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What are Maintenance Calories?

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

By Cara J Barton, OTR/L, Pn1, CF-L1

It has become a recent trend that females all need 1200 calories no matter your age or activity. 1200 isn’t enough for a toddler let alone a grown woman. If you have tried that fad diet that promises success with heavy restriction, you probably noticed that after a few days later you felt like garbage and ended up overindulging on the foods you promised never to eat ever again. Chronic restriction and forever chasing that “that last 5 pounds” is a poor plan for success. You cannot spend your whole life in a "diet."

Unfortunately, it’s more common than you think.

If your body feels stressed and overworked, you may be pushing yourself up against a wall instead of toward your goals.

Metabolic adaptation is when your body thinks the chronic state of restriction and stress is its “new normal.” Various systems will down regulate into survival mode and your activity level will likely drop.

If you feel like you have been dieting your whole life then it might be time to focus on health and letting your engine relax.

Maintenance calories are the amount of caloric intake you need to maintain weight. This is where we should be sitting with our nutrition MOST of the year. Adequate intake allows us to crush workouts, keep our hormones happy, improve energy throughout the day, improve cognitive abilities, and recover between workouts. You'd be surprised how a little muscle can improve your body composition as compared to constantly trying to shrink your body down.

Everyone’s maintenance calories will vary due to age, gender, height, activity level, muscle mass, stress, etc. BUT it’s not uncommon to see many women at 1800-2100 calories a day and if you have a higher activity output or are taller you may be upwards of 2500-3500 a day. On the other hand, men might be crushing food from 2500-4500 calories each day during their time in maintenance.

So how do you know if you are eating enough? Common signs of under eating include chronically feeling cold, never feeling hungry, waking up throughout the night, inability to hit new PRs at the gym/ gain muscle, inability to lose weight, irregular periods or missing periods for women, lack of morning wood for men, hair loss, no sex drive, and/or mood swings. If I just described your current situation then chances are you are not eating enough food. Don’t let the media tell you that crash diets will TOTALLY work this time. Listen to your body and create a sustainable plan that SUPPORTS your goals.

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