What follows is the simplest and perhaps most accurate way to calculate maintenance calories as a beginner.

Why is it important to know your calorie maintenance level? Because net energy balance – total calories in versus the total calories out – is the foundation of an effective nutrition plan.

If you want to build muscle, you have to consume more calories than you burn. And if you want to lose fat, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn.

To do that, you first need to know your calorie maintenance level. You can then determine how many calories you need to be in an optimal calorie surplus or deficit.

Calculating calorie maintenance is the first step of setting up a nutrition plan. It forms the foundation on which you determine things like your macronutrient breakdown and food selection.

The Problem With Most Online Calorie Calculators

Most people use calculators found on the internet to determine their calorie maintenance level. 

There are a bunch of different ones out there. These include the Harris-Benedict formula, the Katch-McArdle formula, and various bodyweight multipliers.

All those methods can have their place. They can work fine for some people, particularly those with a moderate body fat percentage and a somewhat average activity level.

The downside is that they can be inaccurate depending on the person, as well as other factors involved. One reason is that differences in body fat percentage have an impact on someone’s resting metabolic rate.

The more lean mass you carry, the more calories you will burn on any given day. (This is not even considering that it can be hard to calculate body fat percentage accurately.)

Also, your lifestyle greatly impacts your calorie expenditure. An active job or walking a lot can raise total energy expenditure by several hundred, or even more than a thousand calories per day.

Sure, the activity multipliers that go with those calculators consider this factor. But it is often not accurate enough. For example, different people have different ideas of what “lightly active” or “moderately active” means. 

Use This Simple Method Instead To Calculate Calorie Maintenance Calories

This straightforward method is also not perfect: no method for calculating calorie maintenance is. But assuming that your body weight has been somewhat stable over previous weeks you’ve been tracking, it is quite accurate.

(If your body weight has varied a lot over the last week, this will not be a valid method. You would then be better off by using an online calculator.)

So, what is this method that I am referring to? Well, instead of using a pre-set calorie calculator and adjusting your food intake to that number, you do the opposite.

You start with calculating how many calories that you eat right now. Assuming that your body weight was stable over the last few weeks, that represents your calorie maintenance figure.

If your body weight has been consistent and your activity level has not fluctuated significantly, the daily amount of food you are eating is what you need to maintain your current weight. 

The maintenance calories are already there in front of you. You just need to add them up. 

So, start by logging your diet for about a week and eat as usual. Then, use a nutrition tracking app to add up all the calories or do it by hand.

Make sure to account for every food, snack, and caloric drink item that goes into your mouth.

Find out what your daily average is, and then use that as your estimated calorie maintenance level. 

From there, you can apply a calorie surplus if you want to gain weight, or a calorie deficit if your goal is to lean down.

Again, this method is not perfect. But if you execute it properly, it is most likely more accurate than using a pre-set calculator.

Remember: no matter what calorie calculation method you use, you should treat it as an estimated starting point.

You will need to track your body weight closely and adjust your calorie intake if it is going up too quickly or going down too slowly. 

If you found this article helpful, make sure to sign up for your FREE custom fitness plan below...

custom fitness plan