How Many Calories Should You Eat a Day?
What You Should Know About Calories
If you need to lose a few pounds to improve your blood sugar, then it might be time to get a good sense of how many calories you need each day and what foods you should “spend” them on.
Think of calories as fuel—the energy your body requires to function, whether it's making your bed, training for a 10K, or simply taking a breath. The amount of calories a person needs varies widely depending on your activity level, health, body size, sex, age, metabolism, and whether you've lost and gained weight many times. Your weight goals matter, too: People who are trying to lose weight need to eat fewer calories, while those who need to gain might strive to eat more.
To use this calorie-intake guide, start by figuring out which slide best describes your lifestyle and weight goals. Then become familiar with the calorie contents of the foods you eat. By tracking the amount of calories you eat, you may be able to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. If you have prediabetes or have just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, losing a small amount of weight might help you achieve better control of your blood sugar. However, this can depend on how early it was detected and how quickly you lose the weight and keep it off.
The recommended calorie ranges here are geared to average-size adults about 40 years old, which means women who are 5 feet 3 inches tall and men who are 5 feet 10 inches tall.
This calorie guide can help you make a good estimate, but keep in mind the number of calories you need is determined by your individual medical and personal history. To find out the range of calories that fits your health needs, consult a registered dietitian or diabetes educator.
Women Who Want to Maintain Weight
Recommended Calories: 1,600–1,800 per day
One key to achieving your goal is to balance your activity level with your calorie intake. Women who are active—regularly walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling nearly daily—may be able to eat as many as 2,200 calories a day and still maintain their weight.
Calorie Tip: Focus on eating sufficient calories from nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fat-free dairy products. Limit your intake of refined carbs, such as white rice, fried foods, white bread, and sugary breakfast cereals.
Men Who Want to Maintain Weight
Recommended Calories: 2,000–2,200 per day
The amount of calories it takes to maintain your weight depends a great deal on how active you are. Men who exercise daily can eat as many as 2,600 calories a day; an athlete in training can down as many as 3,000 calories.
Calorie Tip: Eat the bulk of your calories in the middle of the day when you're most active, says dietitian and diabetes educator Patricia Davidson. Try to eat something every three to four hours to keep your blood sugar levels stable and to keep from getting too hungry. Finish the day with a light dinner (about 500 calories), as your calorie needs at that time decrease.
Women Who Want to Lose Weight & Keep It Off
Recommended Calories: 1,400–1,500 per day
For most people who are overweight and trying to lose weight, a challenge that is greater than losing weight is keeping the pounds off.
It’s estimated that losing one pound requires shedding about 3,500 calories. To lose weight safely, it's best to trim approximately 500 calories a day to lose about a pound a week. Try to do this by upping your activity level and cutting back on your food intake.
Calorie Tip: Eating six mini meals a day can help stave off hunger and prevent overeating, says Jennifer Regester, RD, CDN, of the Friedman Diabetes Institute at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Never skip meals. Instead, break up the day into three 300- to 400-calorie meals and three 100-calorie snacks. Don't go more than four hours without eating—for some people this can cause intense hunger and trigger a bout of overeating at the next meal.
"Eating even a little snack of 100 calories can help," Regester says. "And it's best for blood sugar control, too.
Men Who Want to Lose Weight & Keep It Off
Recommended Calories: 1,700–1,900 per day
Just like for women, trying to lose weight and then maintaining the weight loss can prove to be the biggest challenge for men. When you're cutting back on calories, you may feel hungry as your body adjusts to your new eating behaviors and routines. Keep your goals in mind as you diet, even posting them somewhere you see every day to keep you motivated.
Calorie Tip: Focus on fiber. High-fiber foods such as beans, vegetables, and whole grains are not only good for the heart and digestive tract, they also fill you up so you're apt to eat fewer calories overall, says Jennifer Regester, RD, CDN. Replace refined carbs like white bread, white rice, and potato chips with complex carbs like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and popcorn, which contain more filling fiber.
Recommended Calories: 1,800–2,200 per day
The amount of calories you can eat varies greatly, depending on just how active you are. A very active woman who runs 6 miles a few days a week can take in more calories without the concern of weight gain, while a moderately active woman who walks a half-hour a day should eat less.
Calorie Tip: Don't mislead yourself into thinking you can eat more junk food just because you're active, says Jennifer Regester, RD, CDN. Too many calories can still pack on pounds, no matter how much you move. Even the most avid fitness aficionados have to focus on eating healthy, complex sources of carbs, which help maintain a steady level of energy.
Recommended Calories: 2,300–3,000 per day
A good workout is definitely healthy, but it can make you hungry when you're done. You need to make sure you have enough energy before you start to exercise.
Calorie Tip: Eat a healthy snack that combines carbohydrate, protein, and fat about 30 minutes before your workout, says Jennifer Regester, RD, CDN. Great snacks include half a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter; a small apple with low-fat string cheese; or a light yogurt with a few almonds.
Sedentary Women at a Healthy Weight
Recommended Calories: 1,500–1,600 per day
People who aren't very physically active require fewer calories to get through the day. Eating more than your body needs can set you up for weight gain.
Calorie Tip: Eat like a queen for breakfast, a king for lunch, and a pauper for dinner, says dietitian Patricia Davidson. A larger midday meal will get your body through the day when it's most efficient at burning calories. To make sure you're getting your calories from the right sources, practice the plate method. At meals, split your plate in quarters: one quarter for lean protein sources, such as chicken, fish, or tofu; one quarter for starchy items, such as a baked potato, whole grain pasta, or brown rice; and half of the plate for nonstarchy vegetables, such as spinach, tossed salad, green beans, or broccoli.
Sedentary Men at a Healthy Weight
Recommended Calories: 2,000–2,400 per day
If you aren't able to exercise—whether it's by choice or because of a medical condition—watching your calorie intake and the sources of your calories is critical so you stay healthy and avoid weight gain.
Calorie Tip: Steer clear of high-calorie beverages like fruit punch, regular (not diet) soda, and other sweetened drinks, which supply your body with empty calories, says dietitian and diabetes educator Patricia Davidson. Instead get your calories from food, and keep your carb intake consistent throughout the day. Try to consume unrefined and nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrate—whole grain bread or pasta, brown rice, or fresh fruit—at every meal.
Eat What You Love!
Food—sugar, carbohydrate, fiber, protein—is not your enemy. With the help of a wide variety of tasty, low-carb recipes and quick tips to help you eat more healthfully, you can take control of your diabetes with every bite.