How many calories should a woman eat a day — A question that many women ask themselves daily is “How many calories should a woman eat a day?” This question can be applied to both strength training and lean mass/weight loss scenarios, To understand how many calories a woman should eat, you first need to calculate her BMR. The Harris-Benedict formula calculates resting metabolic rate or the amount of calories needed for a woman for daily functions. This includes such things as breathing, heartbeat and keeping her organs functioning. You can estimate how many calories she will burn from the equation below.
What is a calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. In physical terms, one calorie (“small calorie”, symbol: cal) is defined as the amount of heat energy needed to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius (1°C) at a pressure of one atmosphere (101.325 kPa).
In terms of nutrition and diet, kilocalories (“large calories”, symbol: kcal) are more commonly used to express the amount of energy value of particular foods. In the context of nutrition, the kilojoule (kJ) is the SI unit of food energy.
The total number of calories within a particular food is the sum of the amount of energy released by each of the components (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), minus the fiber content. Fiber is removed as humans are not able to fully digest it.
How Many Calories Should I Eat a Day? Daily Calorie Intake
Figuring out how many calories you should eat a day depends on your age, weight, activity level, medical conditions, and overall goals
Figuring out how many calories you should eat a day depends on your age, weight, activity level, medical conditions, and overall goals. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended daily calorie intake for the average person is as follows:
- Women: 1,600-2,400 calories a day
- Men: 2,000-3,000 a day
The following table outlines recommended calorie intake based on age, sex, and activity level. Your level of physical activity is generally classified into three categories.
- Sedentary: Daily activity but no concentrated exercise.
- Moderately active: Light physical activity such as walking for 30-45 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week.
- Active: Moderate exercise for about 1 hour most days of the week.
|Age group||Sedentary||Moderately active||Active|
|4 to 8 years||1,200 to 1,400||1,400 to 1,600||1,600 to 2,000|
|9 to 13 years||1,600 to 2,000||1,800 to 2,200||2,000 to 2,600|
|14 to 18 years||2,000 to 2,400||2,400 to 2,800||2,800 to 3,200|
|19 to 30 years||2,400 to 2,600||2,600 to 2,800||3,000|
|31 to 50 years||2,200 to 2,400||2,400 to 2,600||2,800 to 3,000|
|50 years and older||2,000 to 2,200||2,200 to 2,400||2,400 to 2,800|
|4 to 8 years||1,200 to 1,400||1,400 to 1,600||1,400 to 1,800|
|9 to 13 years||1,400 to 1,600||1,600 to 2,000||1,800 to 2,200|
|14 to 18 years||1,800||2,000||2,000 to 2,600|
|19 to 30 years||2,000||2,200||2,400|
|31 to 50 years||1,800||2,000||2,200|
|50 years and older||1,600||1,800||2,000|
Pregnant and lactating women should consume extra calories based on their pregnancy duration and feeding frequency after consulting their doctor.
How to calculate calorie intake based on your goals
Calories refer to the amount of energy consumed through food and beverage consumption. Calorie sources include fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Any calories your body does not use are stored as fat and can be converted into energy.
Understanding your recommended calorie intake can help you figure out how many calories you should be consuming:
- Maintaining weight: To stay at your current weight, you must consume the same number of calories as you burn.
- Losing weight: To lose weight, you must consume fewer calories or burn more calories. If you want to consume less throughout the day, you should eat at least 500 fewer calories a day, or 15%-20% less than your required intake. If you want to burn more calories while eating fewer calories, you should increase your physical activity.
- Gaining weight: To gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn. This should be accomplished by following a healthy but calorie-dense diet and exercising regularly.
How Many Calories Should A Woman Eat Per Day?
No woman is the same, which means answering the question ‘how many calories should a woman eat per day’ isn’t always cut-and-dried.
Your individualized calorie needs will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- Weight management goals
- Activity level
- Body composition
Tracking your current calorie intake is a good place to start, but knowing how to estimate individualized calorie needs helps you achieve your goal weight to live a happier, healthier life.
How Many Calories Do Women Burn in a Day?
Knowing how many calories you burn in a day, or your total energy expenditure (TEE), helps determine your calorie needs for weight maintenance, weight loss, or weight gain if that’s your goal.
TEE is broken down into several categories, including:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns to maintain life and function properly during rest.
It’s based on your weight, height, age, and gender.
Men often have higher BMRs than women, as men typically have more muscle mass.
The formula for determining BMR for women using the Harris-Benedict equation is:
65.5 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years) = BMR
An activity factor helps determine your TEE based on the number of calories you burn throughout the day when you’re awake and moving around.
This number includes the calories you burn exercising and calories burned doing daily activities — such as showering, getting dressed, working, cooking, doing laundry and other house chores, taking care of kids, and doing yard work.
Multiply your activity factor by your BMR to determine TEE.
Choose from the following activity factors based on your lifestyle:
- 1.2 = sedentary (little to no exercise)
- 1.375 = lightly active (light exercise 1 – 3 days per week)
- 1.55 = moderately active (moderate exercise 3 – 5 days per week)
- 1.725 = very active (hard exercise 6 – 7 days per week)
- 1.9 = extremely active (hard daily exercise and/or a physical job)
Here is the formula for determining TEE:
BMR x Activity Factor = Total Energy Expenditure (TEE)
How Many Calories Should a Woman Eat Per Day for Weight Maintenance?
To maintain your current weight, eat about the same number of calories as your TEE.
This number increases or decreases when you alter daily activities or workouts.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Guidelines
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020, average daily calorie needs for weight maintenance in normal-weight women are:
|76 and up||1,600||1,800||2,000|
The USDA classifies you as sedentary if you do not exercise at all, but participate in daily activities of independent living.
You’re considered moderately active if you walk 1.5 to 3 miles per day at a pace of 3-4 miles per hour (or participate in similar exercises) in addition to activities of independent living.
The USDA classifies you as active if you walk more than 3 miles per day at a pace of 3-4 miles per hour (or participate in similar exercises) in addition to activities of independent living.
Another simple way to estimate daily calorie needs for weight maintenance (if you’re within a normal weight range) is to multiply your current body weight by an activity factor.
According to Harvard Medical School, you can use the following guidelines to estimate your calorie needs for weight maintenance (this applies to both men and women).
Multiply your current weight (in pounds) by:
- 13 calories per pound of bodyweight if you’re sedentary
- 15-16 calories per pound of bodyweight if you’re moderately active
- 18 calories per pound of bodyweight if you’re active most days
Using the equation above as a guideline, a 130 pound moderately active woman needs about 1,950-2,080 calories daily to maintain her current weight.
If she becomes more active, she may require 2,300-2,400 calories daily to maintain her weight.
Sample Weight Loss Menu For Women
When shedding pounds is your goal, it’s helpful to have a low-calorie menu on hand to give you an idea of what 1,200-1,500 calories look like:
|BreakfastOmelette made with:3 eggs1/2 cup of mushrooms1 ounce of feta cheese||216 calories8 calories75 calories||299 calories|
|Snack1 container of plain low-fat Greek yogurt1 cup of strawberries||150 calories50 calories||200 calories|
|Lunch2 ounces of tuna packed in oil1/4th of an avocado1 slice of whole-grain bread1 cup of cherry tomatoes||112 calories80 calories70 calories65 calories||327 calories|
|Snack1 protein shake made with:2 tablespoons of protein powder1 cup of protein-fortified almond milk1/2 of a banana1 tablespoon of almond butter||43 calories80 calories60 calories98 calories||281 calories|
|Dinner2 ounces of salmon1/2 cup of cooked quinoa1 cup of cooked asparagus1 teaspoon of olive oil||105 calories111 calories40 calories40 calories||296 calories|
|Daily Total||1,403 calories|
General Weight Loss Calorie Guidelines for Women
For many women, consuming 1,200-1,500 calories daily will get the excess weight off at a safe, healthy pace.
Women who weigh more or those who are very active may need about 1,500-1,800 calories daily to lose 1-2 pounds per week.
Weight Loss Tips and Tricks
There are several tips and tricks you can use to help cut calories and get the excess weight off, including:
- Replace soda, lemonade, sweet tea, and juice with water.
- Avoid greasy and fried foods.
- Eat at home vs. at restaurants.
- Sleep at least 7 hours each night to control your appetite.
- Fill half of each plate with non-starchy vegetables.
- Fill half of each plate with healthy protein foods plus fiber-rich starches.
- Drink at least 2 cups of water when you first wake up and before each meal.
- Eat low-calorie, non-starchy vegetables first (after drinking water) at mealtime.
- Keep a daily food journal to track calorie intake.
- Reduce stress as much as possible.
- Avoid skipping meals (eat small meals every few hours).
- Join a structured weight loss program that offers motivational support.
- Complete at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days.
- Weigh yourself daily to track progress.
What are average calorie ranges for women?
- Moderately active: To maintain weight, a moderately active woman between ages 26-50 needs roughly 2,000 calories per day. To shed 1 pound a week, she needs to reduce her calorie intake to 1,500 calories per day.
- Active: Women who are physically active and walk more than 3 miles daily need to consume at least 2,200 calories per day to maintain weight and at least 1,700 calories to shed 1 pound a week.
- Early 20s: Women in their early 20s require more calories. To maintain weight, they need roughly 2,200 calories each day.
- Over 50: Women over 50 require fewer calories. A moderately active woman over 50 years needs 1,800 calories per day to maintain weight and 1,600 calories per day to shed 1 pound a week.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding have higher calorie requirements, so these ranges do not apply to them.
18 ways to reduce calorie intake
- Start the day by drinking water. Your body is typically dehydrated upon waking up, and it can misinterpret thirst for hunger. Drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning, as well as before meals, can prevent you from eating too much.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and calories consumed during breakfast get burned easily compared to other meals.
- Eat more fiber. A high-fiber diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables promotes digestion and helps you feel fuller for longer.
- Eat whole grains. Whole grains are more nutritious than their processed or refined grains and also help you feel full for longer.
- Eat more protein and fewer carbs. Protein helps boost metabolism more than carbs or fat and can lead to more calorie burn.
- Add good fats to your diet. Healthy fats get burned and do not get stored in the body. Good fats include salmon, avocados, and coconut oil.
- Take a power nap. Taking a short 15-minute nap can help you feel energized and reduce hunger pangs.
- Choose healthy snacks. Snacking throughout the day can help you avoid overeating during meals. Go for nutritious snacks that are low in calories, such as nuts or veggies and hummus.
- Reduce salt intake. Eating too much salt can cause water retention, resulting in bloating and weight gain.
- Reduce sugar intake. Avoid sodas and commercial fruit juices that contain more sugar than fruit. Added sugar can lead to weight gain and other health issues.
- Replace sugar with honey. Honey can be used as a natural sweetener in juices, teas, and desserts and is less fattening than white sugar.
- Cook at home. Preparing meals at home and reducing eating out can help you consume smaller portions and make sure you’re using healthy ingredients.
- Steam or grill instead of frying. Use healthy oils for cooking, and try steaming or grilling instead of deep frying, as this can help you avoid eating too much oil.
- Drink coffee. Studies have shown that caffeine can decrease appetite as well as boost energy and overall mood. Avoid adding more calories to your coffee with high-fat milk or sugar.
- Add lemon to your water. This may help reduce fat absorption and cholesterol and improve digestion.
- Use apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is believed to reduce fat and boost metabolism.
- Drink herbal teas. Drinking green tea helps boost metabolism and aids in digestion.
- Reduce alcohol intake. This reduces calorie intake and fluid retention in the body.