When it comes to food energy intake, most people are often concerned with figuring out their calorie deficit so they may shed any excess weight that they are carrying. While this is important information to have, not everyone is looking to lose weight. Some are quite comfortable with where they are and would like to know how to find maintenance calories to keep them at their current weight.
While the issue of maintenance calories may not be as widely discussed as that of caloric deficit it is no less important. Finding out your calories to maintain weight is a good way to keep you on track with your fitness goals, ensuring that you do not lose any more weight or gain any extra unwanted pounds.
What Are Calories And Why Are They Important?
Before digging more into how to accurately find maintenance calories, it is first important for you to understand what a calorie is, what a calorie deficit is and what are maintenance calories:
- Calorie. This is a unit of energy that equates to the approximate amount of energy required to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius (6).
- Calorie deficit. Also known as an energy deficit, it is when you consume less food energy intake than what your body requires on a day to day basis. The main reason why people do this is to help them shed a few extra pounds.
- Maintenance calories. According to healthline.com, maintenance calories are the exact number of calories your body needs to support energy expenditure. In layman’s terms, these are the exact number of calories that you need to consume to prevent any weight loss or gain – this number serves to maintain the current state.
What Factors Determine Your Daily Calorie Intake?
Another thing to realize before figuring out how to accurately find maintenance calories, is the simple fact that daily food energy intake differs from person to person. When it comes to daily calorie intake, there are multiple factors that affect how much food energy intake a person requires. Some of these factors have been outlined in the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and they include (1):
- Age. Children, teens, as well as young adults often require more energy not only because they are still growing and developing, but also because more often than not they are more active and have faster metabolisms than older people.
- Height. Shorter people need fewer calories than taller people to maintain their weight (3).
- Gender/Sex. According to a 2000 study by the Journal of Applied Physiology, on average, men have about 36 percent more skeletal muscle than women (8). This excess muscle contributes to males having a higher basal metabolic rate which means they burn more calories than women just through usual bodily processes and functions.
- Activity level. The more active you are, the more food you need to consume for your body to have enough energy to help you keep up with your daily activities.
- Body size and composition. The larger and heavier you are, the more food energy intake you will require as compared to a smaller person.
Some other factors that can affect this include:
- Occupation. People with more physically demanding jobs need to eat more than those who spend their days stuck behind a desk.
- Illness. Sick people may be required to eat more than usual, not only to give their bodies the energy required to recover, but also to give them important disease fighting nutrients.
- Special needs. Pregnant and breastfeeding women will often eat more than others their age and weight as they need to provide enough food and nutrients for their foetus or infant. The CDC recommends an additional 450 to 500 kilocalories (kcal) of healthy food calories per day for breastfeeding mothers (7).
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How To Find My Optimal Maintenance Calories?
While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that the daily estimated calorie intake range for men and women is from 2,000 to 3,200 per day and from 1,600 to 2,200 per day, respectively, the numbers give too wide a range for anyone to use them as their maintenance calories (5).
For you to find out how much food energy intake you need to maintain your current weight, the simplest way to do this is by using an online calorie maintenance calculator. If you are wondering ‘how to find my maintenance calories’ using this online calculator, the steps are quite simple. You will be required to enter:
- Your age in years
- Height (in feet and inches if using US units or in centimeters if using metric units)
- Weight (in pounds if on US units or kgs if using metric units)
- Level of usual/weekly physical activity – which ranges from inactive/sedentary to very active. Some sites will also have the option to just use your BMR for this.
Once all this is filled in, the site will do the math for you and give you a close estimate of what your maintenance calories should be.
How To Find Maintenance Calories By Hand?
If you are not looking to have some site do the calculations for you, then you can opt to get a pen and paper and find your ideal food energy intake to remain at the same weight. To do this you will be required to first determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and then your total daily energy expenditure.
Over the years, scientists have come up with multiple BMR calculations but as of today only three – Harris-Benedict, WHO/FAO/ONU and Mifflin-St Jeor (MJ) methods – are commonly used. Despite their common use, however, it is important to note that scientific groups continue to debate on which of these three is the most accurate equation to offer the best results (4, 2).
To help you decipher how to find maintenance calories, we are going to be showing you the Revised Harris-Benedict equation and the Mifflin-St Jeor Formula:
- Revised Harris-Benedict equation for men = 88.4 + (13.4 x weight in kg) + (4.8 x height in cm) – (5.68 x age in years)
- Revised Harris-Benedict equation for women = 447.6 + (9.25 x weight in kg) + (3.10 x height in cm) – (4.33 x age in years)
- Mifflin-St Jeor Formula For Men = (9.99 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in centimeters) – (4.92 x age) + 5
- Mifflin-St Jeor Formula For Women = (9.99 x weight in kilograms) + (6.25 x height in centimeters) – (4.92 x age) – 161
Using either one of these calculations helps you find your BMR, but this is not all. To obtain a more realistic value for maintaining your current weight you will have to find your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) by including your daily activity levels in the calculations. Here is how to do it:
- Sedentary lifestyle (very little to no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active (light exercise/sports activity for 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports events 6-7 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
- Very active (hard exercise every day, or exercising 2x/day) = BMR x 1.725
- Extra active (hard exercise 2 or more times per day, athletes, professional sportsmen and women, etc.) = BMR x 1.9
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How To Find Your Maintenance Calories Women: Why Is The Formula Different For Men And Women?
As you have seen above, while the Revised Harris-Benedict equation and the Mifflin-St Jeor Formula use the same variables in determining BMR (age, weight, and height) the formulas are quite distinct in differentiating between men and women. Even online calorie calculators will require you to input your gender before telling you what your maintenance calories should be.
So, why is this?
The matter goes back to the simple fact that men and women are built differently, especially in terms of muscle. As seen above in the 2000 study by the Journal of Applied Physiology, men have significantly more muscle than women.
Not only does the extra muscle make them stronger physically, but it also means that their bodies store less fat and burn calories much faster than women’s bodies. At the end of the day even if a man and a woman are of the same age, weigh the same, are probably the same height, and may even do the same exercises, the woman cannot consume the same food energy intake as the man. She would end up gaining weight while he remained the same weight.
How To Find Your Maintenance Calories Bodybuilding?
A bodybuilder who wishes to maintain his weight and not risk cutting or bulking will still use the same methods listed above. These equations work not only for normal people, but also for athletes as well.
An important fact to note, however, is that maintenance calories are not set in stone. Because they rely on many different factors – and especially your physical activity level, you do have to calculate them periodically but most especially, if you change how much you workout per day/week.
The Bottom Line
Figuring out how to find your maintenance calories is not as hard as one may think, especially with the easy use of an online calorie maintenance calculator. If you have reached your ideal weight and would like to stay the same, be sure to do these simple calculations and find out exactly how much food energy you need per day to keep your hard earned results.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (n.d., health.gov)
- Analysis of Predictive Equations for Estimating Resting Energy Expenditure in a Large Cohort of Morbidly Obese Patients (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Body mass index is increasing faster among taller persons (2008, academic.oup.com)
- Comparison of predictive equations for resting metabolic rate in healthy nonobese and obese adults: a systematic review (2005, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How Many Calories Do Adults Need? (2021, eatright.org)
- Illustrated Glossary of Organic Chemistry (n.d., chem.ucla.edu)
- Maternal Diet (2020, cdc.gov)
- Skeletal muscle mass and distribution in 468 men and women aged 18–88 yr (2000, journals.physiology.org)