Beyond the Calorie Calculator

A nutrition coach chops brightly coloured vegetables in her kitchen.

If you’re interested in maximizing your performance in the gym, or in your sport, it’s important to know your energy requirement for the day. 

Not eating enough can limit your progress. Undereating can result in lack of energy in training, inability to recover, injuries, poor sex drive and insomnia, to name just a few.

Individuals with body composition goals such as gaining muscle or losing body fat need to carefully calculate nutrition requirements as well. If they don’t, they’ll struggle to make progress, and poor results can dishearten even the most motivated and disciplined amongst us.

The number of calories we need varies from person to person and is influenced by different factors. Below we’ll look at what you need to consider when setting your daily energy requirement.

Online calculators can help you figure out your targets, but these targets are not black and white. It’s best to look at these targets as a starting point and operate in ranges as opposed to hard set points. This is an example of an online calorie calculator.

An experienced coach can help you look beyond the numbers the app or calculator spits out. Diet history, food preferences, lifestyle and current energy intake all greatly influence how you manage your targets. Be prepared to adjust numbers after the first few weeks. Getting started with nutrition has an initial investment period. There is a lot to learn and mistakes are normal.

Let’s get started.

Biological factors

Your age, height, current weight, gender, percentage of body fat and lean body mass should be used to help determine your daily calories. These metrics are fairly black and weight, and you can get very accurate numbers if you’re able to use a body composition scanner such as Dexa or an InBody (we offer this service to clients so we can make precise recommendations and track progress). 

Daily Activity

This is how active a person is. It encompasses training volume as well as non-exercise activity. A person who works a desk job will not have the same expenditure of energy as a person who works construction. This will influence how your calories are calculated. Daily activity is a major influencer on energy requirements. 


If you’re performance driven, your energy requirements will be different from someone looking to lose body fat. It’s very important to clearly define your goals. This will help manage expectations and produce results. Be prepared to make adjustments and accept that progress  will not be linear.

Beyond the Calculator

The best way to move forward with your nutrition is to look at where you’ve been and start where you are at. Calculators give us estimates based on our biological factors, activity level and goals. But they have no way of knowing our diet history and preferences for certain food groups.

If the goal is fat loss, and you’ve been dieting chronically for years and are starting with a very low intake, going even lower will impact your quality of life. You might need to eat more for a period of time before you can consider eating less.

If you love foods with lots of healthy fats but set your targets with very high carbs, you won’t enjoy it, and you won’t adhere to the plan. If you’re vegan and set your protein in the very high range and carbs and fats lower, you will struggle to meet these targets. 

Be prepared to be flexible and make adjustments as you progress with your nutrition journey. Collect data through a tracking app, make notes on sleep and stress management, and note how exercise impacts your hunger and moods. 

Your job, family and social obligations will influence how you eat. A calorie calculator is a starting point for energy requirements, but it is not the final stop. Be patient, consistent and open to making adjustments as you go. 

If you’re struggling to figure out how much to eat or don’t know how to make adjustments to accomplish your goals, more detailed metrics and precise action plans from an experienced coach can help. Book an appointment with us to find out how a coach can help you succeed.

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