needs are gender at birth, age, genetics, body size, and daily activity level,” says Anya Rosen, MS, RD, a New York-based dietitian. “Other variables can play an important role. role, such as body composition, eating behaviors, injury or disease.

In general, men burn more calories than women because they are generally fatter overall. Men are also predisposed to have more muscle and less body fat, which has an impact on calorie burning, says Kyle Gonzalez, MS, CSCS, exercise specialist and performance coach at Future.

Injury and illness can also temporarily increase the amount of calories you need. Healing from severe burns or other large open wounds requires extra energy and protein. Cancer can dramatically increase your calorie intake. If you have a fever, you need the extra calories to compensate for your higher body temperature. Even fighting a cold takes energy.

How to calculate your calorie needs

While it is possible to estimate how many calories you need per day, there is a huge caveat: “There are many different formulas for determining calorie needs, but they all have great margins. error due to too many influential variables to control, “says Rosen.

Scientists use a method called indirect calorimetry to measure exactly how many calories a person burns in a day, but it’s expensive, time consuming, and quite inaccessible for most people.

If you’re curious about your exact calorie needs, here’s how to figure them out for yourself.

Track your diet

“I find the best way for you to determine your calorie needs (assuming you’re outside of a research setting) starts with making sure you’re currently maintaining your weight,” says Rosen.

“Once the weight is stable, follow your food intake for 1 to 2 weeks without changing the way you eat normally. The average calories over this time period is a good estimate of your maintenance calorie needs, and you can adjust them from there based on your goals.

In other words: if your weight is not changing, you are eating the right number of calories.

A metabolism calculator

You can also try using a formula to estimate your calorie needs, which is easy to do with an online calorie calculator from a trusted source. This one, from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), takes into account your age, weight, gender, height and activity level, from sedentary to very active to determine your calorie needs.

How Does Muscle Mass Affect Calorie Expenditure?

Muscle burns more calories by weight than body fat, although the difference is not as big as it is sometimes claimed. “The claim that ‘muscle burns more calories than fat’ is true, but misleading,” says Rosen.

The best guess we have is that a pound of muscle burns six to seven calories per day. “This equates to about a slice of cucumber,” says Rosen. Fat, on the other hand, burns about two calories in the same period. So increasing muscle mass will increase the number of calories you burn – as will fat gain, albeit to a lesser extent – but not drastically. An extra 10 pounds of muscle can add just 60 calories per day to your overall calorie expenditure.

In fact, the size of other parts of the body probably plays a bigger role in your daily calorie needs. A 2011 study found that over 40% of the differences in total calories burned between people could be explained by variations in the size of their internal organs.

How Does Exercise Affect Calorie Burning?

Of course, your activity level plays a big role in your energy needs. It’s not just your workouts that burn calories, it’s also your movements at work and at home. A physically demanding job burns far more calories than a job where you sit at a desk most of the day, and commuting by bike or on foot, rather than in the car, can also make a big difference. When determining your level of physical activity, it’s important to take all of this into account.

And yes, you will also need to consider your workouts. “With cardio training, you not only tend to burn calories faster, but you also burn more total calories per session,” says Gonzalez. “Strength training, on the other hand, is generally anaerobic (without oxygen) in nature and helps you build muscle and boost your metabolism. You will burn fewer calories per session, he explains, but your metabolic rate (the number of calories burned) will stay higher for longer afterwards. Plus, you’ll build muscle mass, which slightly increases your calorie burn and can promote better overall health.

“A healthy mix of strength training and cardio training with varying intensity, frequency, duration, and type is always best when developing your exercise program,” says Gonzalez.

Should we count calories?

At the end of the day, you don’t have to count calories in order to be healthy. If you are feeling well and having consistent energy levels throughout the day, you probably don’t have to worry about calculating your calorie needs because there is a good chance you will reach your goal.

But if you’re worried about eating too few or too many calories, understanding what helps burn calories can help you understand your body’s needs.

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