How Many Calories Should I Eat to Burn Fat or Build Muscle?

Balance Your Body's Bank Account to Lose Weight or Gain Weight

How many calories should I eat to build muscle or burn fat?

This is one of the questions that we receive often here at Build Muscle and Burn Fat with Middle Management™.

As with most questions, it depends. It depends on several factors. Are you trying to burn fat or build muscle? What type of and how much exercise are you doing per day? How much do you weigh currently? What is your percentage of body fat?

Imagine that you are a business, and you have a bank account with money in it. Your banking account will get smaller if you spend more money than you earn each month. The opposite is also true. Your banking account will grow larger when you earn more money than you spend.

Your body is a business. Your current weight is the amount of money you currently have in your account. The calories you burn each day represent the amount of money you spend each day, while the calories you eat is the amount of money you earn each day.

To lose weight, you burn more calories than you eat. That is, spend more money than you make.

To gain weight, on the other hand, you have to make more money that you spend by eating more calories than you burn.

Q: So how many calories should I eat each day?
A: In order to put you on the right path to building muscle and burning fat, we provide you with a simple, step-by-step process to determine how many calories you need to build muscle or burn fat.

Choose your goal below to go directly to the process.

I want to…

Burn Fat (shrink my body's bank account).

Build Muscle (increase my body's bank account).


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How Many Calories Should I Eat to Burn Fat?

Spending More than Your Business Earns

New: Middle Management™ Simple Calorie Calculator to estimate how many calories you should eat per day to lose 1 pound of fat per week.

If you want to know the number of calories you need to eat to lose one pound of fat per week, you must first understand how many calories are in one pound of fat.

Q: How many calories are in 1 pound of body fat?
A: One pound of body fat contains approximately 3,500 calories. This means that, in order to burn 1 pound of fat, you must have a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. Therefore, to lose 1 pound of fat per week, you need to have a 500 calorie deficit each day.

Q: What do we mean when we say calorie deficit?
A: You need to burn (spend) 500 calories more than you eat (earn) each week.

To lose weight, the number of calories burned must be greater than the number of calories you eat. It is that simple. When you have a calorie deficit you will experience fat and weight loss.

We can create that calorie deficit in any number of ways. We can eat 500 calories less per day, we can burn 500 extra calories per day through exercise, or we can use a combination of the two. Any combination will lead to fat loss.

The 4 step technique described below allows you to take into account both factors - diet and exercise - when determining approximately the number of calories you need to eat per day for fat and weight loss.

Finally! The Diet Solution!

The 4 Step Process to Approximate How Many Calories You Should Eat for Fat Loss

So, how many calories should you eat to lose 1 or 2 pounds of fat per week?

The method below will allow us to determine our target calorie intake per day for weight loss. The calculations below will help you to (approximately) determine how many calories you need to lose weight safely (1 to 2 pounds per week).

The method is a 4-step method:

  1. Determine your weight and % body fat: A large part of you metabolism (the process by which you food is turned into energy) is determined by how much muscle you have (you lean body mass). The more lean body mass you have, the faster your metabolism.
    • Example: You weight 200 pounds and have 25% Body Fat

  2. The next step involves calculating your lean body mass, or the total weight you are carrying NOT from fat.
    • Example: Let's say you weight 200 pounds, and you have 25% body fat. You would calculate you lean body mass with the following formula:

      Body Weight x (100% - Percent Body Fat) = Lean Body Mass

      200 x (100% - 25%) = 150 pounds

    • Note: If you do not know your lean body mass, do not worry. Use “0%” in the above calculation. The result below will still give you a good starting point for determining how many calories you should eat per day to lose weight from fat. If you do not lose weight at an acceptable rate, simply adjust your calories down by 200 per day, until you are losing 1 to 2 pounds per week.

      You can also use our free online body fat percentage calculator.

      Also, the higher your body fat percentage, the less accurate the calculations to determine how many calories you need each day to burn fat will be. If your body fat percentage exceeds 15%, then you should start by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure.

  3. Now, you should determine the baseline (approximate) number calories burned per day by multiplying by lean body mass by:
    • 11 if you do little or no exercise at all
    • 13 if you do light exercise (1 to 2 hours per week) (most of us)
    • 15 if you do moderate exercise (3 to 5 hours per week)
    • 17 if you do heavy exercise (6 or more hours per week)

    • Example: Let's say you do light exercise each week (1 to 2 hours per week), in your efforts to burn fat. Therefore you would use the following calculation to determine the appropriate number of calories you burn per day:

      150 x 13 = 1950 calories burned per day

      Note: Multiplying your lean body mass by 11 is an approximation of your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Lifestyle Factors.

  4. Now we can calculate approximately how many calories you need to lose 1 or 2 pounds per week. As we said before, to lose 1 pound per week, you should have a calorie deficit of 3500 calories per week. Therefore, subtract 500 calories per day for each pound you want to lose per week.

    • Example: If you would like to know how many calories you need to burn one pound of fat in our example, you simply subtract the 500 calories from your baseline of 1950 calories.

      1950 - 500 = 1450 calories per day to lose 1 pound of fat per week

    • Example: To burn two pounds of fat, you need to subtract 1000 calories from your baseline to determine how many calories you need.

      1950 - 1000 = 950 calories per day to lose 2 pounds of fat per week

      You will notice that there is a trade off between the amount of exercise you perform each week and the number of calories you can eat to burn fat. If you were undertaking 3 to 5 hours of exercise per week (moderate exercise), then you can eat up to 1750 calories per week to lose a pound of fat per week.

Important: You should strive to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. Consult a physician before beginning any weight loss program. Read the disclaimer.

That is the quick and easy way to determine approximately how many calories you should consumer per day to lose 1 to 2 pounds of fat per week. If you find that you are losing less than a pound per week, then you should adjust your calories accordingly.

Note: This process for calculating how many calories you need to burn fat is a rough estimate. The estimate becomes less accurate the higher your body fat percentage. If you would like to a more accurate estimate, then please read this three part article to answer "How many calories should I eat in a day?"

Remember, as you lose fat and increase your exercise frequency, you will need to occasionally revisit these calculations to get an idea of your new (approximate) calorie baseline.

Can You Handle the 1000 Calorie Challenge?

Just like a bank account, your calorie intake should be tracked daily. Tracking your calories will allow you to make informed judgments on how your "spending habits" are affecting your progress.

For example, if you didn't lose as much weight as you would have liked during the week, it is likely you did not spend enough and your average calorie intake was too high during the week. Knowing this will help you adjust your intake to meet your goals next time.

Simply put, knowing how many calories you need to eat is a great start when beginning any or muscle building program.

Knowing how many calories you are eating is a great way to make adjustments and keep that program on track!

We all know, however, cutting calories is hard. During the first week we feel hungry. During this time, it is incredibly hard to stay on track.

How Do You Stay on Track when Cutting Calories?

Everyone knows that starting a diet is hard. The first week or two is especially hard when the hunger sets in. What do you do to battle the hunger and keep your fat burning efforts on track?

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How Are Other Middle Managers™ Staying On Track?

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