How Many Calories Do I Need To Burn To Lose Weight? Here’s The Answer In 2023

Jennifer Anyabuine, Former Health Writer

Published at 04:22

Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

Medical reviewer

Caloric expenditure depends on age, weight and activity level.

When people are on a weight loss journey, it’s common for them to ask, “How many calories do I need to burn to lose weight?” The truth is that there isn’t one exact answer to this question. A person needs to be in a calorie deficit for weight loss to occur, but the amount of calories needed for this deficit will depend upon factors including a person’s age, body weight, gender, and activity levels.

A calorie deficit is achieved when a person burns more calories than they consume throughout the course of the day. If you maintain a calorie deficit over time, you’ll lose weight. The details behind this, including the answer to, “How many calories should I eat to lose weight?” are discussed below.

How Many Calories Do I Need To Burn To Lose Weight?

The number of calories you need to burn each day to lose weight depends upon your body size and activity levels. Ultimately, to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. What constitutes a deficit will vary for each person.

How Many Calories Should I Burn A Day To Lose Weight?

how many calories do i need to burn to lose weight
The number of calories burned contributes to weight loss. Photo: Vladimir Borozenets/Shutterstock

If you want to understand how to lose weight, you must realize that a person needs to eat in a calorie deficit. The number of calories you need to burn per day for weight loss depends upon what constitutes a deficit for you. For instance, some people may burn a total of 2,000 calories per day, so eating less than this would result in weight loss.

On the other hand, some people may burn more calories per day. Consider a tall, muscular man who exercises or competes in sports for several hours per day. His calorie burn may be significantly higher, and as such, he can consume more calories per day and still lose weight.

So, in summary, weight loss isn’t so much about finding the answer to the question, “How many calories should I burn a day to lose weight?” Instead, it’s about burning more calories than you consume throughout the course of a day. Your total food intake determines how many calories you consume, whereas calorie burn is determined by your metabolism, age, body size, gender, and activity levels.

To lose weight, you have to determine how many calories you burn per day. Then, adjust your calorie intake so it is lower than what you’re burning each day. This will create a calorie deficit.

According to research,[1] experts generally recommend that people consume around 1,500 calories or eat in a deficit of 500 to 750 calories each day to lose weight. This means that to lose weight, burning 500 to 750 calories more than you consume is a general guideline.

Keep in mind that every person’s body, health, and metabolism are different, so general guidelines may not apply to you. It’s important to determine what a calorie deficit means for you, and your calorie needs may vary from this general guideline.

How Many Calories Are In A Pound?

People who are interested in weight loss may also ask, “How long does it take to lose weight?” The answer to this question begins with understanding how many calories are in a pound. For many years, it was believed[2] that 3,500 was equal to one pound of fat loss, but the equation isn’t always quite so simple.

For example, some studies[3] have shown that one pound of fat loss is achieved with a deficit of about 2,200 to 3,000 calories, which is more easily achievable. So, the answer to how many calories in a pound may not be entirely straightforward, but the bottom line is that weight loss requires a calorie deficit.

If you’re eating in a deficit of around 500 calories per day, you can expect a total deficit of 3,500 calories, or around a pound of body weight in one week. Remember, though,  the 3,500 calories per pound rule may not be entirely precise. It simply provides a general answer for how many calories to lose a pound.

Tracking your calorie intake and weight loss can help you to determine if you need to make adjustments. If you’re not losing weight, you may need to adjust your food intake, but if you’re making steady progress, what you’re doing is likely working.

How To Calculate Calories Burned

how many calories do i need to burn to lose weight
Calculate your calorie burn to determine your calorie needs. Photo: Kamil Zajaczkowski/Shutterstock

Now that you understand that you must burn more calories than you consume in order to lose weight, you’re probably wondering, “How many calories do I burn a day?” While it’s impossible to know an exact figure, you can use a calories burned calculator to estimate your calorie burn.

These calculators require you to input your gender, age, height, weight, and activity level, and based upon these factors, they calculate how many calories you burn per day. Many calculators label your daily calorie burn as your “maintenance calories.” But if you want to lose weight, these calculators can give you an estimate of the amount of calories needed to be in a deficit allowing you to lose weight.

Using a calories burned calculator will give you a better idea of how many calories you need to cut to lose weight. For example, if your maintenance calories are 2,200 per day, you could cut 500 calories per day to 1,700, which would be a calorie deficit.

How To Burn More Calories Every Day

If you’re looking for information related to, “How many calories should I eat to lose weight?” you’re probably also interested in ways to increase your calorie burn. One of the best ways to burn more calories every day is to do more physical activity. In fact, a study[3] with people who lost weight and kept it off showed that they burned, on average, 812 calories per day from physical exercise.

To increase your daily calorie burn, find exercises that you enjoy, whether it’s running, swimming, biking, lifting weights, dancing, hiking, or simply going for a walk. Adding more physical activity to your day will increase your total calorie burn, making it easier for you to enter into a calorie deficit. 

Multiple studies[4] have also found that non-exercise activity, such as gardening, walking around the house doing chores, or simply getting up from a sitting position to a standing position, can significantly increase calorie burn throughout the day.

It’s important to understand that for this non-exercise activity to be impactful, a person must be consistent. This means that regularly engaging in a little extra activity can make a difference.

You can achieve extra calorie burn by pacing while on the phone, parking a little farther from the door when you go shopping, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

The bottom line is that if you’re wondering about how many calories to burn a day to lose weight, it’s important to get more physical activity. This can be in the form of structured exercise, such as 30 minutes of biking, as well as additional activities through the course of the day, like walking the dog or being active working around the house.

If you’re not sure where to start with exercise, government recommendations provide a helpful guideline. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends[5] 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as jogging, each week. Following these guidelines can help you to increase your calorie burn for weight loss, in addition to improving your overall health.

Tips For Weight Loss

The following tips can help you on your weight loss journey:

1. Learn About Your Calorie Needs

Use a calorie calculator online to get a general idea of how many calories you’re burning a day. Reducing your calories so you’re eating fewer calories than you burn placing you in a calorie deficit which is needed for weight loss. You don’t need to cut an extreme amount of calories; a deficit of 500 to 750 a day can be sufficient. This means that if you burn 2,200 calories a day, you can achieve weight loss by eating 1,450 to 1,700 calories.

2. Fill Your Plate With Healthy Foods

Nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources[6] will provide you with the nutrients you need to function optimally, and they’ll keep you full[7] for longer. This will prevent you from overeating out of hunger. If you’re eating mostly pre-packaged or junk foods, making the change to more nutritious options can help with weight loss.

3. Start The Day With Breakfast

Starting the day off with breakfast seems to be a factor in long-term weight loss. In fact, a longitudinal study in Obesity Research[8] found that 78% of people who lost weight and maintained the weight loss over time ate breakfast every day. Choose a healthy breakfast to lose weight, such as an omelet packed with veggies, or oatmeal topped with berries.

4. Get Up And Move

Finally, you’ll burn more calories over the course of the day if you get some physical activity, compared to if you remain sedentary throughout the day. Find some sort of exercise that you enjoy, and regularly incorporate it into your routine to make it easier for you to stay in a calorie deficit.

Conclusion

So, how many calories should you burn a day to lose weight? It depends on how fast you’d like to lose the weight. Ideally, weight loss should be gradual,[9] so it’s sustainable over time. Your total calorie burn isn’t what’s really important for weight loss; rather, remaining in a calorie deficit is what matters.

What this means is that if you’d like to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn. A calorie deficit of 500 to 750 per day[10] is generally recommended, which means you’re burning this many more calories than you eat. You can achieve a deficit by reducing your food intake and increasing your physical activity.

If you’re not sure what a calorie deficit means for you, an online calorie calculator can give you a general idea of how many calories you burn each day. Once you know this number, subtract 500 to 750 calories from it, and stick to this daily calorie intake. Over time, the deficit will lead to weight loss.

Knowing how many calories to cut to lose weight isn’t always easy. If you still have questions about your calorie needs for weight loss, it’s important to consult with a physician or nutritionist, who can design a plan that meets your unique needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it enough to burn 500 calories a day to lose weight?

A deficit of 500 calories per day, in which you burn 500 more calories than you consume, is likely to lead to gradual and sustainable weight loss over time.

How to lose 5 pounds in a week?

Losing 5 pounds in a week isn’t generally recommended. It would require a significantly low calorie intake, which would not be sustainable. 

Can I lose 20 pounds in a month?

Losing 20 pounds a month would mean losing around 5 pounds each week. This is considered rapid weight loss, and it likely wouldn’t be healthy or sustainable. Instead, you should lose weight gradually.

Is 500 calories enough to burn a day?

A deficit of 500 calories a day can help with weight loss. Based upon the general standard of how many calories to lose a pound (about 3,500), a 500-calorie-per-day deficit would mean losing one pound a week.

Resources

MANA adheres to strict sourcing guidelines and abstains from utilizing tertiary references. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research from reputable medical associations and institutions to ensure the accuracy of our articles. For more information regarding our editorial process, please refer to the provided resources.

  1. Ju Young Kim (2021). Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome, [online] 30(1), pp.20–31. doi:https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20065.
  2. Thomas, D.M., M. Cristina Gonzalez, Pereira, A.Z., Redman, L.M. and Heymsfield, S.B. (2014). Time to Correctly Predict the Amount of Weight Loss with Dieting. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, [online] 114(6), pp.857–861. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2014.02.003.
  3. Thomas, D.M., M. Cristina Gonzalez, Pereira, A.Z., Redman, L.M. and Heymsfield, S.B. (2014). Time to Correctly Predict the Amount of Weight Loss with Dieting. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, [online] 114(6), pp.857–861. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2014.02.003.
  4. Chung, N., Park, M.-Y., Kim, J., Park, H.-Y., Hwang, H., Lee, C.-H., Han, J.-S., So, J., Park, J. and Lim, K. (2018). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry, [online] 22(2), pp.23–30. doi:https://doi.org/10.20463/jenb.2018.0013.
  5. CDC (2023). How much physical activity do adults need? [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm [Accessed 29 Jan. 2024].
  6. Campos-Nonato, I., Hernandez, L. and Barquera, S. (2017). Effect of a High-Protein Diet versus Standard-Protein Diet on Weight Loss and Biomarkers of Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Obesity Facts, [online] 10(3), pp.238–251. doi:https://doi.org/10.1159/000471485.
  7. Dreher, M.L. and Ford, N.A. (2020). A Comprehensive Critical Assessment of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Intake on Weight Loss in Women. Nutrients, [online] 12(7), pp.1919–1919. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12071919.
  8. Wyatt, H.R., Grunwald, G.K., Mosca, C.L., Klem, M.L., Wing, R.R. and Hill, J.O. (2002). Long‐Term Weight Loss and Breakfast in Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry. Obesity Research, [online] 10(2), pp.78–82. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2002.13.
  9. Ju Young Kim (2021). Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome, [online] 30(1), pp.20–31. doi:https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20065.
  10. Ju Young Kim (2021). Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome, [online] 30(1), pp.20–31. doi:https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20065.