How To Calculate Calories You Need to Eat to Lose Fat or Build Muscle

How many calories should I eat to lose fat? What about to gain muscle?

Those are the two questions that I get a lot from people.

To get to where you want in terms of your physique it’s important to work hard on your diet and nutrition as much as you do in the gym. In fact, when it comes to losing fat or building muscle your results will mainly be determined by your nutrition plan . You can work out all you want for hours and hours, but if you don’t keep track of your calorie and/or macronutrient intake you won’t get the results you want.

Calculating Your Maintenance Calories

The first thing you need to do is to figure out your calorie maintenance. This is the amount of calories you need to eat in order to maintain your current weight.

A quick and easy way to figure this out is by multiplying your weight by 12 if you have a sedentary lifestyle, 14 if you are moderately active (you work out 3-4 times/week), or 16 if you are very active (5-7 times/week). So for a 200 lb Average Joe who goes to the gym 3 times a week, his maintenance would be around 2800.

Of  course, there are few other factors that will determine your maintenance calories so the most accurate way is to use a calorie calculator like this one. Just input in your age, gender, weight, height, and exercise level to figure out your maintenance. Remember that even if it calculates it for you, it still isn’t perfect.

How Many Calories For Fat Loss?

Now that you know your maintenance calories, it’s time to figure out how much calories you need to consume in order to lose fat.

The only way to lose fat is to be in a calorie deficit, meaning that you’re expending more calories than you consume. It’s pretty easy to figure this out. A good starting point would be to subtract 300-500 calories from your maintenance. This is the maximum amount of calories you should consume in order for you to lose fat. Why isn’t it an absolute number? Simply because your activity level is always going to be different each and every day. You might also need to do some tweaking depending on whether you’re weight is budging or not.

So if your maintenance was 2000 calories, for example, you’d need to eat between 1500 to 1700 calories in order to lose fat. When someone uses the term “cutting”, this is what they are referring to. As long as you don’t go over the magic numbers you should lose up to 1 pound a week.

How Many Calories For Muscle Gain?

Gaining muscle requires you to be in a calorie surplus. It’s what most people call “bulking up”.

In order to bulk, you have to ADD 300 to 500 calories to your maintenance. If you’re a hardgainer who can barely put on any weight, you might need to consume more than 500 calories. Again, that’s why it’s a range instead of an absolute number. Remember though to not eat too much unless you want to put on some unnecessary fat. Eating more calories than your body needs doesn’t mean that you’ll put on more muscle.


The key thing to remember when it comes to your diet is to figure out your daily caloric intake to maintain your weight. From there, you can easily adjust your calorie intake depending on your goal. So for example:

200 pound man

Maintenance: 200 x 14 = 2800-ish calories per day

Cutting: 2800 – 500 = 2300-ish calories per day

Bulking:  2800 + 500 = 3300-ish calories per day