How To Get The Calorie Balance Right

A key factor in gaining muscle mass OR indeed losing weight is getting your ‘energy balance’ (calorific balance) right. Most people are aware of the need to consume fewer calories than their requirements in order to lose weight, thus being in negative energy balance. Most bodybuilders or strength and fitness individuals are aware of the need to consume more calories than their resting requirements in order to gain weight, thus being in positive energy balance. Despite this, many of us go to the gym, eat the right foods and consume various nutritional supplements, but have no clear understanding of our actual energy requirements, and therefore no practical way of tailoring a training routine, never mind a diet or supplement regime.

>>> See our related article on ‘goal setting’ on our Blog

The more active you are, the more calories you require to sustain your level of activity.

Here is how you can work out how many calories you need in relation to your training regime?

Factor this simple calculation for your age:


Aged 18-30 >>>>> 16.0 x weight (kg) + 545 = ........
Aged 30-60>>>>> 14.2 x weight (kg) + 593 = ........
Aged 60-70>>>>> 13.0 x weight (kg) + 567 = ........
Aged 70+>>>>>>> 13.7 x weight (kg) + 481 = ........


Aged 18-30 >>>>> 13.1 x weight (kg) + 558 = ........
Aged 30-60>>>>> 9.74 x weight (kg) + 694 = ........
Aged 60-70>>>>> 10.2 x weight (kg) + 572 = ........
Aged 70+>>>>>>> 10.0 x weight (kg) + 577 = ........
(Henry, 2005)

EXAMPLE: 26 year old, 80kg male

16.0 x 80kg + 545 = 1825kcal per day (BMR)

EXAMPLE: 29 year old, 60kg female

13.1 x 60kg + 558 = 1344kcal per day (BMR)

(NOTE: ‘kcal’ is commonly known as ‘calories’ & ‘BMR’ = Basal Metabolic Rate)

1825kcal is the BMR i.e. the amount of energy the above people would require just to maintain their daily bodily functions, such as breathing, pumping blood around the body, thinking etc.

In order to perform physical activity and exercise, the person will need additional calories for energy!

To sustain physical activity and exercise, we must therefore add a ‘physical activity level’ (PAL).


Light occupational activity

Non active= Male- 1.4 Female- 1.4
Moderately active= Male- 1.5 Female- 1.5
Very active= Male- 1.6 Female- 1.6

Moderate occupational activity

Non active= Male- 1.6 Female- 1.5
Moderately active= Male- 1.7 Female- 1.6
Very active= Male- 1.8 Female- 1.7

Moderate/Heavy occupational activity

Non active= Male- 1.7 Female- 1.5
Moderately active= Male- 1.8 Female- 1.6
Very active= Male- 1.9 Female- 1.7

(Elia, 1990)

To add a PAL you need to take your BMR i.e. your estimated calorie requirements for resting alone, and multiply it by the appropriate PAL (as shown above).

EXAMPLE: 26 year old, 80kg male

This person trains intensely a minimum of 5 days a week, and also works as a labourer on a busy building site, therefore we would deem this individual to be very active with moderate/heavy occupational activity (use the PAL that best applies to you) apply the appropriate PAL to the above 80kg male example as follows:

1825kcal (BMR) x PAL of 1.9 = 3468kcal per day to maintain this persons weight relative to his physical activity levels.

Therefore in order to gain weight and lean mass....

In order to gain weight, it is required that you exceed your estimated nutritional requirements i.e. be in positive energy balance. To do this we recommend aiming to increase your nutritional requirements (and actual intake) by approximately 300-500kcal per day (the equivalent of a meal consisting of 200g steak & 250g sweet potato). Some people may struggle to fit another meal into their routine, or even physically fit it into their stomachs; therefore the introduction of a nutritional supplement or two may be needed! A mass gainer such as Optimum Nutrition’s Serious Mass will provide a minimum of 1250kcal per 300ml shake (range approx 500-1300kcal).

....and what if I want to lose weight?

The same rule applies, only this time we recommend minusing approximately 300-500kcal per day after you have calculated your requirements with the PAL. This will put you in negative energy balance relative to your requirements, in turn promoting weight loss.

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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