Although calorie expenditure recommendations generally don’t exist, physical activity guidelines and calorie intake recommendations do – which can help you determine how many calories you should burn daily to maintain a healthy body weight. For example, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest all adults participate in 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly. Creating a calorie surplus or deficit will help you gain or lose weight, depending on your weight-management goals.
To maintain your weight, you must burn as many calories as you eat. Harvard Medical School reports that depending on how active you are, burning a daily total of 13 calories per pound of your body weight if you’re sedentary and 18 calories per pound if you’re active will help you maintain your weight – because this is your daily calorie requirement for weight maintenance. For example, to maintain her weight, a 135-pound woman would have to eat – and burn – 1,755 to 2,430 calories daily. Weight yourself weekly to make sure your calorie intake and expenditure are on track.
To successfully shed 1 to 2 pounds weekly – which is a safe and effective rate of weight loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – you must burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you eat daily. To create this calorie deficit, you’d need to reduce your current intake or boost physical activity. To give you an idea of what it takes to burn 500 calories exercising, Harvard Health Publications reports that a 155-pound woman would need to walk at a pace of 4 miles per hour for about 90 minutes.
If you’re underweight and want to put on lean muscle mass, aim to eat 500 to 1,000 more calories than you burn off daily, suggests registered dietitian Elena Blanco-Schumacher. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to burn fewer calories, but focus more on boosting calorie intake. Choose high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods – such as nut butters, seeds, nuts, dried fruits, avocados and calorie-rich nutrition shakes.
If you’re already at a healthy weight, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 provides generalized estimates for your daily calorie needs – and therefore calorie expenditure -- for healthy weight maintenance. Based on these guidelines, sedentary women often need 1,600 to 2,000 calories, moderately active females need 1,800 to 2,200 calories and active women require about 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day to maintain healthy weights.