Energy Needs... What Are Your Calorie Requirements?

Get a comprehensive list of cardiovascular activities and how many calories are used right here. In addition I've included how to calculate BMR, ways of cutting calories and how to track them. Check it out!

Just starting out and wanting a change in your physique? One of the first steps of building a body is understanding what the body actually needs, and doesn't need in the way of fuel (a.k.a. calories).

The way this is done is to determine first the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) of the body—and each person is very unique in his or her requirements. Metabolism is defined as all of the chemical processes of the human body.

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed and the total amount of energy and matter in the entire universe remains constant, only changing from one form to another, and then another... so on and so forth.

The First Law of Thermodynamics (which is also known as Conservation) further states that energy is always conserved, hence the change into one form or another.

You wonder, what the h*ll does all of this have to do with losing weight or gaining muscle? Well, we require energy in the form of food. Our bodies follow the First Law of Thermodynamics, and if you take in more energy than you put out through out the day, your body does its job and conserves that extra left over energy (ingested food/calories) as fat.

If you do not consume enough calories during the day, however, and your body requires much more than its Basal Metabolic Rate, your body will take the needed calories/energy from its fat stores, or in a malnourished state will take from its muscle stores, known as gluconeogenesis (the formation of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources such as amino acids and the glycerol portion of fats). A person consuming a caloric amount that is equal to the energy put out, the person will maintain a consistent weight.

Calculating Your BMR

Every human being has a number, of Basal Metabolic requirement, the amount of energy in the form of food calories (kcal's) that one requires to do nothing but lay in bed and not move, the basal, bottom line, bare minimum you need to have cellular function.

Ok, so now how do you figure out what yours is? You can get an idea of your BMR by utilizing one of the following equations (as appropriate):

  • Women: BMR = 247 - (2.67 * age) + (401.5 * height) + (8.6 * weight)
  • Men: BMR = 293 - (3.8 * age) + (456.4 * height) + (10.12 * weight)

Where age is in years, height is in meters, and weight is in kilograms. For those imperially-inclined (or metrically-challenged) amongst us, one pound equals 0.4535924 kilogram, and one inch equals 0.0254 meter.

So, you can do the math, or you could just use this handy dandy calculator to determine your BMR (amount of calories needed per day just to function):


So, how do I figure out the extra calories that I need to go about the day, work, exercise, and just live? Well, most people naturally overestimate the activity level of their everyday life. Even a person that works out on a regular basis is still only considered moderately active; remember the body is efficient at conserving energy.

Activity Level Factors

  • Level 1.0: Sedentary, couch potato.
  • Level 1.2: Desk job, no outside activity.
  • Level 1.4 Light activity and exercise, plus daily work.
  • Level 1.6: Moderate activity and daily work.
  • Level 1.8: High activity (construction, masonry, loading trucks).
  • Level 2.0: Extreme activity (24 hour work detail—Marines/Soldiers on fire watch in Iraq, up all night, little rest; digging ditches, laying cement).

To determine your daily energy requirement, multiply your already estimated BMR by the level of activity that best describes your life from above. This number is the amount that will keep you properly fueled and maintaining your current body weight and body fat percentage.


Losing Weight = Simple Math

Remember, to lose weight, your physical output must be greater than the above maintenance number. Since it is difficult to burn so many calories through activity alone, the diet is also manipulated to reduce the number of calories consumed. By adding this to the thermogenic effects of exercise, you create enough of a deficit to require the use of stored body fat as fuel, and thus resulting in a body fat loss and weight change.

For example, Mary Jane is 5'5", 30 years old, 165 lbs., and 32% body fat. Her Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), therefore, is approximately 1473 calories per day. She is lightly active and walks her dogs several times a day, so she is a activity factor level 1.4. Following the calculation above, 1473 x 1.4 = 2,062 kcals per day.

This is the number of calories she is consuming at least every day or else she would begin to lose weight. In order for her to lose weight then (the standard recommendation is no more than 2 lbs. of fat per week), but we'll start with 1 lb. per week. This is 3,500 calories that she needs to cut out somehow through activity and/or diet. (One pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. If she wanted to lose 2 lbs. per week, she could double the details outlined below.)

The way she can do this is to burn 250 calories per day through moderate cardiovascular (aerobic) physical activity like brisk walking at an incline, jogging, running, swimming and other numerous activities.

But this is only half of the equation. Add to that another 250 calories per day dropped from her current diet, and that's 500 kcals per day. Multiply that by seven, and the result is the magic number of 3,500 - Mary Jane loses one pound per week!

Energetic Exercising

On to the first part: exercise. Some activities burn more calories than others, so here is a list of cardiovascular activities and how many calories or units of energy are used for Mary Jane.

  • Mary Jane's Weight: 165 lbs. (74.8 kilograms)
  • Cardio Exercise Time: 30 Minutes.

Cardiovascular Activities.
Exercise Type Calories
Walking 2.5 mph, firm surface. Walking 118
Bicycling, stationary, 50 watts, very light effort. Conditioning Exercise 118
Weightlifting (free, nautilus, or universal-type), light or moderate effort, light workout, general. Conditioning Exercise 118
Walking, 3.0 mph, level, moderate peace, firm surface. Walking 130
Rowing, stationary, 50 watts, light effort. Conditioning Exercise 138
Aerobic, low impact. Dancing 196
Walking, 4.0 mph, level, firm surface, very brisk pace. Walking 196
Bicycling, stationary, 100 watts, light effort. Conditioning Exercise 216
Weightlifting (free weight, nautilus, or universal-type), powerlifting, or bodybuilding, vigorous effort (Taylor Code 210). Conditioning Exercise 236
Jog/walk combination (jogging component of less than 10 minutes) (Taylor Code 180). Running 236
Walking, 3.5 mph, uphill. Walking 236
Slimnastics, jazzercise. Conditioning Exercise 236
Walking, 4.5 mph, level, firm surface, very, very brisk pace. Walking 248
Aerobic, high impact. Dancing 275
Bicycling, stationary, 150 watts, moderate effort. Conditioning Exercise 275
Ski machine, general. Conditioning Exercise 275
Swimming, backstroke, general. Water Activities 275
Rowing, stationary, 100 watts, moderate effort. Conditioning Exercise 275
Swimming laps, freestyle, slow, moderate, or light effort. Water Exercises 275
Bicycling, stationary, general. Conditioning Exercise 275
Walking, 5.0 mph. Walking 314
Running, 5 mph (12 min/mile). Running 314
Circuit training, including some aerobic movement with minimal rest, general. Conditioning Exercise 314
Calisthenics (e.g. pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, jumping jacks), heavy, vigorous effort. Conditioning Exercise 314
Rowing, stationary, 150 watts, vigorous effort. Conditioning Exercise 334
Running, 5.2 mph (11.5 min/mile). Running 354
Swimming laps, freestyle, fast, vigorous effort. Water Activities 393
Swimming, breaststroke, general. Water Activities 393
Running, 6 mph (10 min/mile). Running 393
Bicycling, stationary, 200 watts, vigorous effort. Conditioning Exercise 413
Swimming, butterfly, general. Water Activities 432
Running, 6.7 mph (9 min/mile). Running 432
Running, 7 mph (8.5 min/mile). Running 452
Rowing, stationary, 200 watts, very vigorous effort. Conditioning Exercise 472
Bicycling, stationary, 250 watts, very vigorous effort. Conditioning Exercise 491
Running, 7.5 mph (8 min/mile). Running 491
Running, 8 mph (7.5 min/mile). Running 530
Running, 8.6 mph (7 min/mile). Running 550
Running, 9 mph (6.5 min/mile). Running 589
Running, 10 mph (6 min/mile). Running 629
Running, 10.9 mph (5.5 min/mile). Running 707

And some occupational activities per one hour worked—remember, this is constantly performing the said activity:

Occupational Activities.
Exercise Type Calories
Police, riding in a squad car (sitting). Occupation 102
Farming, milking by machine, light effort. Occupation 118
Typing, electric, manual, or computer. Occupation 118
Sitting meetings, general, and/or with talking involved, eating at a business meeting. Occupation 118
Sitting, light office work, general (chemistry lab work, light use of hand tools, watch repair or micro-assembly, light assembly/repair), sitting, reading, driving at work. Occupation 118
Tailoring, hand sewing. Occupation 157
Police, driving a squad car (sitting). Occupation 157
Building road, directing traffic (standing). Occupation 157
Walking on job, less than 2.0 mph (in office or lab area), very slow. Occupation 157
Farming, chasing cattle or other livestock, driving, light effort. Occupation 157
Standing; light (bartending, store clerk, assembling, filing, duplicating, putting up a Christmas tree), standing and talking at work, teaching. Occupation 181
Printing (standing). Occupation 181
Bookbinding. Occupation 181
Sitting; moderate (heavy levers, riding mower/forklift, crane operation), teaching stretching or yoga. Occupation 196
Farming, driving harvester, cutting hay, irrigation work. Occupation 196
Police, directing traffic (standing). Occupation 196
Farming, driving tractor. Occupation 196
Tailoring, machine sewing. Occupation 196
Shoe repair, general. Occupation 196
Tailoring, general. Occupation 196
Tailoring, cutting. Occupation 196
Machine tooling, machining, working sheet metal. Occupation 196
Custodial work, vacuuming, light effort. Occupation 196
Chambermaid, making bed (nursing). Occupation 196
Operating heavy duty equipment/automated, not driving. Occupation 196
Custodial work, dusting, light effort. Occupation 196
Bakery, light effort. Occupation 196
Custodial work, cleaning sink and toilet, light effort. Occupation 196
Horse racing, walking. Occupation 204
Custodial work, buffing the floor with electric buffer. Occupation 236
Working in scene shop, theater actor, backstage employee. Occupation 236
Machine tooling, welding. Occupation 236
Walking, 2.5 mph, slowly and carrying light objects less than 25 pounds. Occupation 236
Standing, light/moderate (assemble/repair heavy parts, welding, stocking, auto repair, pack boxes for moving, etc.), patient care (as in nursing). Occupation 236
Custodial work, vacuuming, moderate effort. Occupation 236
Farming, milking by hand, moderate effort. Occupation 236
Machine tooling, operating lathe. Occupation 236
Custodial work, take out trash, moderate effort. Occupation 236
Walking on job, 3.0 mph, in office, moderate speed, not carrying anything. Occupation 259
Tailoring, weaving. Occupation 275
Farming, chasing cattle, non-strenuous (walking), moderate effort. Occupation 275
Custodial work, mopping, moderate effort. Occupation 275
Carpentry, general. Occupation 275
Electrical work, plumbing. Occupation 275
Custodial work, general cleaning, moderate effort. Occupation 275
Locksmith. Occupation 275
Standing, moderate (assembling at fast rate, intermittent, lifting 50 lbs, hitch/twisting ropes). Occupation 275
Walking on job, 3.5 mpg, in office, brisk speed, not carrying anything. Occupation 299
Standing, moderate/heavy lifting (lifting more than 50 lbs, masonry, painting, paper hanging). Occupation 314
Bakery, general, moderate effort. Occupation 314
Machine tooling, tapping and drilling. Occupation 314
Lifting items continuously, 10-20 lbs, with limited walking or resting. Occupation 314
Masseur, masseuse (standing). Occupation 314
Walking, pushing a wheelchair. Occupation 314
Teach physical education, exercise, sports classes (non-sport play). Occupation 314
Walking, 3.0 mph, moderately and carrying light objects less than 25 lbs. Occupation 314
Tailoring, pressing. Occupation 314
Police, making an arrest (standing). Occupation 314
Custodial work, feathering arena floor, moderate effort. Occupation 314
Farming, chasing cattle or other livestock on horseback, moderate effort. Occupation 314
Farming, feeding small animals. Occupation 314
Forestry, weeding. Occupation 314
Farming, hauling water for animals, general hauling water. Occupation 354
Forestry, sawing, power. Occupation 354
Walking, 3.5 mph, briskly and carrying objects less than 25 pounds. Occupation 354
Farming, feeding cattle, horses. Occupation 354
Furriery. Occupation 354
Orange grove work. Occupation 354
Forestry, ax chopping, slow. Occupation 393
Walking or walk downstairs or standing, carrying objects about 25 to 49 pounds. Occupation 393
Machine tooling, operating punch press. Occupation 393
Steel mill, fettling. Occupation 393
Forestry, hoeing. Occupation 393
Steel mill, tipping molds. Occupation 432
Farming, shoveling grain, moderate effort. Occupation 432
Construction, outside, remodeling. Occupation 432
Steel mill, forging. Occupation 432
Building road (including hauling debris, driving heavy machinery). Occupation 472
Horse grooming. Occupation 472
Farming, taking care of animals (grooming, brushing, shearing sheep, assisting with birthing, medical care, branding). Occupation 472
Forestry, planting by hand. Occupation 472
Shoveling, light (less than 10 pounds/minute). Occupation 472
Using heavy power tools such as pneumatic tools (jackhammers, drills, etc.). Occupation 472
Coal mining, general. Occupation 472
Coal mining, erecting supports. Occupation 511
Truck driving, loading and unloading truck (standing). Occupation 511
Coal mining, drilling coal, rock. Occupation 511
Horse racing, trotting. Occupation 511
Walking or walk downstairs or standing, carrying objects about 40 to 74 pounds. Occupation 511
Teach physical education, exercise, sports classes (participate in the class). Occupation 511
Forestry, sawing by hand. Occupation 550
Shoveling, moderate (10 to 15 pounds/minute). Occupation 550
Masonry, concrete. Occupation 550
Coal mining, shoveling coal. Occupation 550
Forestry, barking trees. Occupation 550
Walking or walk downstairs or standing, carrying objects about 75 to 99 pounds. Occupation 589
Steel mill, tending furnace. Occupation 550
Moving, pushing heavy objects, 75 lbs or more (desks, moving van work). Occupation 589
Forestry, felling trees. Occupation 629
Forestry, general. Occupation 589
Steel mill, merchant mill rolling. Occupation 629
Carrying moderate loads up stairs, moving boxes (16-40 pounds). Occupation 629
Carrying heavy loads, such as bricks. Occupation 629
Horse racing, galloping. Occupation 629
Steel mill, hand rolling. Occupation 629
Using heavy tools (not power) such as shovel, pick, tunnel bar, spade. Occupation 629
Farming, baling hay, cleaning barn, poultry work, vigorous effort. Occupation 629
Steel mill, working in general. Occupation 629
Fire fighter, hauling hoses on ground. Occupation 629
Farming, forking straw bales, cleaning corral or barn, vigorous effort. Occupation 629
Walking or walk downstairs or standing, carrying objects about 100 pounds or over. Occupation 668
Shoveling, digging ditches. Occupation 668
Shoveling, heavy (more than 16 pounds/minute). Occupation 707
Forestry, trimming trees. Occupation 707
Fire fighter, climbing ladder with full gear. Occupation 864
Forestry, carrying logs. Occupation 864
Steel mill, removing slag. Occupation 864
Skin-diving or SCUBA diving as a frogman (Navy Seal). Occupation 943
Fire fighter, general. Occupation 943
Forestry, ax chopping, fast. Occupation 1336

Just for fun, here are some other ways Mary Jane can burn calories (also based upon 30 minutes of activity):

Recreational Activities.
Exercise Type Calories
Passive, light effort, kissing, hugging. Sexual Activity 39
General, moderate effort. Sexual Activity 51
Active, vigorous effort. Sexual Activity 59

So, cutting an extra 250 calories from the aforementioned maintenance caloric intake would be about 1869 calories per day. Put together with the 250 calories expended via exercise, this equates to a 500 calorie per day deficit, or 3,500 calories per week, which would equal about one pound magically lost!

Consciously Cutting Calories

Here are some quick ways to easily cut calories out of your diet. The trick is to eliminate something you typically consume on a daily basis. By taking that approach, it's easy to remember. You're basically forming a new routine—replacing a high-calorie habit with one that is lower in calories.

The following scenarios demonstrate the impact of small changes. Make just a couple of these adjustments and you can easily cut 100 to 200 (or more) calories per day:


Instead of two pieces of wheat toast with margarine, have 1 piece of toast. Instead of regular fruit-flavored yogurt switch to light or fat-free yogurt.

Coffee Break

Switch from whole milk to non-fat milk in your latte. Replace the apple Danish with an oat bran bagel.


Put 1 tablespoon of light mayonnaise on your sandwich instead of 1 tablespoon of regular mayonnaise and make it turkey instead of salami. Replace cream-based soups with broth-based soups.

Afternoon Snack

Replace a small bag of chips with a cup or two of light popcorn. Replace an ice cream sandwich with a low-cal frozen fudge bar.

Cocktail Hour

Have two light beers rather than two regular beers. Drink a glass of wine instead of a margarita.


Have a green salad with light dressing instead of a baked potato with butter or sour cream. Choose a "light" frozen entree rather than regular. Use mustard, salsa or fat-free salad dressing in place of 1 tablespoon of regular mayonnaise. Order a cup of soup instead of a bowl.

Eat a plain baked potato with pepper; skip the sour cream. Eat cereal with non-fat milk instead of whole milk. Swap broiled chicken fingers for breaded and fried. Use tuna packed in water not oil. Swap diet soda for regular soda. Have a chocolate kiss instead of a chocolate bar.

Portion Perception

Tracking calories can seem tedious at first, but it is priceless in your weight reduction efforts. If, however, you are working every day to make better food choices and/or drop some weight, but aren't seeing the results you expected, perhaps you need to be a bit more careful in portion control...

Here are some concrete examples that show how overestimating portion sizes can result in extra calories and, in some cases, carbohydrate grams. You'll quickly see how "eyeballing" and overestimating portion size can make a difference over the long run.

Let's say, for example, you meant to have:

8 fluid ounces of fat-free milk, but instead poured 12 fluid ounces?
Calorie increase: 40; 5.5 extra grams carbohydrate.

½ cup brown rice, but instead had 3/4 cup?
Calorie increase: 55; 11 extra grams carbohydrate.

2-ounce bagel, but instead had one from a bagel bakery at 5 ounces?
Calorie increase: 225; 47 extra grams carbohydrate.

1 tablespoon (equals 3 teaspoons) of peanut butter, but instead had 4 teaspoons?
Calorie increase: 30.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil on your salad, but instead drizzled on 4 teaspoons?
Calorie increase: 80.

3 ounces grilled salmon, but instead had 5 ounces?
Calorie increase: 100.

3 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, but instead had 4 ounces?
Calorie increase: 43.

While using measuring cups, spoons, and a food scale is always the best idea to serve up the prescribed portion, we know that sometimes this is not possible. Use these visual serving cues recommended by the American Dietetic Association to help when you cannot measure:

Visual Serving Size Cues.
Food Amount Nominal Size
Medium potato Size of computer mouse.
Average bagel Size of small hockey puck.
1 cup fruit Size of a baseball.
1 cup lettuce leaves Four leaves.
3 ounces grilled fish Size and thickness of a checkbook.
1 ounce cheese Size of four dice.
1 teaspoon peanut butter Size of a large grape.
1 ounce pretzels Large handful.
1 ounce meat/chicken Average-size index finger.
4 ounces skinless chicken breast on the bone Average-size closed fist
1 cup (of anything) Average-size woman's fist.
1½ cups (of anything) Average-size man's fist.

Some additional tips include:

  • Find the drinking glass in your cupboard that serves 8 fluid ounces; you can also take a permanent marker and draw a line at the point that serves 8 ounces.
  • Find a bowl that serves a one-cup portion; again, use a permanent marker to draw a portioning line if you need to.
  • Buy individual-sized portions whenever possible: This helps with raisins, canned fruit, yogurt and cheese sticks.

After a week or so of consistent monitoring of your daily intake you will learn to accurately 'eyeball' the foods and know what is and isn't a correct portion size for your reduced calorie nutritional plan. Remember the numbers don't lie, use science to perfect the temple that is your body!


  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • Discovery Health Channel
  • ACE; "Clinical Exercise Specialist Manual", 1st Edition; 1999.
  • "A Fitness Professionals' Guide to Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Human Movement", Lawrence A. Golding, Ph.D., FACSM, and Scott M. Golding, M.S.