Average Calorie Intake

Measure Average Calories Per Day to Reach or Maintain a Healthy Weight

use a smart phone app as a food journal
Use a smartphone app to record calories. Rayes Collection/ Digital Vision/ Getty images

Whether you are planning to lose weight, trying to gain weight, or just trying to maintain your weight, you should know the number of calories you eat every day. The USDA collects data about the recommended average caloric intake of men and women, but those numbers may not apply to you.

Your daily average calories per day is a number that plays a big role in whether or not you reach your fitness and diet goals. Once you know the number you can make adjustments to your energy balance to get the body you want.

Average Calorie Intake

Guess how many calories most Americans consume per day? According to some reports, the number is as high as 3,600. This number has been on the increase for nearly a half century. Some experts believe that the rising number is the cause of the obesity crisis in the US.

The USDA recommends an average caloric intake for men and women of different ages.

Average Calorie Intake for Men (recommendations range based on activity level)

  • Age 18-30: 2400-3000 calories
  • Age 31-40: 2400-2800 calories
  • Age 41-50: 2200-2800 calories
  • Age 51-60: 2100-2600 calories
  • Age 61-70: 2000-2600 calories
  • Age 71-76 and up: 2000-2400 calories

Average Calorie Intake for Women (recommendations range based on activity level)

  • Age 18-30: 1800-2400 calories
  • Age 31-40: 1800-2200 calories
  • Age 41-50: 1800-2200 calories
  • Age 51-60: 1600-2200 calories
  • Age 61-70: 1600-2000 calories
  • Age 71-76 and up: 1600-2000 calories

To arrive at these numbers the reference man is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 154 pounds. The reference woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 126 pounds

How to Measure Your Average Calories Per Day

To find out how many calories you eat every day, you'll need to follow simple steps to maintain a food journal. The process will take one week. Make sure you choose a week when your daily food intake, your daily activity and your daily access to food are typical. Don't do it when you are starting a new exercise program, on vacation, or experiencing any other changes to your daily routine.

If weight loss is your goal, remember to be patient. You're probably anxious to begin your diet so that you can start losing weight. But without this initial step, your diet could fail. And remember that during this process you learn basic skills, like recording and measuring food portions. These skills will make your diet more effective in the long run. So don’t feel like you are wasting time. You are laying the groundwork for weight loss success.

Record Daily Calories

You can record the calories you eat every day online or on paper. There is no "best" method, but many people find that online services (with handy smartphone apps) are easier because the calories and other nutrients are recorded automatically when you input your food. But the old fashioned paper and pencil method works just as well! Just be sure that you measure and record everything you eat and drink. If you are using the paper and pencil method, use the USDA National Nutrient Database to get nutritional information for each food that you list. Follow these guidelines to get the most accurate recording:

  • Be honest about what you eat. There is absolutely no benefit to underestimating (or overestimating) your caloric intake. There is also no reason to change your diet during this recording phase. If you don't get an accurate recording of everything you typically eat, your daily caloric intake will be wrong and you’ll have trouble when you calculate your energy balance for weight loss or weight gain.
  • Measure portion sizes. Make sure you understand the difference between portion size and serving size. If possible, use a digital scale to get precise measurements of each portion that you consume. It can be a tedious process in the beginning, but it gets easier as time goes on and it becomes habit.
  • Be complete. Don’t just write down the calorie count of each food. Record each macronutrient as well. That means you write down the amount of fat, carbohydrate and protein for each food. Why does this matter? Some people can reduce their total calories if they modify their nutrient intake. For example, some dieters choose to eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates to lose weight without feeling hungry all the time.
  • Record snacks and drinks. Don't forget to write down every snack food and drink that you consume during the day. Why? Many people consume too many calories from snacks without even realizing it. And drink calories can add up too. In fact, you may be able to lose weight if you simply change what you drink.

Calculate Average Calorie Intake

At the end of the week, figure out the total number of calories you consumed each day. Then add all seven days together and divide the number by seven to get an average daily caloric intake. Here’s an example:

  • Monday: 1900 calories
  • Tuesday: 2500 calories
  • Wednesday: 2000 calories
  • Thursday: 2100 calories
  • Friday: 2000 calories
  • Saturday: 2400 calories
  • Sunday: 1800 calories
  • Total calories consumed during the week: 14,700
  • Divided by seven days = 2100 average calories per day

You can do this for each macronutrient as well to find out how many grams of fat, carbohydrate and protein you typically consume each day.

Adjust Average Daily Calorie Intake to Lose Weight

Once you’ve figured out your average daily caloric intake, you can begin to make changes to your diet and activity reach your body weight goal. If you are trying to lose weight, there are three different ways to change the numbers to slim down. But a basic rule of thumb is that you need to adjust your daily balance by 3500 calories per week, or 500 calories per day to lose a single pound of weight. Use this calculator to figure out exactly how many calories you should be eating:

If you reach a weight loss plateau, if you gain weight or if your diet isn't working, repeat this process to find your daily calorie intake again. The number of calories you eat every day may have changed and could be the reason that you can't reach your goals.

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