Contrary to years of low-cal marketing, your body actually needs calories to do its job. Calories only become a problem when you’re eating too many too often.
Plenty of smartphone apps and websites can decently estimate the calories you need with the input of your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level (one option: the USDA’s free SuperTracker). But if you want to dive deeper into your calorie requirements to sustain that temple you’ve built (or the one you want), there are a few other things to consider. The best part: Once you get the hang of what your calorie counts should look like, you can game the system to include a pizza. (Maybe.)
Here are a few diet and lifestyle scenarios, and the calories each one requires. Keep in mind, the calorie amounts below are based on a 45-year-old Joe weighing in at 200 pounds, standing 5 feet 9 inches. Your personal calorie goal may be higher or lower.
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If you don’t exercise and want to drop a belt size: 1,800 calories
If you don’t work out, you’ll need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight. Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD, founder of the weight loss app Whole Body Reboot, recommends 1,800 calories per day for this group of guys. He is quick to point out, “Macros are key here,” meaning the number of grams of protein, carbs, and fat you have in a day.
In other words, a calorie isn’t always just a calorie. And the last thing you want to lose is fat-burning muscle. Translation: Don’t cut out too much protein when cutting calories. With that in mind, Villacorta recommends 40 percent calories as carbs (180 grams), 30 percent as protein (135 grams), and 30 percent as fat (60 grams).
Most nutrition experts recommend scrutinizing portions and food groups rather than stressing about calorie counting," Villacorta says. “If you eat ‘clean’ foods and have protein at every meal, it’s not difficult to sustain your calorie goal.” You may even end up on the lower end on calories. You can probably work in your favorite cocktail, pizza, or burger, as Villacorta does for his clients, while still reaching your goals.
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If you lift weights and want to gain muscle: 2,500 calories
If you lift weights consistently, you need more calories to gain muscle. Villacorta builds meal plans for weight-lifters based on a 2,500-calorie regimen, with some guys needing just 2,400 and others needing up to 3,000.
For guys pumping iron, Villacorta recommends 40 to 45 percent calories as carbs, 25 to 30 percent as protein, and 25 to 30 percent as fat. “You can’t lose fat and build muscle at the same time,” he says, advising dieters to lose fat first while preserving muscle. If these numbers sound complicated, you can take advantage of Villacorta’s one-week program trial that lets you figure out your calories, macros, and food-serving goals with his online calculator.
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