So many calories a day is ideal

So viel Kalorien am Tag sind optimal

Are you unsure of your daily calorie needs? Do you have doubts about whether you are consuming too many or too few calories and whether you are harming your body? Then you've come to the right place with your questions.

In this article, we explain how you can determine your daily calorie requirement and which factors play a role in this. Do you want to lose weight or build muscle? We will show you what you need to consider in order to achieve your individual goal.

the essentials in brief

  • Your daily calorie requirement results from your basal metabolic rate and your performance turnover. The sum of these results in your individual total turnover and describes the amount of calories your body needs per day.
  • Various factors play a role in calculating your calorie needs. These include gender, height, weight, age, type of work and activity.
  • In order to achieve your personal goal (lose weight, build muscle, maintain weight), you should use your total sales as a guide. From there you can create a calorie deficit or calorie surplus.

How many calories do I need a day: What you should know about it

Below you will find an overview of what your individual calorie requirement results from. We will show you which different factors are important in the calculation and how you can achieve your goal (lose weight or build muscle).

How many calories do I consume per day?

Your body constantly uses energy throughout the day. Both when walking, sitting and sleeping. The body draws the energy it needs from food to maintain its functions.

Your body burns energy all the time, even while sitting and sleeping.

Examples of biological processes in your body include heartbeat, breathing and brain function. The energy requirement for each individual movement or muscle activity and digestion should not be underestimated.

The daily calorie requirement is made up of the basal metabolic rate and the performance turnover that you accomplish on the respective day. The total sales then show you your actual calorie requirement per day.

basal metabolic rate

The basal metabolic rate only describes how many calories your body needs in a completely resting state in order to maintain all important functions. No other activities such as exercise or sport are considered here. The calories of your basal metabolic rate therefore include all activities and functions of the body that are not actively controlled, but only run in the background.

In people who do not move much, 60-70% of the daily energy requirement is due to the basal metabolic rate, in endurance athletes only 40-50%. (1) The basal metabolic rate is influenced by various factors such as gender, age, height and weight and is individually different for each person. In addition, pregnancy or muscle building also lead to an increase in the basal metabolic rate.

performance turnover

Physical activities and movement in general are not taken into account in the basal metabolic rate. Here one speaks of power turnover. This means the additional amount of energy that is used by the body through sport or other activities. The performance turnover varies, depending on the extent of your physical activity. So it plays a role here whether you spend most of your day sitting or rather standing or even walking. The more you move, the higher your performance turnover.

The performance turnover is calculated using the so-called PAL value (Physical Activity Level). This is a measure of your physical activity and is multiplied by your basal metabolic rate to determine your energy needs. You can find your personal PAL value in the following table: (2)

PAL value Intensity of work and leisure time
1.2-1.3 exclusively sedentary or recumbent lifestyle
1.4-1.5 sedentary occupation with little or no strenuous leisure activity
1.6-1.7 exclusively sedentary work, at times also additional energy expenditure for walking and standing activities, little or no strenuous leisure activities
1.8-1.9 mainly walking and standing work
2.0-2.4 Physically demanding professional work or very active leisure activities

The PAL value represents your individual activity level. It is clear that the value increases the more active you are.

total sales

Your total turnover results from the sum of basal turnover and performance turnover. This is then used to derive your calorie requirement, which you can consume without noticing a change in your weight. However, the individual energy requirement differs between men and women. (3)

Below we show you a table with guide values ​​for daily energy intake. A distinction is made between age and gender. The values ​​are given both in kilojoules (kJ) and kilocalories (kcal) and relate to people with a predominantly sedentary occupation. (4)

Old Men Women
15 to under 19 years 10,460kJ/2,500kcal 8,370kJ/2,000kcal
19 to under 25 years 10,460kJ/2,500kcal 7,950kJ/1,900kcal
25 to under 51 years 10,040kJ/2,400kcal 7,950kJ/1,900kcal
51 to under 65 years 9,200kJ/2,200kcal 7,530kJ/1,800kcal
65 years and older 8,370kJ/2,000kcal 6,700kJ/1,600kcal

However, the values ​​only serve as a guide and are individually different depending on the physical conditions.

How is the individual calorie requirement calculated?

When calculating the daily requirement , several factors play a role. Accordingly, it depends on gender, body size, body weight, age, type of work and other activities. We explain the exact influence of the individual factors again below:

  • Gender: Men usually have a higher calorie requirement than women. This is mainly because men have greater muscle mass and less body fat than women .
  • Body size: Smaller people have lower calorie requirements than larger ones because less mass and size has to be supplied.
  • Body weight: Weight plays an important role because heavier people require more energy to move their bodies.
  • Age: The calorie requirement decreases with age because the metabolism is optimized and muscle mass decreases.
  • Type of work: If you spend most of the day sitting down (office job), your calorie requirement is significantly lower than if you exert yourself physically or stand all day.
  • Activity: The more you move, do sports, etc., the greater your calorie needs.

It becomes clear that both physical conditions and your activity influence your daily calorie requirement and are included in the calculation. If you move a lot at work or in your free time, your calorie requirement also increases.

What is the calorie requirement for children?

Children's calorie needs differ from adults. However, the energy requirement of children also depends on a number of factors. Age, gender and physical activity play a decisive role. Children need sufficient energy for growth, tissue maintenance and thermogenesis.

Calculator on a notebook next to a pen

There are a number of factors to consider when calculating your daily calorie needs. (Image source: recha oktaviani / Unsplash)

Small children have a two to three times higher calorie requirement in relation to their body weight. (5) While the energy requirement per kg of body weight is relatively high during the growth phase, the value continues to decrease until adulthood.

How Many Calories Should You Consume to Lose Weight?

When you set a goal to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit. So your body needs to burn more calories than it takes in. The optimal energy requirement is roughly halfway between your basal metabolic rate and your total metabolic rate.

A calorie deficit will help you lose weight and improve your health.

Accordingly, even a small deficit of 300 to 500 calories is sufficient to lose weight safely in the long term. At the same time, a study shows that such a deficit not only helps to lose weight, but also improves some health values. (6.7)

Anyone who takes on too large a calorie deficit or even goes hungry harms his body. You should therefore consume enough energy so that your nutrient intake is sufficient and the metabolism is stimulated . In addition, starvation encourages food cravings, which in turn have the opposite result.

What is the calorie requirement to build muscle?

When building muscle, calorie intake is the opposite of losing weight. So if you want to build muscle, you need to consume more calories than you expend. Your body can only create additional muscle tissue if it is given additional energy. Of course, you have to do weight training so that your body doesn't only produce fat mass instead of the desired muscles.

Dumbbell next to plate

In order to build muscle, you have to do strength training in addition to a calorie surplus and pay attention to the right diet. (Image Source: zuzyusa / Pixabay)

In addition, the right diet plays a major role in muscle building . So you have to provide your body with the essential nutrients. Protein intake is particularly important, since proteins provide the building blocks for muscle tissue. (8th)

What is the calorie requirement for pregnant women?

During pregnancy, in addition to your own energy needs, you also have to take care of the child. This increases the calorie requirement. However, the utilization of food is relatively good, so that the calorie requirement is only increased by 5-10%, but not doubled. (9)


In this guide you have learned how to determine your daily calorie requirement and which factors are important. In addition to your physical condition such as your gender, age, height and weight, your activity is also an important criterion.

Children and pregnant women must each make sure to consume more calories. Depending on whether you want to maintain your weight, lose weight or build muscle, you should consider different things. You can either fall below or exceed your daily calorie requirement in order to achieve your personal goal in the long term.


  1. Review of widely used formulas for estimating the basal energy metabolism, the maximum heart rate and the maximum oxygen uptake in Swiss subjects with different anthropometric conditions, Tim Zoller, August 2018 Source
  2. Reference Values ​​for Nutrient Intakes, 5th updated edition 2019 Source
  3. Kreymann G, Adolph M, & Müller MJ (2007). 3 Energy expenditure and energy intake. Current Nutritional Medicine, 32(S1), S8-S12. Source
  4. How many calories do we need?, 2020 Source
  5. Fröschl, N., Bruckmüller M., Dieminger B., Kiefer I., Zwiauer K., Basic literature report on nutrition for one to three year old children, AGES, BMG & HVB, 2014: 20-24 Source
  6. Kraus WE, Bhapkar M, Huffman KM, Pieper CF, Das SK, Redman LM, ... & CALERIE Investigators. (2019). 2 years of calorie restriction and cardiometabolic risk (CALERIE): exploratory outcomes of a multicentre, phase 2, randomized controlled trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 7(9), 673-683. Source
  7. What happens in the body if you do without 300 calories a day., 2019 Source
  8. Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Apr;24(2):127-38. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2013-0054. Epub 2013 Oct 2. PMID: 24092765. Source
  9. Wenger, R. (1964). Nutrition during and after pregnancy. In Dietetics (pp. 200-202). Springer, Vienna. Source
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