How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day?

Recommended intake ranges from 1,600 to 3,200 a day based on several factors

How Many Calories to Lose Weight

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Eating a certain number of calories daily can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Research further indicates that, when following a balanced diet, consuming the best number of calories for you can also help improve your health and boost longevity.

When determining how many calories you should eat per day, it helps to first understand the established recommended calorie intakes. From there, you can consider other factors to find the right calorie intake for you, given your body and health-related goals. Here is what you need to know about daily calorie consumption.

Recommended Calorie Intakes

Knowing the recommended calorie intake guidelines can provide a better idea of your calorie range. These vary based on whether you are an adult, a teen, or a child.

Adults

The recommended calorie intake for adult women ranges from 1,600 calories per day to 2,400 calories per day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. For men, the amount is slightly higher, ranging from 2,200 to 3,200 calories per day.

If you are somewhat sedentary or older, your calorie needs are likely toward the bottom of the range. You may be closer to the top if you are fairly physically active, pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Teens

Calorie intake recommendations for teens vary based on age, sex, and activity level. A 13-year-old girl's recommended intake ranges from 1,600 to 2,200 calories daily, with a 2,000 to 2,600 recommended intake for a 13-year-old boy.

These amounts increase slightly in the later teen years. The range for girls aged 14 to 18 is 1,800 calories per day to 2,400. The recommended calorie intake for boys in this same age range is somewhere between 2,000 and 3,200 calories.

Children

Children between the ages of 2 and 3 need between 1,000 and 1,400 calories daily. Where they fall in this range depends on how active they are.

At 4 to 8 years of age, the range starts at 1,200 calories daily and increases to 1,800 calories for girls and 2,000 calories for boys. At 9 to 13 years, the calorie range is 1,400 to 2,200 calories per day for girls and 1,600 to 2,600 calories daily for boys.

Infants and young children are generally good at self-regulating their calorie intake, so it may be more helpful to ensure they have a balanced diet versus watching how many calories they consume.

Factors That Affect Your Target Calorie Intake

As the recommended calorie intake guidelines suggest, the number of calories you need per day can vary based on various factors. Among them are:

  • Sex
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Age
  • Activity level

Additional factors that can affect how many calories your body uses for energy, thus also impacting how many you should consume, include your hormones, some medications (such as steroids and some diabetes medicines), and your overall health.

The Nutrition Facts label on foods provides information based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. But people can have different calorie needs. Determining your individual needs can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Using Weight Loss Calculators

Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your current weight, a weight loss calculator can help. The calculator uses your sex, weight, height, and age to determine the number of calories you need to fuel your body for daily activity.

Then it adds the calories needed to gain weight or subtracts the calories required to help you lose weight. It can figure out how many calories you should eat to maintain weight as well.

Inputting accurate information can help determine your daily caloric needs. If you're unsure how active you are during the day, keep an activity journal for a week or look at data from your fitness tracker to get a quick estimate.

Next, the calculator will ask you about your goals. It's important to be realistic during this step. Your goal weight may differ from an ideal or "perfect" weight. Try to set goals that you believe are attainable. Once you reach your goal, you can always set a new one.

If you are trying to lose weight, a healthy rate of weight loss is 0.5 to 2 pounds per week. If you are trying to gain weight, adding 1 to 2 pounds per week is a healthy goal.

Reaching Your Goal Weight

After entering your information into the calorie calculator, you'll receive a daily calorie goal. This is the number of calories you should eat daily to reach your desired weight in the set time frame.

To Lose Weight

If weight loss is your goal, a calorie deficit is factored into your recommended daily caloric intake. A calorie deficit is simply an energy shortfall—consuming fewer calories than you use—so your body burns stored fat (excess weight) for fuel.

You can create a calorie deficit by eating less than your body needs. You can also burn extra calories by increasing your physical activity. Combining the two (a balanced diet and exercise) is a healthy strategy for losing weight.

While it may be tempting to restrict your calorie intake dramatically, a very low-calorie diet (fewer than 800 to 1000 calories per day) can backfire. You should only do so with a doctor's supervision to ensure that the diet meets your nutritional needs.

Other dietary strategies that can assist with weight loss include:

To Gain Weight

If you are trying to gain weight, your daily calorie goal will include a calorie surplus. The key to making this gain healthy involves following a few simple guidelines:

  • Eat high-quality high-calorie foods, such as high-protein meats, healthy fats, and whole grains.
  • Eat more often (this helps if you get full quickly).
  • Add extra calories to your meals by putting nuts on your morning oatmeal.
  • Drink nutrient-rich shakes.
  • Incorporate strength training into your exercise routine.

To Maintain Weight

Several pieces of research have sought the best ways to maintain one's current weight, especially after successful weight loss. Many of these studies report that results are mixed as to what strategies may work best.

However, many of these studies did find that following a higher-protein diet might help with weight maintenance. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols was also suggested as an effective approach to sustaining a healthy weight.

What to Know About Food and Exercise

You can eat whatever you want and lose weight if you stay within your calorie range. That said, it might be hard to stay in this range if you don't eat nutritious foods.

Plus, empty-calorie foods don't provide your body with the nutrients you need to live an active life. And when you eat junk food, you're likely to get hungry more often and overeat. Conversely, healthy foods help you to feel strong, energized, and satiated.

Additionally, all calories are not created equal. Calories from nutritious food sources will help you feel full longer, fuel your daily activity, and improve your well-being. Empty calories can leave you feeling hungry, increase your food cravings, and even increase fatigue. You'll find them in processed foods that contain added sugars, trans fat, excess fat, and calories. They may provide energy but not the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need.

What to Eat

Health experts recommend that you fill your plate with:

  • Colorful vegetables like leafy salad greens, bright peppers, crunchy carrots, or radishes (experiment to find flavors that you enjoy)
  • Lean meats like chicken and fish, eating red meat in moderation
  • Whole grains that provide fiber, such as oatmeal or whole-grain bread, or crackers
  • Whole fruits rather than fruit juices or fruit-flavored snacks
  • Nuts, seeds, and other sources of healthy fats, in small servings
  • Water instead of sports drinks, sweetened tea, or soda

Diets

There is no "best" diet because we are all so different, with different lifestyles and needs. The diet that will work best for you is the one you can maintain.

For some people, a do-it-yourself program is best. Others benefit from the structured approach of a commercial weight loss program.

To determine which is best for you, ask yourself key questions about your lifestyle. Do you cook? How much time do you have to shop for healthy food? What is your budget? Use your responses to choose a diet that best fits your needs.

Exercise 

If you factored exercise into the equation when using the online calculator, you should not eat more if you exercise. Your daily calorie goal (the calculator result) has already accounted for the additional physical activity.

If you didn't factor in exercise when using the calculator, and you added a workout session to your day, the calories burned during exercise will increase your calorie deficit. If you don't eat back your exercise calories, the increased deficit can result in weight loss (or more significant weight loss).

However, assessing how many calories you burned can be challenging, making it easy to eat more calories than you burn after exercise. This can lead to weight gain versus weight loss or maintenance.

How to Count Daily Calories

There are different ways that you can keep track of your daily calorie intake. You can use a smartphone app or websites like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt. These services allow you to input the food you've eaten and your portion size and automatically calculate your daily calorie intake.

Some activity trackers, like Fitbit, help you count daily food calories and exercise calories. If you're not a fan of tech gadgets, use a weight loss journal or write your calories in a notebook to keep track of your daily numbers.

How to Address Challenges

Many factors contribute to weight loss success. If you don't lose weight immediately, it doesn't mean that you have failed or done something wrong. It might simply mean that you need to stick to your program longer for weight loss to happen. 

Evaluate your eating and exercise habits to see if there are adjustments you can make to reach your goal. There may also be medical reasons that you can't lose weight. So talk to a healthcare provider if you are concerned.

Your doctor may be able to refer you to a registered dietitian for personalized nutrition advice. If you have more weight to lose, they might also talk to you about weight loss medications or weight-loss surgeries to help you lose weight.

A Word From Verywell

Determining your ideal caloric intake is a smart part of being mindful of your nutrition and, subsequently, your weight management. Although being intentional about weight is one way to contribute to your overall health, being overly focused on calorie intake can be a worrying sign of diet culture or even disordered eating. Consult a healthcare provider if you need help navigating your ideal calorie intake.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many calories a day should I eat to lose weight?

    This depends on a host of factors, including sex hormones, genetics, base metabolism rate, size, and more. Conventional wisdom has said to aim for a 500 calorie per day deficit to lose weight at a safe and sustainable weight. It's not usually quite that simple, and a healthcare professional can help you figure out a good plan for your circumstances.

  • How many calories a day should I eat to gain weight?

    Like losing weight, gaining weight depends on multiple factors. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach, but adding an extra 500 calories per day is a great way to start to gain weight. Choose nutrient- and calorie-dense foods. Adding nutritious and heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats is a good start.

  • How can I boost my metabolism?

    Metabolism has a heavy genetic component; however, there are ways to boost your metabolism. Strength training is one way to increase your basal metabolic rate, which means you'll burn more calories throughout the day, not just while you exercise.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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