How To Calculate Calories For Fat Loss, Muscle Gain, and Maintenance

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


  1. Mark says

    80% Diet? If that’s true, then explain to me how Russian powerlifters got as big and strong as they did back in the day eating hardly anything but bread and potatoes…

    • Von says

      If it was true or not that Russian powerlifters got as big and strong as they did eating only bread and potatoes, it doesn’t mean that we should do the same.

      • Mark says

        I understand that it’s important to eat healthy….but your not going to get big and strong (gain muscle) just eating healthy. If you don’t put in the work your eating health is just going to add up to healthy stools and a few more years to your life.

        • Von says

          I wasn’t advocating “healthy eating” at all in this article. I’m merely informing that in order to get results the hard work in the gym, a person must watch his diet. And by that, I’m talking about calories and macronutrients.

  2. Denver says

    Von just wondering why 500 is the magic number when adding calories to your maintenance level. Could you point me to some research? Cheers.

  3. says

    500 calories under maintenance isn’t the magic number, but a guideline. It’s actually 500-1000 depending on your activity level.

    So basically the calories you take in doesn’t always have to be exact day in and day out. It will always be different, but as long as you stay 500-1000 calories under your maintenance, you’ll be losing fat at a healthy rate. Going over 1000 is drastic and is not advisable.

    • Monica says

      Mr.Von I am a 5 feet female with 98 lbs. of weight and 40 years old. I like to eat almost everything but I rather eat a piece of cake than a beef steak and I just start teaching Zumba once a week, please what kind of food could help me to gain muscle.

      • says

        The first thing you want to get started on is eating more whole foods, especially those high in protein since you’ll need to develop the habit of eating enough on a daily basis. You’ll also want to make sure that you start a proper strength training program that will help you get stronger and build muscle throughout the next few months.

  4. Steve says

    Hey Von. I am 6’4, 211 lbs with approx 16-18% depending on my hydration levels. I am currently 3 weeks into a beginners strength training program based around deadlifts, squats, and bench.  I want to gain muscle, but I am worried about ~500 calories over maintenance maintaining or increasing BF levels. Any suggestions?

  5. inahatcat says

    I’m a 5’4 meromorphic female, 18 years old, who lost A LOT of muscle mass due to marathon training. I lost 3 kgs in a few weeks of particularly long distances, and no, it was not water loss – in fact I was premenstrual at the time of weighing, so should have been a good two kilograms heavier than my usual 52 kg (it was also the first time ever that I weighed below 8 stone). I still have good tone (I am lucky to be naturally muscular) and have tweaked my workouts to retent this muscle tone more, but I HONESTLY want to gain some bulk. Noomi Rapace in Prometheus is my inspiration, I think she looks way better (and sexier) than my current protruding bones : / I admit I am a bit worried about putting on fat instead of muscle, even though I do lift and started working on my abs. How do I eat to gain and not feel like I’m stuffing my face? Are egg white omelettes the way to go? Thanks.

  6. victorious says

    inahatcat  you just need to get past the psychological barrier of fat gain. You will inevitably gain fat if eating at a surplus, because its impossible to only put on lean muscle mass. The opposite is true as well though, you will put on muscle. Cut back on the cardio, and focus on pushing hard on your strength training (making sure to have adequate rest to avoid injury of course). After a few months of gaining, you can then cut back and lose the excess fat, but don’t give up once you start seeing your abs disappear- you can get them back later :)

  7. simon says

    not sure I’m following on the simple calorie counting – doesn’t it make a difference whether I eat bread vs beans vs coconut oil for a given calorie count?

  8. Cory says

    Hi Von,

    I am 43, 6′ and 200. summer Typically I sit around 192. I was out of Taekwondo all summer and now would like to start defining and putting on some mass. Not a body builder but less waist larger upper. I m not planning on going back to Taekwondo so I would like to set my workout schedule.

    Question, should I consume approximately 2500 calories then shred later or should I try to get to 188 ~ 190 then try to build muscle?


    • says

      If I were you, I’d focus on shedding some fat first, but with a proper training program you can actually lose the fat while building muscle at the same time (yes, it is possible).


  1. [...] Now I’m lying in bed doing a bit of research into calorie counting. I found a great website to help you calculate calorie intake for fat loss. I’ve put this in bold because a lot of people think its all about weight loss. While I was in the nutrition club I asked a few questions about this, like what will happen to my weight if I lose fat and gain muscle. They told me that my weight should go up as muscle weighs more than fat, and thats why we focus more on the muscle and fat percentages.… [...]

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