You would like to get rid of a few kilos? Then you need a calorie deficit. After all, you only lose weight when you use up more energy than you take in. But how many calories should you eat/burn per day to lose weight?
We answer these and other questions for you in this article. In the following you will learn what a calorie actually is, how you can calculate your individual calorie requirement and how many calories you should ultimately save in order to lose weight.
the essentials in brief
- A calorie is an obsolete unit of measurement for heat energy. Today we use the word calorie specifically as a measure of the energy that our food provides us.
- The daily calorie requirement of a person is made up of the sum of the basal metabolic rate and the performance metabolic rate. This value varies from person to person and depends on age, weight, height, gender and physical activity.
- If someone wants to lose weight, they should expend more energy than they take in. In order to lose weight in a healthy way, experts recommend a moderate calorie deficit.
Calorie requirement: The most important questions and answers
In this section we would like to answer the most important questions about calorie requirements. In particular, we want to address the all-important question: "How many calories should I be eating per day to lose weight?" .
What is a calorie?
The term "calorie" originally comes from the Latin word "calor" which means heat. It is therefore not surprising that a calorie (unit symbol cal ) is an outdated unit of measurement to measure energy, especially thermal energy. For example, a calorie is the amount of heat required to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. To heat 1 liter of water to 1 degree Celsius, you would need 1000 calories of heat, etc.
In 1949, the joule replaced the calorie as the physical unit of heat energy. (1) Today, the word calorie is primarily used as a unit of measure for the nutritional value of food. However, the "calories" we often talk about when it comes to food are actually kilocalories ( kcal for short). 1 kilocalorie equals 1000 calories.
So, in food science, a calorie is a unit of measurement for the energy obtained from food in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Consequently, the more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide.
What is the daily calorie requirement?
The daily calorie requirement of a person is primarily made up of two variables: the basal metabolic rate and the performance metabolic rate. Together, the two values then result in the so-called total turnover and thus the actual calorie consumption of a person that the body burns and therefore also needs at the same time.
basal metabolic rate
The basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy the body uses when it is in a state of absolute rest. The body needs this energy to keep vital bodily functions such as metabolism, respiration and blood circulation running. This value varies depending on age, weight, height and gender.
The performance turnover describes all additional calories that a person burns through mental and physical activities. These include, for example, sleeping, running, walking, sitting, standing, eating, speaking and much more.
The higher a person's activity level, the higher their power turnover.
The energy required for growth in children and adolescents, for the body's digestive activities and for regulating body heat also falls under the performance turnover. The performance conversion is given in PAL (physical activity level) .
The total turnover is formed by adding the basal turnover to the performance turnover. The result is the actual, daily calorie requirement of a person, which is needed to maintain the current weight and to supply the body with all the necessary nutrients.
How do I calculate my individual calorie requirement?
As already mentioned, you can calculate your individual calorie requirement , which shows you how many calories you need daily to maintain your weight, as follows:
Total turnover = basal turnover + performance turnover
You can calculate your daily basal metabolic rate using the "Harris-Benedict formula" , which was developed back in 1918. (2) The basal metabolic rate is then given in calories (kcal) per day (24 h).
Calculation of the basal metabolic rate in men
basal metabolic rate
Calculation of women's basal metabolic rate
basal metabolic rate
Women generally have a lower basal metabolic rate than men due to their lower percentage of muscle mass. During pregnancy, the value for a woman increases again.
Calculation of performance turnover
You calculate your performance using the so-called PAL value. In general, the PAL value defines the extent of a person's physical activity (see table).
Power Metabolic Rate = Basal Metabolic Rate x (PAL Value – 1)
You get the correct PAL value for calculating your performance expenditure by multiplying the corresponding PAL values by the number of hours of your activity and adding them up. To get your average PAL value, the total is then divided by 24. (3)
|1.2||Sitting, lying down, no leisure activities||Old people, wheelchair users|
|1.3 - 1.5||Mostly sedentary, little or no leisure activities||Office worker|
|1.6 - 1.7||Mostly sedentary with some standing and walking activities||Students, assembly line workers|
|1.8 - 1.9||Mainly standing and walking activities||Retail, craftsmen, mechanics, waiters|
|2.0 - 2.4||Strenuous physical activities||Athletes, construction workers|
In the end, you then only add your calculated basal metabolic rate to your calculated performance turnover and thus get your individual calorie requirement per day.
How many calories should I eat a day to lose weight?
Calories play a particularly important role when it comes to losing weight . Because if you want to lose weight, it is an advantage if you know your daily calorie requirement. As mentioned at the beginning, a person can only lose weight if they are in a calorie deficit. But which deficit is ideal and above all healthy?
Overall, the optimal amount of calories to lose weight is roughly the middle point between a person's basal and total metabolic rate. However, you should never fall below the basal metabolic rate, not even if you want to lose weight. Experts recommend a deficit of around 300 to 500 calories in order to lose weight in the long term, sustainably and above all in a healthy way. (4.5)
In order to be able to maintain your (new) weight later, you can then use the (new) total requirement as a guide. However, if the daily calories consumed exceed the total turnover, the body stores these calories again. (6.7)
How many calories should I burn a day to lose weight?
When it comes to losing weight, it's not just about the calories you eat, but also the calories you burn during the day. Sporting activities are a good lever to burn additional calories during the day. Not only the type of sport is decisive, but also the intensity.
Jogging is a great way to burn extra calories throughout the day. Compared to other sports, you can even achieve a very high calorie consumption when jogging. (Image source: Fitsum Admasu / Unsplash)
However, the calorie consumption during exercise is not that easy to define, as it depends on various factors and can differ from person to person. Gender, weight, muscle mass and heart rate can play an important role.
The table below shows you how many calories you can burn per hour with which type of sport. A person weighing 70 kg was chosen as the benchmark. (8th)
|sport||Calories burned per hour (kcal)|
|cross country skiing||833|
|to go biking||672|
If you want to lose weight with regular exercise, you should again stick to the recommended daily deficit of 300 to 500 calories.
One thing is clear: if you want to lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit. Knowing your individual calorie needs per day can be very helpful. Figuring this out is a matter of calculation. In addition to a person's basal metabolic rate, one can also calculate their performance turnover, i.e. how many calories they burn during physical activity.
Even if it is important to keep track of your personal calorie requirements when losing weight, you should never neglect joie de vivre. If you eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly with a moderate calorie deficit per day, nothing should stand in the way of a healthy weight loss.
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