Using BMR to Calculate Your Caloric Needs
Losing weight can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you aren’t sure how many calories you should be eating. Believe it or not, many of us make the mistake of eating too little, sometimes barely enough to support our BMR, which can stall weight loss altogether. So how exactly do you find that calorie sweet spot?
There are a few basic ways to calculate your caloric needs, starting with your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). But before we dive in, let’s remind ourselves what calories are and where they come from.
1. What Are Calories and Where Do They Come From?
A lot of us get obsessed with idea of “calories in, calories out” but how many of us know exactly what a calorie is? Well, in short, a calorie is a unit that measures energy. Calories are usually used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages. So a little like gas fuels a car to get it to go from A to B, Calories provide us with energy that we burn in going about our day-to-day. In order to lose weight then, it seems logical that you need to eat fewer calories than your body is burning each day.
Sounds pretty simple right? Wrong! Our bodies are a little more complicated that that! And how do you even go about calculating how many calories your body needs each day?! Well let’s develop the “calories in, calories out” concept further first and let me ask you this: If you eat fewer calories than your body burns, does it matter where those calories come from? Can you eat only cakes and cookies or only drink protein shakes? As yummy as that may sound, like I said before, our bodies are a lot more complex than a simple energy in vs energy out equation. It truly does matter where those calories come from.
You need to make sure you’re fueling your body with the right amount of macronutrients – your protein, carbs, and fat. For example, you may have hit your calorie limit for the day but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve hit your macros. If you’re only eating cakes and cookies, you’re not giving your body the protein it needs to build and repair muscles or other tissue or even to allow important enzymatic reactions to occur.
That’s why it’s so important to focus on both your macros and your calories. You have to make sure you are fueling your body with the right nutrients! Don’t forget about all those important vitamins and minerals we get from whole foods too!
2. Using BMR
A good place to start when trying to figure out your caloric needs is by using a BMR calculator. A BMR calculator will determine the number of calories your body burns each day to perform its basic functions. Basically, the number of calories your body burns at rest. The easiest way to figure out your BMR is by using an online calculator or fitness app. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind when calculating your BMR.
Firstly, your caloric needs can be calculated with a few different equations. These equations include the revised Harris-Benedict equation, the Katch McArdle equation and the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation. These are the three basic equations used to calculate BMR for the average person. Each equation will yield a slightly different caloric need. The Mifflin-St. Jeor equation is believed to provide the most accurate result and that’s the one we use.
However, for the most accurate results, we highly recommend having a body composition analysis done using a machine like an InBody, Dexa Scan or FIT 3D Body scanner. Obtaining this kind of information is ideal as it will give you a much more accurate picture of your exact energy expenditure at rest, so that you can determine your individualized calories for weight loss.
3. Calculating Your Caloric Intake
Now that we’ve got our BMR, we can start calculating your caloric intake. Now we need to convert our BMR into TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This new calculation accounts for the calories you need each day to support activity like walking, exercise, household chores, etc.
To calculate your TDEE, you need to multiply your BMR by your estimated energy levels. Your TDEE can add anywhere between 20-50% or as much as 200% to your overall calories! We’ve found these multipliers to be consistent with our own macro formula calculation for weight loss.
Now that we have these numbers, we have to adjust them based on our goals. For example, if you wanted to gain weight, you would want to eat more than your TDEE. Adding about 5% more to your TDEE is a good place to start as you’ll want to go slow with gaining weight to ensure that you primarily gain muscle and not body fat. To lose weight, you would want to eat less than your TDEE. About 15-20% less than your TDEE is recommended for healthy weight loss, at a steady pace.
4. Determining Macronutrients
Your final step will be to determine how to split your overall calories into macronutrients. i.e. how much of your calories should you attribute to your protein, carbohydrates and fat. Like we mentioned above, getting the right balance of macronutrients can be crucial in helping you achieve your weight loss goals. Don’t just take our word for it, check out Zach‘s story. Before he started tracking macros with us, he had reached a weight loss plateau that he couldn’t bust through. Cutting more calories from his diet wasn’t the solution his body needed either.
One thing to note, whatever your goals are, we’ve found that most people do not benefit from more than 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass. If you’re looking to gain strength, cut weight, or simply lose body fat, we can help you determine what your macro breakdown should look like along with your overall caloric needs.
Calculating Caloric Intake – The Takeaway
If you want to calculate your caloric needs here’s a quick summary of the process:
- Calculate your BMR – remember you can also use a machine to help you determine this;
- Consider your activity level and calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE – see calculation above) using your BMR;
- Calculate your caloric needs based on your goals – 5% more to gain weight, 15-20% less for weight loss;
- Determine your split of macronutrients – for additional help, a macro double check may be exactly what you need.
All in all, calculating your caloric intake does not have to be so complex. For most people, we simply recommend getting started with tracking and seeing how much you’re currently consuming. Use this and our formula as a jumping off point to calculating your caloric needs based on your goals. As long as you make sure to properly track what you’re eating and give your body consistency, you will be well on your way to achieving your goals.
We know that your nutrition is not a standalone concept. We treat our clients holistically and coach each individual according to their own unique set of circumstances and needs. If you are interested or just want to learn more about our Lifestyle coaching programs, contact us or visit our FAQs for any questions!