Daily Calorie Intake
Recommended daily calorie intake varies from person to person, but there are guidelines for calorie requirements you can use as a starting point.
Public Health England (PHE) recommend a daily calorie intake of 2000 calories per day for women and 2500 for men.
PHE’s recommendations are averaged for men and women aged 19-65 and are quite a blunt instrument. As with all averages, the numbers conceal wide differences in the daily calories required for individuals.
Most people are probably aware that a builder needs more calories than an office worker, but differences in calorie requirements go well beyond physical activity levels. The main ones being:
- Height (this can seem quite harsh when you’re a little shorter than average)
- Body composition (a pound of muscle burns more calories in a day than a pound of fat)
There are secondary issues that may affect your daily requirements, such as a health condition that affects your metabolism and/or certain drugs.
You can look up the basic calorie intake to maintain your current weight in the charts below. Bear in mind that if you are overweight, you’ll need consume less than the amount shown to bring your weight down.
Use the calculator below to see if you might need to reduce calories to lose weight.
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Calorie Requirements Charts
The tables show daily calorie needs for men and women of different weights, at different levels of normal daily activity and show the daily intake needed to maintain weight at its current level.
If you want to lose weight you will need to create a calorie deficit by consuming less than this amount.
Calories Per Day Required to Maintain Weight - Adult Women
Table based on females aged 30-60.
Calories Required to Maintain Weight - Adult Men
Table based on males aged 30-60
What’s Your Basic Activity Level?
The daily calorie allowances in the tables are given for your general level of activity, additional calories should be added to this for specific exercise sessions like going for a run, swim, cycle or brisk walk. (These additional calories are a great incentive to get some exercise whether you want to lose or maintain weight.)
Use this level if you spend most of your day working at a desk and most of your evening on the sofa.
Use this level if you move around quite a lot for much of the day.
The Difference that Age Makes
It’s important to realise that, unless we are massively active, our calorie needs reduce as we get older. So, all other things being equal, a 30-year-old man will burn quite a lot more than his 55 year old dad.
That’s why many of us end up with so-called middle age spread. Our calorie needs reduce but we don’t adjust our calorie intake downwards to match them.
How Many Calories Do We Actually Eat?
In the UK, national estimates of average calorie intakes are bamboozled by our actual behaviour.
A recent paper published by the ONS Data Science Campus, showed that the majority of us dramtically underestimate the number of calories we consume.
On average people underestimated by a third (32%):
- Men reported consuming 2065 calories per day, but actually ate and drank 3119 calories
- Women said they consumed 1570 calories per day, but actually ate and drank 2393 calories
People often don't really think about the calories in what they drink, don't know how many calories in what they're eating and/or tend to underestimate portion sizes.
You can test how good your own estimating is with the new wlr Visual Food Diary. Take some pics, estimate the calories, then check some of your estimates in the Calorie Food Diary.
Factors Affecting Daily Calorie Intake
It’s clear that many of us consume more calories than we need, of ten without really being conscious of overeating. Here’s three main ways, often connected, that excess calories creep in under the radar:
Sleep deprivation has come to the fore as a major contributor to excess calorie consumption in recent years, research shows that the sleep deprived eat an extra 385 calories a day.
Between meal snacking, especially on high sugar/highly processed convenience snacks. You can down a lot of calories in a very short time without feeling full.
Portion sizes, and therefore calories, have increased in recent years, this report from the British Heart Foundation shows the size of the problem.
What Should My Calorie Intake Be to Lose Weight?
In order to lose weight, you need to eat less calories per day than your body needs.
- To lose 1lb a week you need a negative calorie balance of 500 calories per day.
- To lose weight at 2lb a week you need to reduce your calorie intake by 1000 calories a day.
For some women this means that losing weight at a rate of 2lbs a week would result in a daily calorie allowance that is too low and not sustainable. Since men need more calories than women they will rarely run into this problem.
If this is the case for you, and you want to lose weight at the fastest healthy rate for you, we recommend a calorie allowance of 1100 to 1200 per day.
If you’re going to be happy losing a steady 1lb a week, your ideal calorie intake would be around 1500 a day. This allows for a reasonably satisfying amount of food and enough flexibility to enjoy social events involving food and drink – especially if you view your calorie allowance in the context of a week.
On wlr we have an absolute minimum of 1100. This is because it becomes hard to make sure that you get enough nutrients from a wide variety of foods at lower levels of intake. That’s why very low calorie diets (VLCDs) tend to be based on meal replacement shakes and should only be undertaken with supervision from a health professional.
For examples of what the resulting calorie allowance would be for different people, at different rates of weight loss, see our article on calories needed to lose weight.
The best way of controlling your calorie intake is by setting yourself a limit and monitoring how many you consume. Try keeping a food diary to see where you are now and what changes you could make to reduce calories.
Weight Loss Resources provides a personalised calorie allowance that works for the amount of weight you want to lose at the rate you choose, within healthy limits. The tools include food and exercise diaries, UK calorie and nutrition database, and progress trackers. Try it free, no card needed, you'll learn a lot in a short session or two.
to lose, maintain, or gain weight. You can set a weight loss goal and see how many calories you need each day to get there - Try it Free.