So, you’ve reached your goal, and now would like to know how many calories to maintain that weight?
Well, weight maintenance calorie consumption and expenditure depends on several things such as your age, weight, height, gender, lifestyle activities, and your overall health. And depending on where you live, different countries have set different requirements for maintaining your weight.
The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom recommends:
Average adult male = 2,500 calories per day
Average adult female = 2,000 calories per day
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends:
Average adult male = 2,700 calories per day
Average adult female = 2,200 calories per day
And the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests the same maintenance calories for everyone, worldwide:
So, what, or whom, should you believe?
Simply counting calories and making sure to eat appropriate portion sizes while not paying attention to what you are actually eating may not only be bad for your health, but could totally sabotage your efforts! Insulin levels rise much higher and faster after eating carbohydrates than after eating proteins or fats (which show no insulin rise at all). Foods made with refined flour are “fast carbohydrates” that get into the bloodstream as glucose (a form of sugar) a lot faster than other foods and can actually make you fatter due to insulin resistance and “storage mode”, while coarse oatmeal is a slow-release carbohydrate, which is better for weight control, insulin control, and overall health.
As you can probably guess from the above, a 500-calorie meal consisting of a salad, with some olive oil, and fish or meat, followed by a piece of fruit is a much healthier choice and will keep you from being hungry for a longer period of time than a 500-calorie snack of cookies and a glass of milk, or a chocolate-frosted doughnut.
OK, so if you are still determined to count calories, let’s go back to your question of “how many calories to maintain weight?” Well, let’s take another approach so you can see where you stand. Approximately 20% of our body’s energy requirements are used for brain functioning. The rest is used for basal metabolic requirements (BMR), such as calories used when in a resting state, or for system functioning such blood circulation, cell respiration, breathing, regulating body temperature and basic digestion and elimination. Plus we need at least some of that energy for holding our posture and moving around.
In other words, we NEED calories to stay alive and maintain the status quo and we definitely need enough so that we can move around and get our next meal. But how many calories to maintain that weight?
One way to answer your question is to use the Harris-Benedict formula, which is an equation used to estimate a human’s BMR (basal metabolic rate) and daily requirements. The BMR is then multiplied by a physical activity number and the result is the recommended daily calorie intake to maintain the current weight.
This equation however, does have some limitations. It does not take into account the various levels of muscle mass-to-fat mass ratios. This is important because a muscular person needs more calories even when resting than the average flabby couch potato with the same BMR.
Step 1. Calculate your BMR
Step 2. Multiply your current level of physical activity with your BMR
Sedentary lifestyle – very little or no exercise at all – Your daily calorie requirements are BMR x 1.2
Slightly active lifestyle – light exercise between once and three times per week – Your daily calorie requirements are BMR x 1.375
Moderately active lifestyle – moderate exercise three to five days per week – Your daily calorie requirements are BMR x 1.55
Active lifestyle – intensive/heavy exercise six to seven times per week – Your daily calorie requirements are BMR x 1.725
Very active lifestyle – very heavy/intensive exercise twice a day (extra heavy workouts) – Your daily calorie requirements are BMR x 1.9
Step 3. Adjust the resulting “daily calorie requirement” number to fit your muscle mass, or your fat mass, whichever you feel you lean towards, to maintain weight.
Now, once you’ve determined how many calories are necessary for maintenance, you can’t just eat them and expect to stay where you are. If you exercised your way down (or up) to this particular weight, you need to continue it to keep your metabolism running high and to avoid insulin resistance.
You can load up on the required calories, but when insulin tries to push the resulting glucose into the muscles, which is its first choice, the muscles are going to say “Uh, no thanks! This guy is just going to be sitting at the computer all day, and then going home to play with the remote control all night…take it somewhere else!”. And guess where glucose takes it next? Yep, those now nicely empty fat cells get to start storing glucose all over again, and your maintenance plan just flew out the window along with your metabolism that is now slowing down because you are no longer burning as many calories as you once were.
So don’t use the lower maintenance calories as an excuse to drop your exercise routine. Hopefully, when you embarked on the weight loss (or gain) journey, you chose a diet and exercise program you could stick with for life. If not….time to adjust your thinking, and find an exercise you can enjoy until the very end.