What Is Maintenance Calories

Lets me start off this post by first defining what maintenance calories are.

By definition, maintenance calories is a specific number of calories which when consumed by an individual over a period of time results in maintenance of body weight i.e. neither gain nor loss of body weight.

Practically, over the years I have noticed that maintenance calories is a range rather than a fixed number. 

So, for example, if a 70kg adult male has his maintenance calories at 2100 kcal per day, then it’s likely that they would be able to maintain their body weight in a calorie range of 2000 – 2200 kcal per day. 

 Now why having a calorie range works out and should we focus on a specific calorie range are highly individualized questions. 

Being humans, we adhere to the principle of individual differences and as such there will be some who can maintain their body weight over a range of calories while other would need to be precise in the amount of calories they consume.

Additionally, keep in mind that: 

Body Weight = Lean Body Weight + Fat Weight 

Lean Body Weight = Weight of (bones + organs + muscle tissues + body water +….) 

Any change in the above, be it a change in body water due to drinking less or more water, having consumed less or more salt (which in turn affects body water), digestive processes, or even changes in body fat, have a direct impact on our body weight. 

So, if you are someone planning a weight loss phase, make sure that you emphasize fat loss over weight loss. 

Moving onto our topic of the day, I’m going to tell you three different methods that you can use yourself to calculate your body weight maintenance calories.


How To Calculate Maintenance Calories


Method 1: Food and Body Weight Tracking

This is probable the simplest and quite frankly the longest method in terms of time required to calculate maintenance calories. This is also in my opinion one of the most reliable methods, as it banks on real time data for monitoring food consumption and changes in body weight on a daily basis. 

You track everything you eat or drink and your bodyweight every day.

This is my most favored method to use, although it does involve a lot of work, but the results are as reliable as they can get, as you are doing all the monitoring yourself.

So, if you consume three meals in a day as most people do i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner. You would ideally note down everything you ate, their quantity (in grams) and ingredients used in a food journal. 

As an example, if you ate whole-wheat toast and eggs cooked in butter for breakfast along with a cup of coffee, it would look something like this on paper:


Meal -1 (Breakfast):

Whole Wheat Bread………........... 2 slices

Eggs (whole) …………........……... 2

Butter (for cooking eggs)…..........1 Tsp. (5gm)

Sugar (added to coffee)……..........1 Tsp. (5gm)

Milk/Cream (added to coffee).......1 Tsp. (5gm)


Note: Water as such does not have any calories, so we don’t add that to our list. For all other beverages such as tea/coffee/etc. to which sugar or cream or milk is added, it has calories and contributes to our daily calorie consumption. 

Similarly to the above, you can complete your day’s food intake consumption for all meals in your food journal. 

Don’t miss out or neglect to add those food items, which you ate outside of your regular meals. All foods and beverages (except for water) have calories. The more accurate you are with your food entries in your food journal the better control over your diet and thus body weight you can accomplish. 


Body Weight Tracking

Similar to noting your food intake, there are some rules about tracking body weight also. 

Firstly, the best time to take body weight measurements is in the morning, before breakfast, after using the toilet and preferably wearing the same set of clothes every time. 

 The most common mistake I see people make which checking bodyweight on a weighing scale are:

  • Using a broken/inaccurate weighing scale
  • Stepping onto a weighing scale wearing different set of clothes every time
  • Stepping onto a weighing scale wearing different footwear every time
  • Eating or drinking before weight measurement
  • Measuring weight in the afternoon or evening or at random times throughout the week/month

There are a lot of factors that can impact bodyweight such as water intake, food intake, salt intake, daily stress resulting in overconsumption or under consumption of food, digestion issues, defecation, etc.

Which is why having a fixed time every morning, wearing the same clothes, ideally before eating breakfast is in my opinion the best way to keep track of body weight. 

Now, the question arises that how long should I do this? 

Well, the longer you do it the more accurate results you would get. 

I would recommend at least a couple of weeks of monitoring your food and beverage intake and daily body weight. 

So, what do I do with this information? 

Once you have all your food intake and body weight data, you can make informed decisions about your eating habits. 

Let's say that you monitored your food intake and body weight for few weeks and you observe that your body weight remains fairly constant with your current food and beverage intake. 

In such as scenario, you can either 

  • Increase food and beverage intake slightly, if you want to gain bodyweight
  • Decrease food and beverage intake, if you want to lose bodyweight
  • Make no changes, if you want to maintain bodyweight

*beverage above is in reference to caloric beverages and not drinking water. 

For all you numbers geek out there, you can further plug all this data into a food tracking app and get specific numbers for your maintenance calories.


Method 2: Using Equations

This is a purely theoretical method, much different from what we discussed above. 

Ideally, when calculating maintenance calories we would first calculate either BMR or RMR and then multiply it with an activity factor to get approximate energy expenditure or TDEE. 

BMR = Basal Metabolic Rate

RMR = Resting Metabolic Rate

TDEE = Total Daily Energy Expenditure 

Some common equations used are:

  • Harris-Benedict
  • Muller Equation
  • Katch-McArdle
  • Mifflin-St. Jeor Calculator
  • WHO Calorie Estimates

Each of these equations has their own positives and negatives. But they will roughly give similar or close estimates. 

I'm not listing every single equation in this post to keep it simple. These equations are freely available online. If you need any help with any of these equations, send me an email or comment below.  

These equations generally predict the BMR or RMR and that number is to be multiplied by an activity factor that can range from 1.2 to 2.2 based on daily needs and energy expenditure of the individual. 

i.e. TDEE =  BMR x Activity Multiplier 

Let me calculate maintenance calories using the classic Harris-Benedict equation as an example. 

I will calculate the calories for a sedentary 162 cm tall adult female who is 35 years old as weights 55kg an example here. 

The Harries-Benedict Equation For Calculating BMR Of Adult Woman Is 

BMR = 655 + (9.563 × weight in kg) + (1.850 × height in cm) – (4.676 × age in years)

Putting the values we get, 

BMR = 655 + (9.563 x 55) + (1.850 x 162) – (4.676 x 35) 

BMR = 655 + 525.965 + 299.7 – 163.66 

BMR = 1317 kcal

Now, to calculate the TDEE or maintenance calories we will multiply this with an activity factor of 1.2 (for sedentary lifestyle).

TDEE = 1317 x 1.2 

TDEE = 1580 kcal 

Some important points to note here: 

  • Equations usually give rough estimates of energy requirements
  • Different questions will give different results for the maintenance calories or TDEE
  • All equations have their limitations, for example in the above example for calculating calories we needed body weight in kilograms, height in centimeters, daily activity status and age. If some of these parameters are not available then we cannot use this equation
  • Equations can overestimate or underestimate the calories required as it does not take into account the individuals metabolic rate
  • As an example, if we compare tracking food intake and body weight to using equations and use both methods to calculate calories for the same person, it is highly likely that we may end up with different results


Method 3: Direct Calculation Using An Online Calculator

This is probably the easiest method, as it requires just the body weight for calculating the daily maintenance calories. 

Take your bodyweight in kilogram, enter it in an online calorie calculator and you get your results. 

I should also point out that is by far my least favorite method to use as it does not take into account anything (except for body weight) like lifestyle factors, physical activity demands, health status, etc.   

Ideally, trying out the first method which involves tracking food intake and body weight is my recommended go to method, but everyone does not have the time or the desire to do that. If that is the case then using an equation as outlined in the second method would be the next best option. 

These equations are freely available on the web and you can use them to calculate your daily maintenance calories needs. Only for people with a specific medical issue, pregnant or lactating women or people who are too overweight/obese or too under weight, these may not be used and getting in touch with a qualified dietician or doctor would be recommended.  


Clinical Dietitian Keshav || MSc Dietetics (DFSM), PGND, CNCC

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