It seems like old-school calorie-counting is back in style.
Diets such as keto, paleo and “clean eating” reigned supreme for years, with a focus on limiting specific foods rather than overall food consumption. But according to the 2021 Food and Health Survey put out by the International Food Information Council, it seems that counting calories is once again the most popular method of dieting.
Now, do men need to make every calorie count to stay healthy or achieve their fitness goals? No way.
But, is it helpful to have a basic understanding of how your body uses the energy it gets from food? Sure.
Of course, 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 some mention of calories. Maybe you’ve also tried a popular calorie tracker like MyFitnessPal or Noom.
But do you really know what calories are, and why are they so important? And, do you know how many calories you really need in a day? (We mean actual numbers, not some general recommendation that a weight-loss app can spit out.)
Here, we’ll go over the correct definition of calories, as well as factors affecting your energy needs (aka, your metabolism) and how to estimate the right number of calories for you.
What is a Calorie?
Technically, 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 one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.
So, calorie is a measure of energy. All three macronutrients contain a set number of calories per gram: 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein, and 9 calories per gram for fat. (Wine, 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 the energy that our bodies use to function. We need calories to move around, but also for all basic body functions that occur when we are at rest, from DNA synthesis to hormone production, to sending chemical messengers throughout the body. so that things run smoothly.
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 foot 9 and weighs 197 pounds. At a moderate activity level (3 to 5 times per week of moderate exercise), he would need about 2,822 calories per day to maintain his weight.
to lose weight
If weight loss is the goal, the USDA says reducing your caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day can lead to a safe weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week. For our average American man, that’s between 1,822 and 2,322 calories per day. That said, drastically cutting calories can backfire, as you may feel so hungry that you end up overeating.
Exercise is also important: If you’re burning 500 calories per day through physical activity, cutting 1,000 calories will actually result in a 1,500-calorie deficit, which is a lot.
to gain weight
If you’re trying to gain weight, the Cleveland Clinic recommends increasing your caloric intake by 300 to 500 calories per day — 3,122 to 3,322 calories per day for the average person, assuming his or her activity level remains the same. Is.
“The primary factors that determine how many calories someone needs include birth sex, age, genetics, body size, and daily activity level,” says Anya Rosen, MS, RD, a New York-based dietitian. “Other variables may play an important role, such as anatomy, dieting behavior, injury, or disease.”
In general, men burn more calories than women because they are generally larger overall. Men are likely to have more muscle mass and less fat mass, which affects calorie burn, explains Kyle Gonzalez, MS, CSCS, an exercise scientist and performance coach in the future.
Injury and illness can also temporarily increase the amount of calories you need. Healing from major burns or other large open wounds requires additional energy and protein. Cancer can increase your calorie burn to a great extent. If you have a fever, you need extra calories to compensate for your high body temperature. Fighting the common cold also takes energy.
How to Calculate Your Calorie Needs
Although it is possible to estimate how many calories you need in a day, there is one big caveat: “There are many different formulas available for determining calorie needs, but there are too many influential variables to control. They all have huge margins of error,” Rosen says.
Scientists use a method called indirect calorimetry to measure how many calories a person burns in a day, but it is expensive, time-consuming, and inaccessible to most people.
If you’re curious about your exact calorie needs, here’s how to determine it for yourself.
tracking your food intake
“I think the best way to determine your calorie needs (assuming you’re out of a research setting) starts with making sure you’re currently maintaining your weight,” Rosen says.
“Once the weight stabilizes, track your food intake for 1 to 2 weeks without changing the way you normally eat. Average calories over that time frame are a good estimate for your maintenance calorie needs. and you can adjust from there according to your goals.
In other words: If your weight isn’t changing, you’re consuming the right amount of calories.
a metabolic 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, ranging from sedentary to very active, to determine your calorie needs.
How does muscle mass affect calorie burn?
Muscle burns more calories by weight than body fat, although the difference is not as large as is sometimes understood. The “claim” muscle burns more calories than fat “is true, but misleading,” Rosen says.
The best guess we have is that a pound of muscle burns six to seven calories a day. “That’s roughly the equivalent of a slice of cucumber,” Rosen says. On the other hand, fat burns about two calories at the same time. Therefore, increasing muscle mass will increase the number of calories you burn — as will increasing fat, though to a lesser extent — but not by much. An additional 10 pounds of muscle can add only 60 calories per day to your total caloric expenditure.
In fact, the size of other body parts probably plays a more important role in your daily caloric needs. A 2011 study found that more than 40 percent of the difference in total calorie burn between people can be explained by variations in the size of their internal organs.
How does exercise affect calorie burn?
Of course, your activity level plays a big role in your energy needs. It’s not just your workouts that burn calories, but how much you move around at work and at home. A physically demanding job burns more calories than one you spend sitting at a desk all day long, and getting your daily commute by bike or walk instead of by car can make a big difference. When determining your physical activity level, it’s important to keep all of this in mind.
And of course, you have to consider your workouts too. “With cardio training, you not only burn calories faster, but you also burn more 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’ll burn fewer calories per session, he explains, but your metabolic rate (the number of calories burned) will be maintained for a longer period of time afterward. Plus, you’ll build muscle, which slightly bumps up your calorie burn and can support better health overall.
“A healthy mix of both strength and cardio training, with varying intensity, frequency, duration, and type, is always best when building your exercise program,” says Gonzalez.
Do you need to count calories?
Ultimately, there’s no need to count calories to stay healthy. If you feel good and have consistent energy levels throughout the day, you probably don’t need to worry about calculating your caloric needs, because chances are you’re achieving your goal.
But if you’re concerned that you’re eating too few or too many calories, understanding what contributes to calorie burn can help you understand your body’s needs.
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