How Many Kcal Should I Eat


How Many Kcal Should I Eat? There could be several reasons you want to know how many kcal you should eat. Maybe you want to lose or gain weight, or you just want to get enough food to benefit your body and mind. If this is the case, it’s important to understand your body’s needs regarding calorie intake. If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain healthy body weight, it is important to know how many kcal you should eat. Calorie intake is the basis of a healthy lifestyle.

What’s the Difference Between Kcal and Calories?

Calories are a measure of energy. They refer to the amount of energy in foods and beverages, or the amount of energy you burn exercising.

Depending on where you live, energy may also be measured in kilocalories (kcal) and kilojoules (kJ).

This can create confusion, especially if you’re counting calories or comparing the calorie contents of various foods and drinks.

This article explains what calories are and how they compare with kcal and kJ as well as how to convert between the two.

Woman looking at the nutrition facts label of a product in a supermarket
Andresr/Getty Images

Main differences

When it comes to calories, they may be “small” or “large.”

If the “c” in calories is uppercase, it indicates a large calorie, and if it’s lowercase, it indicates a small calorie.

A large calorie estimates the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of water by 1°C (or an increase of 1.8°F)

On the other hand, a small calorie estimates the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram (0.035 ounces) of water by 1°C (or an increase of 1.8°F)

By these definitions, 1 large calorie equals 1,000 small calories, as 1 kg equals 1,000 grams.

To avoid confusion between large and small calories, it’s thought that the term kilocalorie — the prefix “kilo” meaning 1,000 — was created to refer to a large calorie

However, the term small calorie is rarely used today outside of physics and chemistry research.

Instead, the terms calories — capitalized or not — and kcal are used interchangeably and refer to the same amount of energy in relation to food or energy burned with exercise.

Therefore, you don’t need to convert them, as 1 kilocalorie equals 1 calorie in nutrition.

Calories may also be expressed as kilojoules (kJ).

One calorie (kcal) equals 4.18 kJ or 4,184 joules (J)

To convert from calories to kJ, multiple calories by 4.18. Conversely, to convert from kJ to calories, divide kJ by 4.18.

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Estimated calorie requirements by age

Whether you want to gain weight, lose it or find the perfect Goldilocks balance to stay exactly where you are, calories matter. And if you’re a person who likes to track and measure things, you could benefit from determining exactly how many calories you need.

Digital apps and online calorie calculators can help, Zumpano says. But because it can be complicated (are you really active, pretty active or just kind of active?), Zumpano recommends seeing a dietitian to get an expert’s take.

Others may not need to crunch the numbers to meet their calorie targets. Simply knowing your recommended calorie ranges can help you hit your goals.

Calorie Needs for Women

AgeCalories (Sedentary)Calories (Moderately Active)Calories (Active)
61 & up1,6001,8002,000

Calorie Needs for Men

AgeCalories (Sedentary)Calories (Moderately Active)Calories (Active)
76 & up2,0002,2002,400

“Keep in mind, these calorie recommendations are for people who are at a normal weight,” notes Zumpano. “If your weight is above the normal range for your height and your goal is weight loss, you need to consume less. A deficit of 500 calories can provide a weight loss of 1 pound per week.”

Factors that impact your caloric intake

A calorie is a measure of the energy in food.

To maintain your weight, energy in must equal energy out (calories consumed vs. calories burned).

Eat fewer calories than you burn, and you’ll lose weight.

But if you consume more calories than you need, your body stores that energy for later (in the form of extra padding on your hips and around your middle).

Everybody’s daily calorie needs are different, which can make it hard to figure out the magic number. In general, men need more calories than women. Active people need more than those who have desk jobs. And younger people need more than older people, whose metabolisms slow down as they age.

These factors can impact your caloric intake:

  • Sex.
  • Height.
  • Weight.
  • Age.
  • Activity level.
  • Hormones.
  • Medications.

Recommended Calorie Intake for One Meal

Woman in jeans at bed, holding vegan salad bowl

A balanced diet is an important part of a healthy meal.

Calories in, calories out: You’ve probably heard this when you’re thinking about changing your diet or losing weight. Your calories per meal intake is important, but when you’re trying to lose weight, a balanced diet that keeps you feeling full should be your goal.


When you’re trying to cut your calorie intake, it helps to swap out high calorie foods that don’t offer much nutrition. Soda with sugar, ice cream and sugar-sweetened lattes are good examples of these foods.

Calories Per Meal

One way to calculate how many calories you should take in at each meal is to consider the total number of calories you eat each day, and then divide them into the number of meals you eat. A typical adult woman needs 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. The typical man needs 2,000 to 3,000 calories.

For women, this means 533 to 800 calories per meal, if you eat three meals. For a man, this means 667 to 1,000 calories per meal. You may want to eat more at lunch or dinner, but if you have diabetes or you’re trying to manage your blood glucose level, evenly spaced meals are best, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Your own needs can vary considerably, depending on your height, weight, activity level and metabolism, the guidelines say. But a good rule of thumb to figure out the calories you need to maintain your current weight is to multiply your weight by 15, according to this Harvard Health calorie calculator.

If you’re a 5-foot, 4-inch tall woman and weigh 155 pounds, for example, you’ll eat 2,325 calories to keep you at that weight. If you divide that in thirds, you will need 775 calories for each meal. If you eat smaller, more frequent meals, consider what you eat at those meals when trying to calculate your caloric needs.

Setting a Calorie Goal

You may be looking at different strategies to cut your calories. You may be thinking, “Will eating a big breakfast help me lose weight?” The answer is, it depends. If you eat a larger breakfast and find that you can cut back on the number of calories you eat in later meals, then yes, you probably will lose weight.

Harvard Health says to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, a safe weight loss rate for many people, you can cut 500 to 1,000 calories per day. That means if you’re eating 2,325 calories per day, you’ll cut back to 1,325 to 1,825 calories. If your goal is to lose 1 pound a week, that’s a little over 600 calories per meal at three meals a day. If your goal is to lose 2 pounds a week, it’s about 333 calories per meal.

Another way of approaching weight loss is to build in physical activity. Harvard Health suggests 30 minutes of physical activity per day, and consuming 500 fewer calories, or about 167 fewer calories per meal if you eat three meals a day.

Don’t consider dropping below 1,200 calories per day if you’re a woman, or 1,500 calories per day if you’re a man, however, Harvard Health cautions, unless you’re doing this under the supervision of a health professional. You run the risk of not eating enough nutrients if your calorie count drops too low.

Calorie Cutting Strategies

The Mayo Clinic suggests this approach to cutting the number of calories you eat at each meal:

  • Skipping high-calorie, low-nutrition items
  • Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options
  • Reducing portion sizes

Instead of a 250-calorie, 16-ounce flavored latte, for example, the Mayo Clinic suggests consuming a 16-ounce black coffee, which has 4 calories. Substitute 1 cup of chocolate chip ice cream, 285 calories, for 1 1/2 cups of strawberries, 69 calories. Drink sparkling water instead of soda.

Cutting back on portion sizes will help you cut calories at each meal. Put your food on a plate, the Mayo Clinic says, because eating from a package doesn’t give you a sense of how much you’re eating.

What you should know when trying to lose weight

  1. When you start a diet or weight loss program you will not only lose fat. Especially at the beginning you will lose water weight and in some cases you may also lose muscle. So the results in the first few weeks may be misleading.
  2. When you make sudden or drastic changes to your diet the body will try to adapt by lowering the metabolic rate. In other words it enters a protective mode by reducing the number of calories it needs per day. As a result weight loss may slow down.
  3. The absolute minimum amount of calories you can consume per day is 1000-1100 kcal. It is not recommended to go beyond this number for any reason.
  4. The recommended weight to lose per week is between 1 – 1.5 pounds. Anything above that can have other implications to your health and normal body functioning.
  5. Do not forget that drinks also carry calories so make sure that you include drinks in your daily calorie calculations.
  6. You can use a technique called “calorie cycling” to make the process easier to follow. This means that once you calculate your daily calorie needs you can go above and below this range on different days of the week. If for example you daily calorie needs are 1700 you can choose to go above this number on Monday and Wednesday and below this number the rest days of the week but try to avoid exaggerations.
  7. Make sure that you give correct measurements for your weight and height when calculating your BMR.
  8. Do not lie about your activity level but try to be as accurate as possible.
  9. Do not decrease your daily calorie intake by more than 500 calories per day. Better expand the time period. Reducing your intake by 500 calories is a lot and very difficult to follow for a long time.
  10. Always consult your doctor or dietician before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.

How many calories should you eat on average?

The number of calories you should eat per day depends on numerous factors, including your age, sex, height, current weight, activity level, and metabolic health, among several others.

When trying to lose weight, it’s important to create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you normally do or by exercising more. Some people choose to combine the two, eating a little less while being more physically active.

Still, it’s important to ensure that you’re eating enough calories to provide your body with the nutrients it needs, even if you’re trying to lose weight.

The most important part of any weight loss plan is sustainability. This is why many experts recommend small calorie reductions to promote sustainable weight loss.

For example, many fad diets recommend restricting your calorie intake to around 1,000–1,200 calories per day, which is not enough for most healthy adults.

Cutting your calorie intake too drastically not only causes several serious side effects but also increases your risk of nutritional deficiencies. It likewise results in metabolic changes that make long-term weight maintenance difficult.

Here’s a closer look at how many calories you should eat, based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.


AgeDaily calorie requirements
19–30 years2,000–2,400 calories
31–59 years1,800–2,200 calories
60+ years1,600–2,000 calories

Calorie needs for women can depend on their age, size, and activity level.

Most women between the ages of 19–30 require 2,000–2,400 calories per day to maintain their weight.

Women between the ages of 31–59 have slightly lower energy needs. Generally, women in this age group should consume 1,800–2,200 calories per day to maintain their body weight.

Women over age 60 generally require fewer calories and typically need to take in around 1,600–2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight.

Keep in mind that the exact number of calories that you need may fall on the high or low end of this range — or even exceed it — depending on how active you are, plus your height, weight, and health status.

Additionally, these estimates don’t apply to those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as they’ll need significantly more calories.


AgeDaily calorie requirements
19–30 years2,400–3,000 calories
31–59 years2,200–3,000 calories
60+ years2,000–2,600 calories

As is the case for women, calorie needs for men may range based on several factors.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimates that men between the ages of 19–30 should consume 2,400–3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight.

Energy needs decrease as you get older. In fact, men between the ages of 31–59 need about 2,200–3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight, while men over 60 generally require 2,000–2,600 calories.

Men who are very active or have certain health conditions may require more calories. The number you need within these ranges also varies based on your height and weight.


AgeDaily calorie requirements
2–4 yearsMale: 1,000–1,600 calories
Female: 1,000–1,400 calories
5–8 yearsMale: 1,200–2,000 calories
Female: 1,200–1,800 calories
9–13 yearsMale: 1,600–2,600 calories
Female: 1,400–2,200 calories
14–18 yearsMale: 2,000–3,200 calories
Female: 1,800–2,400 calories

Children have widely varying calorie needs based on their age, size, and activity level.

Energy needs for children and teens vary based on their sex and age. A 3-year-old child might need only 1,200 calories, but a teenager can require closer to 3,000 calories

However, keep in mind that there’s typically no need to count calories for growing children and teens.

In fact, cutting a child’s calorie intake may increase their risk of nutritional deficiencies, slow growth, and foster an unhealthy relationship with food or an eating disorder.

Instead of counting calories, it’s best to encourage healthy, nutrient-dense foods, cook more meals and snacks at home, and promote regular physical activity for kids and teens.

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