How to calculate how many calories you genuinely need (you might be pleasantly surprised!)

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    How to calculate how many calories you genuinely need (you might be pleasantly surprised!)
    (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

    Go onto fitness Instagram and you’re bombarded by influencers telling you how much better their gains are now they’re eating more.

    They look incredible, obviously. And yet…they seem to be eating umpteen hundred more calories than we are.

    It seems unbelievable that someone can look so much more toned when they’re eating way more. But they have a point.

    Sometimes you really do need to up your calorie and nutrient uptake in order for the body to metabolise better.

    Consistently undereating can obviously lead to weight loss, but if you’re exercising regularly, it can also prompt the body to start clinging on to whatever nourishment comes its way.

    Your muscles stop growing and fat cells stay because the body is under so much stress.

    Our brains are clever things but when it comes to stress, they can’t differentiate what’s a psychological stressor and what’s a physical one; when you’re exercising like mad and cutting kcals, the body can react in a similar way to perceive a physical threat – like famine. Back in ancient times, you’d need a little extra fat to see you through potential starvation. Today, our bodies still do that if it’s underfed and overworked.

    How to calculate how many calories you genuinely need (you might be pleasantly surprised!)
    (Picture: Ella Byworth)

    So, how can you really calculate how many calories you need?

    Firstly, not everyone should count calories (in fact…no one should feel compelled to do so). It can become quite addictive, even if you haven’t got a disorder.

    But if you’re not making the gains you think you should be, looking at your energy intake-to-output ratio is often a good place to start.

    All you’ve got to do is start by calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (the amount of energy you need to live), before factoring in your energy output. That should give you a pretty decent window to work between.

    How to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

    The Schofield Calculator looks at age, weight and height in order to calculate BMR. It’s pretty accurate for most people – unless you’ve got a very high muscle mass or very high-fat mass.

    You start by choosing your age bracket formula:

    Men

    10-17 years BMR = 17.7 x W + 657
    18-29 years BMR = 15.1 x W + 692
    30-58 years BMR = 11.5 x W + 873

    Women

    10-17 years BMR = 13.4 x W + 692
    18-29 years BMR = 14.8 x W + 487
    30-59 years BMR = 8.3 x W + 846

    (W = body weight in kg)

    So I, for example, weigh 60kg. 14.8 x 60 + 487 = 1,375 calories. That means I need that many calories if I was literally lying in bed all day, not moving – that’s enough to keep my body alive but not active. So these crash diets which tell you to go on mega, mega low calories are a load of crap.

    How to calculate how many calories you need on any given day

    All you do is multiply your BMR by an activity score:

    BMR x 1.4 inactive men and women (this applies to most people in the UK)

    BMR x 1.6 moderately active women

    BMR x 1.7 moderately active men

    BMR x 1.8 very active women

    BMR x 1.9 very active men

    So again, using me as an example: I work out five times a week so that’d make me moderately active (I sit at a desk all day).

    My BMR (1375) x 1.6 = 2,200 kcals.

    I need around 2,200 calories on average. See – more than you might think.

    Eating under your Basal Metabolic Rate, for the most part, is pointless – you’ll just feel sluggish – and eating well below your Schofield calculation just means that you won’t give your body the chance to absorb, grow and repair. Equally, if you’re consistently eating above it and you don’t already have masses of muscle, your body will start storing all that excess as fat.

    Obviously, everyone is different and calculations don’t work for everyone, but they can be a good place to start to understand your metabolism and how your body uses fuel.

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