Learning how to calculate my maintenance calories was instrumental in my journey. I went from a scrawny teenager (and early adult), to a fairly muscular adult that is comfortable in my own skin.
On the other hand, I have a friend who was obese, and is now in good shape. Why? Because he learned how to calculate his maintenance calories.
Once you learn how to find your maintenance calories, you now have the superpower of deciding which direction you want to go with your body. Do you want to put on more muscle? Do you want to lose stubborn fat? Anything is possible when you know your maintenance calories.
Ok, so what are maintenance calories? These are how many calories your body needs to consume to neither lose weight or gain weight. If we want our body to simply never change, this is the state we want to be in.
Most people are in a constant state of going for the next best thing, so staying where you are might seem counterintuitive. But, that is not why we are going to find our maintenance calories.
We are going to set the baseline for our goals, and set ourselves up for a future where WE are in control of the outcome of our decisions.
Step 1: Download MyFitnessPal (Or other calorie tracking app)
You probably already knew this, but yes, you are going to be counting calories. So many people spend their lives avoiding calorie counting, yet they are unhappy with the way that they look.
MyFitnessPal actually makes it very easy to count your calories. Their database is enormous, and their barcode scanner is extremely convenient.
If it wasn’t for MyFitnessPal, I would have never put on an ounce of muscle. I simply did not know how many calories I was eating. It turns out, I was not eating enough. Once I found out how to calculate my maintenance calories, my success skyrocketed.
Step 2: Weigh yourself
This is a very important step, because we need a baseline for what we are about to do in the next 2 weeks.
We recommend that you weigh yourself when you first wake up in the morning, after going to the bathroom, and before drinking/eating anything.
This is the most accurate way to measure yourself. When you weigh yourself again, make sure you weigh at the same time and circumstance.
Step 3: Track everything that you eat for 2 weeks
The toughest part is starting, but you need to commit to track everything that you eat. EVERYTHING. That sugar that you put in your coffee every morning? Weigh it with a DIGITAL FOOD SCALE. Those potato chips you had for lunch? Scan it into MyFitnessPal. The steak dinner that you had? Weigh everything out and add it in.
The key takeaway here is that we need to weigh everything. Don’t lie to yourself and say that something doesn’t matter. Everything matters. And even eating 100 calories per day over maintenance can cause weight gain over several years.
There is something that I want to stress here about tracking every calorie. Do not try and be someone you are not during this exercise. What do I mean by that? Don’t try to eat differently than you normally do.
Our goal here is to find out exactly how many calories you NORMALLY eat. Do this for 2 weeks, and then we can move on to our next step.
Step 4: Calculate your current calorie intake
You have tracked all of your calories for the past 14 days. It was annoying at first, but now that you are in the groove of things, it isn’t as torturous as you gave it credit for.
Now that you have a bunch of data, it is time to do some calculating. Add up the TOTAL calories for the past 14 days, and then divide that number by 14. That is going to be your average daily calorie intake.
Here is an example. 14 day total 37,646/14 = 2,689 (Your average daily calorie intake)
What has your body been doing recently? Are you losing weight? Gaining weight? Staying put?
Let’s move on to the next step to learn where to go from here.
Step 5: How to calculate my maintenance calories
You now have the groundwork of what it takes to calculate your maintenance calories. Since you have your average daily intake for the past 2 weeks, this next part is simple.
In the previous step, we asked you what your body has been doing recently. Losing weight, gaining weight, or staying where you are. This is very important, because that is going to determine your maintenance calories.
Reference your weight from before we started tracking. The formula is simple.
If you have lost weight in the past 2 weeks, increase your calorie intake by 500 calories per day, and eat that way for a week. If you are still losing weight, repeat this process every week until you haven’t lost weight for a week. There are your maintenance calories.
If you have gained weight in the past 2 weeks, decrease your calorie intake by 500 calories per day, and eat like this for a week. If you are still gaining weight, repeat this process every week until you haven’t lost weight for a week. You now have your maintenance calories.
If you haven’t gained or lost any weight in the past 2 weeks, congrats! You have effectively calculated your maintenance calories.
Now that you have successfully calculated your maintenance calories, it’s time to start talking about fitness goals. What do you want out of life? Do you want to be a muscular person? Are you going to be shredded? Do you want to not be overweight?
If you want to add weight, simply start by eating 500 calories per day OVER your maintenance. If you want to lose weight, eat 500 calories per day BELOW your maintenance calories.
It is important to note, that your body will change, and this will be a continuous process. Depending on your goals, you want to be either gaining or losing a half pound to a pound per week. If it’s less than that, it’s time to either restrict (lose weight) or add (gain weight) 500 more calories per day.
Step 6: Workout to your goals
You have the discipline it takes to make it this far, so we might as well accelerate our goals with working out. We made an app to help guide you through workouts and track your progress. It’s called All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play) and it is FREE!
If you are looking to lose weight, I highly recommend a combination of weight training and beginner HIIT workouts. A simple weight training routine of 3 days per week, and HIIT workouts 2-3 days per week will get the job done.
If you are trying to build muscle, I recommend just weight training 3-4 days per week. Assuming you are eating enough food, those extra calories will be turned into muscle. For those who have struggled to gain muscle, I wrote an article that helps you go from skinny to muscular easily.
Main Point: Calculating your maintenance calories will change your life
The most important thing to do here is just start. If you can show some discipline here, you will make some incredible progress towards your body goals. Any body that you want can be attained.
To recap, let’s look at a condensed version of our steps:
First Step: Download MyFitnessPal
Second Step: Weigh Yourself (Early morning. After Bathroom. Before food or water)
Third Step: Track Everything you eat for 2 weeks
Fourth Step: Calculate your current calorie intake
Fifth Step: How to calculate your maintenance calories. (Lost weight – Increase calories by 500 per day for a week until you haven’t lost weight. Gained weight – Decrease calories by 500 per day for a week until you haven’t lost weight. Stay the same – That is your maintenance calories)
Sixth Step: Download All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play)
If you are looking to set up your own personal gym inside your home, check out our list of best home workout equipment on Amazon.