Burning‌ ‌Calories‌ ‌To‌ ‌Lose‌ ‌Weight:‌ ‌How‌ ‌Many‌ ‌Should‌ ‌You‌ ‌Aim‌ ‌For?‌

Losing weight is one of the toughest challenges billions of people face at some point in their lives. In fact, 71% of Americans feel that their weight impacts their identity.¹

People often engage in risky and harmful fad diets in their weight loss journey, resulting in lost muscle mass or reduced quality of life. While there is no easy or magical solution to fast fat loss, one thing is clear: You need to reduce your calorie intake to lose weight.

By taking a scientific and evidence-based approach, you can lose weight safely and effectively without harming your health. Let’s take a closer look at how many calories you may need to lose weight.

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Staying healthy: How many calories do you need?

How many calories does your body need to stay healthy? According to dietary guidelines²:

  • Women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day

  • Men need 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day

It’s important to understand that these are general guidelines only. They don’t take into account your age, height, weight, metabolism, genetic makeup, and daily activities.

To determine your unique estimated daily calorie requirements, you must calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

  • BMR for men = 66 + (6.3 x weight in lbs.) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)

  • BMR for women = 665 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)

This rate shows how many calories your body requires to sustain basic functions at rest. To estimate the number of calories your body needs to stay active, you must consider your life activity factor.

  • Sedentary (almost no exercise) = BMR x 1.2

  • Light activity (sports one to three days per week) = BMR x 1.375

  • Moderate activity (sports four to five days per week) = BMR x 1.55

  • High activity (sports six to seven days per week) = BMR x 1.725

  • Extra activity (hard exercising and physical job) = BMR x 1.9

The figure you get after making these calculations is the calorie intake needed to maintain your current weight.

If you want to lose weight at a safe rate (i.e., one to two pounds per week), you must subtract 500 to 1,000 calories from the above number and adjust your diet accordingly. It will create a calorie deficit.

Remember, as your weight goes down, you may need to redo the calculations to continue to see progress.

Going further: How many calories to burn to lose weight

The next step to a successful weight loss journey is considering your daily energy expenditure. While exercise is very beneficial for overall health and can assist in energy expenditure, you also expend energy doing everyday tasks like washing dishes, feeding pets, hitting the keyboard, or digesting food. The official name for this is non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).

Since everyone’s NEAT is highly unique, there is no one formula for it. It usually ranges between 250 and 500 calories per day. For example, an office manager’s NEAT may be around 250 while a mail carrier’s NEAT may be closer to 500.

Here is a breakdown of how many calories you may burn in 30 minutes, based on a 125-pound individual doing different types of exercises³:

  • Weight lifting—from 90 calories

  • Water aerobics, stretching, Hatha yoga—from 120 calories

  • Calisthenics—from 135 calories

  • Low impact aerobics—from 165 calories

  • Stairstep machine—from 180 calories

  • Vigorous weight lifting—from 180 calories

  • Bicycling and rowing—from 210 calories

  • Ski machine—from 285 calories

  • High-impact step aerobics—from 315 calories

Remember, the number of calories you burn when exercising depends on your initial weight. The more you weigh, the more calories you burn. That’s why people with high excess weight often lose it faster than those who only need to get rid of a couple of pounds.

Meeting weight loss goals: Burning more calories

While it may seem obvious that more exercising would burn more calories, many people simply don’t have enough time to work out for hours.

Here are a few ways you can optimize your workout:

Keep rest periods to a minimum

You burn the most calories when your heart rate is up. The higher the heart rate, the more oxygen you use, and the more calories you burn.

Don’t allow your heart rate to go down dramatically while exercising. Avoid resting for more than 60 seconds between repetitions or exercises.

Ignore pre-set “weight loss” programs

Exercise machines often have pre-set weight loss programs. While they may seem convenient, these programs don’t keep your heart rate as high as you need for top exercise efficiency. Choose cardio programs instead.

Engage your whole body

If you are doing exercises that only involve one part of the body, try engaging your entire body with a full body design workout regime. 

Use both cardio exercises and strength training

Many people mistakenly believe that cardio exercises burn more calories than strength training. However, both do an excellent job of helping you lose weight.

Cardio burns calories only while your heart rate is up. Meanwhile, strength training builds muscles and minimizes muscle loss. It means you continue to burn energy even after you have left the gym.

Fast weight loss: How healthy is it?

Rapid fat loss may seem appealing. However, it comes with a variety of unpleasant side effects.

Slow metabolism

If your body doesn’t receive the energy it requires, it may slow down your metabolism to hold on to and preserve the meager nutrients it is getting. In the long run, these changes won’t allow you to keep the weight off.

Lost muscle mass

A severe lack of calories could cause your body to break down muscle mass for energy. You will lose weight, but muscles will go with it.

Nutrient deficiency

Rapid weight loss usually results from severe food restriction. If you don’t give your body sufficient nourishment, you could start developing health problems, such as iron deficiency, anemia, and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies.


Gallstones can form when your gallbladder doesn’t release digestive juices because there isn’t enough food to digest.

Missed periods

Severe food restrictions and inadequate energy can switch off functions that are unnecessary for immediate survival. One of these functions is ovulation, which can lead to your periods stopping, sometimes for months at a time.

Eventually, instead of having a lean and healthy body, fast weight loss can lead to various medical issues. That’s why you need to set a moderate and sustainable weight loss pace.

According to the CDC, people who lose weight at a steady pace (one to two pounds per week) are more successful at keeping it off in the long term⁴.

The lowdown

If you want to lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit. It involves eating less and exercising more. To learn and estimate how many calories to consume to lose weight, you need to make several simple calculations.

By eating 500 to 1,000 calories less a day while increasing your activity levels, you can gradually lose weight and achieve your desired calorie-burning goals.

While somewhat complicated, weight loss is possible. By taking it one step at a time, you can improve your self-confidence, health, and quality of life.

  1. New survey finds 71 million americans have gained weight throughout the pandemic | Gelesis

  2. 2015-2020 Dietary guidelines | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights | Harvard Health Publishing

  4. Losing weight | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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