As you know, we typically talk about weight loss a lot. What to eat, how to exercise, how to stay motivated, et etc … but what about weight maintenance?
Whether you’ve officially reached your weight loss goal or simply want to make sure that you aren’t gaining any weight, it’s important to have a good idea of how your body works and what it needs. Part of this comes with understanding exactly how much energy your body requires and how you should be eating to keep your weight where you want it to be.
Weight maintenance is a whole different ball game than weight loss, so I’m breaking down how you can determine how much to eat to maintain a steady weight. And just like anything fitness-related, it all comes down to the numbers.
Let’s get into it!
A Quick Rundown on Calories
If you’ve ever wanted to lose weight, you’re probably no stranger to what calories are and how important they are when you’re watching the scale. If you’re unfamiliar or need a refresher, calories are simply the units of energy that power your body.
Everyone has a certain number of calories they burn every day simply by existing: this is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Let’s throw physical activity out the window for a sec. If you were to eat exactly this many calories every day without any exercise or other physical activity, you would be hitting “maintenance level” – in other words, you would be taking in just enough calories to power your basic bodily functions; no more, no less.
If you wanted to lose weight, you would eat fewer calories than this. If you wanted to gain, well, you would eat more. When you take in more calories than your body is using, your body takes that excess energy and stores it as fat so that it can be used later. On the other hand, if you eat fewer calories, your body begins to break down that stored fat as its energy source.
So to maintain, you want your calories to hit right in the middle.
How to Determine Your Maintenance Calorie Level
The most accurate way to determine exactly how many calories you burn every day would be to participate in a metabolic test with a nutritionist or physician … but those can be pricey, and you can easily figure out an estimate at home using simple calculations.
Now, there are a ton of different equations you can use to determine how many calories you need daily, but we’ll keep it simple for now. The Benedict-Harris formula is one of the most dependable calculations for your estimated total daily energy expenditure, and is as follows:
- Males: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
- Females: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)
So, as an example, take a 5’6”, 34-year-old male who weighs 135 pounds. Convert his weight to kilograms (divide pounds by 2.2) and height to centimeters (multiply inches by 2.54).
Now let’s do some math!
- Height = 66 inches x 2.54 = 167.64 cm
- Weight = 135 pounds / 2.2 = 61.36 kg
- BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x 61.36 kg) + (4.799 x 167.64cm) – (5.677 x 34)
= 88.362 + (822.04) + (804.5) – (193.02)
= 1,521 calories daily
And if you don’t feel like breaking all that down and doing the math yourself, good news: there are plenty of online calculators that can do that work for you.
The Importance of Exercise
Now, this equation doesn’t take into account your activity level – and calorie expenditure is another major factor that plays into how your body loses, gains, or maintains its weight. Remember, your BMR is how many calories you need while resting. So you should also consider any physical activity you’re doing, and “take in” the same amount of calories you burned during your workout to stay at your maintenance level.
The Benedict-Harris formula also takes this into account and gives you a way to estimate how many calories you burn when taking your activity level into consideration.
There are different factors for different activity levels:
- Sedentary = 1.2
- Lightly active = 1.375
- Moderately active = 1.55
- Very active = 1.725
- Extra active = 1.9
To figure out how your exercise affects your BMR, you would simply take the BMR you found earlier and multiply it by whatever exercise level makes the most sense for you.
If we take the man from our earlier example and say that he is very active, you would use his BMR of 1,521 calories per day and multiply it by 1.725.
- 1,521 x 1.725 = 2,623 calories
So he would have to eat approximately 2,623 calories every day to maintain his body weight!
The equation can get a little subjective here – after all, how do you know for sure you’re working out hard enough to reach a certain activity level? – so use this equation as an estimate. It might also be a good idea to figure out exactly how many calories you burn from your exercise. The easiest way to do that would be by using a Fitbit or smartwatch, but keep in mind that these are also estimates.
It’s especially important to keep your activity level in mind when it comes to maintenance because it looks like exercise could be one of the main determining factors of how well you’re able to maintain your weight. There are plenty of studies that suggest that regular physical activity is an important part of weight maintenance, especially in individuals who previously lost weight. [*]
So be sure to keep your exercise and lifestyle in mind if you want to maintain your weight!
The Bottom Line
It’s a good idea to know how many calories your body burns on a daily basis for any weight goals you might have, whether it’s losing or gaining or somewhere in between. Keep this equation in your back pocket so that you can keep your weight exactly where you want it to be.
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