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Categories: Nutrition

By: Richie Milne

Calculating Calories

A calorie is a unit of energy that our bodies use to function and perform daily life sustaining activities. The foods we eat, which obviously contain calories, provides our bodies with all the energy we need to get through the day. Everyone’s daily caloric needs are different from one another and this is because they are based on height, weight, age, daily activity levels and gender. After you learn about calculating calories needed on a daily basis, you can then eat accordingly to meet your goals, whether it be to lose fat or gain lean muscle mass.


BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)

This is the amount of calories you need to consume to maintain your body if you were comatose (base level).

NEAT (Non-Exercise Associated Thermogenesis)

The calorie of daily activity that is NOT exercise (eg: washing, walking, talking, shopping, working). ie: INCIDENTAL EXERCISE! It is something that everyone has a good amount of control over & it is the MOST important factor in your energy expenditure. It is what helps keep ‘constitutionally lean’ people LEAN (they fidget)!

EAT (Exercise Associated Thermogenesis)

The calorie requirements associated with planned exercise. Unless someone is doing a whole heap of exercise (eg: two or more hrs training a day) it usually doesn’t add a stack of calories to your requirements (30 minutes of ‘elliptical training isn’t going to do it’)

TEF (Thermic effect of feeding)

The calorie expenditure associated with eating. REGARDLESS of what myths you have been told – this is NOT dependent on MEAL FREQUENCY. It is a % of TOTAL CALORIES CONSUMED (and 15% of 3 x 600 cal meals is the same as 15% of 6 x 300 cal meals). It varies according to MACRONUTRIENT content and FIBER content. For most mixed diets, it is something around 15%. Protein is higher (up to 25%), carbs are variable (between 5-25%), and fats are low (usually less than 5%). So -> More protein and more carbs and more fiber = HIGHER TEF. More FAT = LOWER TEF.

TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)

The total calories you require – and the sum of the above (BMR + NEAT + EAT + TEF).


There is therefore a multitude of things that impact a persons MAINTENANCE calorie requirements

– Age & sex (males generally need > females for any given age)

– Total weight & lean mass (more lean mass = more needed)

– Physiological status (eg: sick or injured, pregnant, growth and ‘enhancement’)

– Hormones (eg: thyroid hormone levels, growth hormone levels)

– Exercise level (more activity = more needed)

– Daily activity level (more activity = more needed)

– Diet (that is – macronutrient intake)

When calculating calories for weight loss the most accurate measure is via calorimetry [the measure of ‘chemical reactions’ in your body & the heat produced by these reactions], either directly (via placing a calorimeter where the heat you produce is measured) or indirectly (eg: HOOD studies where they monitor how much oxygen you use/ carbon dioxide and nitrogen you excrete over a given time). But although accurate they are completely impractical for most people & we mostly rely on pre-set formula when calculating calories to lose weight.


The simplest method of calculating calories needed is to base your intake on a standard ‘calories per unit of weight (usually kilograms)’. Typically:

– 26 to 30 kcals/kg/day for normal, healthy individuals with sedentary lifestyles doing little physical activity [12.0-14 kcal/pound].

– 31 to 37 kcal/kg/day for those involved in light to moderate activity 3-5 x a week with moderately active lifestyles [14-16 kcal/ pound]

– 38 to 40 kcals/kg/day for those involved in vigorous activity and highly active jobs [16-18 kcal/ pound].

For those involved in HEAVY training (eg: athletes) – the demand is greater:

– 41 to 50 kcals/kg/day for those involved in moderate to heavy training (for example: 15-20 hrs/ week training) [18.5-22 kcal/ pound] – 50 or above kcals/kg/day for those involved in heavy to extreme training [> 22 kcal/ pound]

There are then a number of other formula which calculate BMR. This means it calculates what you need should you be in a coma.

Harris-Benedict formula: Very inaccurate. It was derived from studies on LEAN, YOUNG, ACTIVE males MANY YEARS AGO (1919). Notorious for OVERESTIMATING requirements, especially in the overweight. IF YOU CAN AVOID IT, DON’T USE IT!

MEN: BMR = 66 + [13.7 x weight (kg)] + [5 x height (cm)] – [6.76 x age (years)] WOMEN: BMR = 655 + [9.6 x weight (kg)] + [1.8 x height (cm)] – [4.7 x age (years)]

Mifflin-St Jeor: Developed in the 1990s and more realistic in todays settings. It still doesn’t take into consideration the differences as a consequence of high BF%. Thus, once again, it OVERESTIMATES NEEDS, ESPECIALLY IN THE OVERWEIGHT.

MEN: BMR = [9.99 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height (cm)] – [4.92 x age (years)] + 5 WOMEN: BMR = [9.99 x weight (kg)] + [6.25 x height (cm)] – [4.92 x age (years)] -161

Katch-McArdle: Considered the most accurate formula for those who are relatively lean. Use ONLY if you have a good estimate of your bodyfat %.

BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM)Where LBM = [total weight (kg) x (100 – bodyfat %)]/100

As these are only BMR calculations To convert BMR to a TOTAL requirement you need to multiply the result of your BMR by an ‘activity variable’ to give TEE.


Think about it – if you train 1 hr a day – WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE OTHER 23 HRS?! So MORE important than training — it includes work, life activities, training/sport & the TEF of ~15% (an average mixed diet).

Average activity variables are:

1.2 = Sedentary (Desk job, and Little Formal Exercise)

1.3-1.4 = Lightly Active (Light daily activity AND light exercise 1-3 days a week)

1.5-1.6 = Moderately Active (Moderately daily Activity & Moderate exercise 3-5 days a week)

1.7-1.8 = Very Active (Physically demanding lifestyle & Hard exercise 6-7 days a week)

1.9-2.2 = Extremely Active (Athlete in ENDURANCE training or VERY HARD physical job)

How Accurate are they?: They give rough ball-park figures and are still ‘guesstimations’. So the aim is to use these as ‘rough figures’, monitor your weight/ measurements for 2-4 weeks, & IF your weight is stable/ measurements are stable, you have likely found maintenance.


You then need to DECREASE or INCREASE intake based on your goals (eg: lose fat or gain mass).

For example if your goal is to bulk up and gain muscle mass then you should aim for 300-500 calorie surplus ontop of your estimated TDEE. If your goal was fat loss then 300-500 calorie deficit under your estimated TDEE. Then monitor your results and adjust as required.


I want to firstly address the fact that your body does not care about what ratio of macro intakes you have (e.g. 30:40:30 or 40:40:20). It works based on sufficient quantity per lean mass or total mass.

Now this is where it gets tricky. I will try make it as simple as possible for you and explain exactly the steps I take when creating a personalized meal plan for my clients.

The first step is calculating calories needed, and then I work out the correct macronutrient split of protein, carbohydrates and fats in which they require to achieve their goals.

To be able to do this, I also have to work out the clients TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) using answers they provided me with from my questionnaire form I send them. The information I ask is as per below:





•Body fat percentage (if this is known, otherwise an estimate is fine)

•Daily activity levels


•What my client wants to achieve (i.e. do they want to bulk up and gain muscle or cut down and lose body fat)

Once all this information is submitted from the client, I can then work out their TDEE (using a unique formula that I believe to be the most accurate wat of estimating someone’s TDEE).

Using the clients estimated TDEE, I then put their calories into either a calorie deficit based diet (-500 below TDEE) or a calorie surplus diet (+500 above TDEE), depending on what the client wants to achieve and their goals.

After I have worked out how much calories my client requires to reach their goal, I work out the PERFECT macronutrient split of protein, carbohydrates and fats for them. The macronutrient guide lines or rules that I like to follow are:


1g of protein per pound of LEAN bodyweight (i.e if you are 200lbs with 18% body fat your LBW = 164lbs) Therefor you will requires 164g of protein (or more)


0.4g+ of fat per pound of LEAN bodyweight (fat is important for normal body functions, not to mention its good for the brain and hormone regulation, such as testosterone production etc..)


I then fill your remaining calories up with mostly carbohydrates but also some extra protein and fat (again just depends). Protein and fat are essential and needed by the human body, carbohydrates are not needed at all. However once my clients protein and fat minimal requirements are met then I usually try base the rest of there calories around carbohydrates reason being that carbs are the body BEST source of fuel/energy!

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