The number of calories you should eat per day depends on numerous factors, including your age, sex, height, current weight, activity level, and metabolic health, among several others.
When trying to lose weight, it’s important to create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you normally do or by exercising more. Some people choose to combine the two, eating a little less while being more physically active (4).
Still, it’s important to ensure that you’re eating enough calories to provide your body with the nutrients it needs, even if you’re trying to lose weight.
The most important part of any weight loss plan is sustainability. This is why many experts recommend small calorie reductions to promote sustainable weight loss.
For example, many fad diets recommend restricting your calorie intake to around 1,000-1,200 calories per day, which is not enough for most healthy adults.
Cutting your calorie intake too drastically not only causes several serious side effects but also increases your risk of nutritional deficiencies. It likewise results in metabolic changes that make long-term weight maintenance difficult (5, 6).
Here’s a closer look at how many calories you should eat, based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (7).
Calorie needs for women can depend on their age, size, and activity level.
Most women between the ages of 19-30 require 2,000-2,400 calories per day to maintain their weight.
Women between the ages of 31-59 have slightly lower energy needs. Generally, women in this age group should consume 1,800-2,200 calories per day to maintain their body weight.
Women over age 60 generally require fewer calories and typically need to take in around 1,600-2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight (7).
Keep in mind that the exact number of calories that you need may fall on the high or low end of this range — or even exceed it — depending on how active you are, plus your height, weight, and health status.
Additionally, these estimates don’t apply to those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as they’ll need significantly more calories.
As is the case for women, calorie needs for men may range based on several factors.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimates that men between the ages of 19-30 should consume 2,400-3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight.
Energy needs decrease as you get older. In fact, men between the ages of 31-59 need about 2,200-3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight, while men over 60 generally require 2,000-2,600 calories (7).
Men who are very active or have certain health conditions may require more calories. The number you need within these ranges also varies based on your height and weight.
Children have widely varying calorie needs based on their age, size, and activity level.
Energy needs for children and teens vary based on their sex and age. A 3-year-old child might need only 1,200 calories, but a teenager can require closer to 3,000 calories (7).
However, keep in mind that there’s typically no need to count calories for growing children and teens.
In fact, cutting a child’s calorie intake may increase their risk of nutritional deficiencies, slow growth, and foster an unhealthy relationship with food or an eating disorder (8).
Instead of counting calories, it’s best to encourage healthy, nutrient-dense foods, cook more meals and snacks at home, and promote regular physical activity for kids and teens.
The amount of calories that your body needs can vary depending on your age, sex, activity level, and body size.