I have literally gone years without counting calories and I have been skinny.  Not because of genetics, believe me.  I just eat healthy. That’s why I feel like—OMG!  I can’t believe I’m writing about this.  Yuck!  Counting calories is just the worst, most annoying thing that most of us women obsess over to the point that we neglect almost all other aspects of nutritional awareness!  (For instance, when I see a woman counting calories on spinach, it makes me want to scream).  So, first of all, we all have to join hands and promise not to do that.  Because—remember 1,000 calories of candy corn is not the same as 1,000 calories of fruits and vegetables or nuts or whole grains!  It’s NOT just about calories.  It’s about nutrients!  My philosophy is that if you focus on making sure that you’re getting the nutrients that you need to be optimally healthy, that you will be stuffing your face so full of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and nuts all day long that you won’t have the time or stomach space to eat too many calories (because the high nutrient foods I just mentioned are inherently low in calories but high in stomach-filling fiber and even when they’re not, they contain essential nutrients for health, so you simply have to choose them over lower calorie junk foods anyway, if you value your health).

BUT….  apparently there comes a time in the bodybuilding game when you need to shed that final layer of fat that is hiding your abs.  Perhaps it is before a competition or before a big bikini weekend (but hopefully you plan ahead on these things so you can do it slowly and not crash diet right before the event).  The point is, we need to know how to do it right, without losing those nice ab muscles (or leg or butt muscles) by starving ourselves.  So, apparently I have just found the only time when calorie counting is somewhat appropriate.  But nope, we are not going to cut the excess calories once we assess them (unless they are made of junk calories from unhealthy foods that we need to cut anyways)—nope, we’re going to burn them!  Think about the stories of how many calories Olympic athletes consume every day.  I remember hearing stories about Michael Phelps starting his day every day by eating a huge stack of pancakes and a few bowls of oatmeal and eating a giant sub a couple hours later, and on and on until he consumed 12,000 calories per day—and he had not a drop of fat anywhere on his body—nothing but muscle!  Keep Mr. Phelps in mind when you want to get rid of excess body fat.  Increase your activity level, don’t decrease your calories too much (just get rid of the empty, junk calories).  Remember that in order to maintain a nice muscular physique (to keep that booty up high and abs looking ripped, etc) you need to eat plenty of vegan protein every day for muscle and that is going to require that you keep your calories up a bit.  You can’t live on salads is what I’m sayin’ (not unless you throw some quinoa and tofu on it)!

OK, so let’s start by figuring out our personal Basal Metabolic Rate.  This tells us how many calories we need to maintain our weight. (You hear people talking about wanting to increase their metabolic rate—here’s the science on how you do that). Get out your calculator.

Women: 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x  height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

Men: 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)

Then, multiply 1.2 if you’re sedentary (little to no exercise), 1.375 if you exercise moderately 1-3 days per week, 1.55 if you exercise moderately 3-5 days per week and 1.725 if you exercise moderately 6-7 days per week, or if you exercise pretty intensely (with a higher heart rate for 45 minutes or more 3-5 days per week) .

The answer gives you the number of calories that you burn on a daily basis to maintain your body weight as it is, with your current activity level.  (Of course, even with all these numbers and decimal points, it is not an exact science because every body is different and if you exercise at a very, very high intensity or duration for 5-6 days a week, you may be “off the charts” as they say. But it gives you a ball park number to work with.)

OK, so once we’ve figured that out, we can look at our diet and figure the calories consumed.  I will go first.  My BMR is 2,096, and here’s what I ate yesterday:

  • Breakfast (36 g protein, 386 calories): smoothie with a banana (100 calories), 5 small strawberries (10 calories), 2 oz wheat grass (2 g protein, 16 calories), 2 cups soy milk (14 g protein, 160 calories), 1 scoop Berry Flavor Vega Sport Performance Protein (20 g protein, 100 calories)
  • Lunch (47 g protein, 664 calories): 1.5 cups quinoa (12 g protein, 360 calories), 5 medallions of seitan (30 g protein, 130 calories) with black pepper sauce (100 calories), 1 cup spinach (5 grams protein, 74 calories)
  • Snack: 2 cups cherries (180 calories, 4 g protein)
  • Dinner (30 g protein, 310 calories): Sandwich made with Alvarado St Sprouted Rye bread (10 g protein, 180 calories), 5 Tofurky slices (13 g protein, 100 calories)), 5 leaves of raw spinach (5 calories, 1 g protein), 1 tsp hummus (25 calories, 2 grams protein).
  • Snack(35 g protein, 305 calories): smoothie with 1 cup soy milk (7 g protein, 80 calories), 1 scoop Vega Sport Performance Protein (20 g protein, 100 calories), 1 tsp raw cocoa (8 g protein, 110 calories), 1 heaping tsp glutamine (15 calories).
  • Before Bed: large mug lavender and chamomile tea with 1 cup soy milk (7 g protein, 80 calories)
  • Total: 159 grams of protein and 1925 calories for the day (that means I’m 171 calories under my BMR of 2096, and am slowly losing weight if I continue this way)!

Note: That was a LOT of math just now.  I’m not going to be doing that every day.  I think that this proves that without even trying (because I didn’t count calories yesterday), if you simply focus on filling your diet with fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, you will come in low on the number of calories you consume.

So, what does this mean for me?  It means that if I maintain my current diet and exercise rate that I will slowly lose weight since the calories that I am eating are just under the number of calories that I am expending on a daily basis (But since it takes 3500 calories to make a pound, it will be 20 days of maintaining this precise diet and activity level before I lose a pound). But even with my current excess fat in my mid-section problem, do I really want to do that?  Since muscle weighs more than fat, don’t I want to actually increase my body weight in the long term rather than decrease it to get a more muscular and fit body? I think the moral is that even though I have a little fat in certain areas that I’d like to get rid of right away, for my long-term goals, dieting would be a mistake (because if I cut calories and thus protein to lose weight faster, I could lose muscle or at least stunt my muscle growth).  If I am just patient and continue as I am and if I just trust in the system of working hard to build more muscle and doing a reasonable amount of cardio while consuming lots of vegan protein, I will get to my goals of having more muscle and less fat.  It might not happen as fast as I want it to, but the numbers don’t lie—my muscles have grown significantly in inches since I started body building 6 months ago and my protein levels are still high (which builds muscle) and I do continue to lift heavier and heavier weights (so I’m getting stronger and stronger muscles are more ripped muscles).  Combine that with what we now know about how many calories I’m burning vs. how many I’m consuming and I am on the way to the more lean, more muscular physique of my dreams.  Stay tuned to see it develop!

 

4 Responses to How Many Calories Should You Eat/Burn?

  1. carre says:

    This is exactly the information I was searching for! I love your take on this and thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  2. Mindy says:

    Very helpful! I dont know that I can greatly increase my activity level. I have a 15mo old and a 4 1/2 yr old that keep me on my toes almost all day. This information will be put to good use. Thank you!

    • Brenda Carey says:

      Sounds like you are doing that all day cardio thing, chasing around the little ones. It’s exhausting and after all that, the last thing you want to do is more cardio. My advice is to get someone to watch the little ones (perhaps the hubby for an hour or so in the evening), and you take a 30 minute nap and then spend 30 more minutes working your muscles. Go to the gym if you can, but if you don’t have time for the drive, do some crunches and some push ups. Invest in a pair of hand weights and get an exercise book or DVD and learn some moves to build muscle. You will feel so great if you can find a way to give yourself this one hour every day for your body.

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