It can be difficult to determine where to begin when it comes to your calorie needs. Whether you are bulking (adding lean muscle mass) or cutting (dropping body fat), it is important to have a clearly defined starting point. It is important to note that I am strictly talking total calories here; I am not including your macronutrient percentage breakdown, which is equally if not more important. I will talk in depth about that in the next post (part II). Also of equal importance, is that this post applies to people who ARE very active in terms of working out during the week. If you are not getting solid exercise in every week, these numbers mean nothing.
I recommend starting with 15 calories per pound of bodyweight. If you hold as true as possible to this number, you will most likely know within a couple of weeks if any adjustments need to be made. So let us see an example: a 150 pound woman looking to cut (lose body fat) would start with a baseline of 2,250 calories per day (15 x 150 pounds). If see progress with this number, then don't change anything! If you start to plateau, or do not see any results from the go, reduce calories to 14 per pound of bodyweight. This adjustment would drop your total calories to 2,100 per day. Adjustments would be made accordingly, using this method.
Let us use another example: a 130 pound man looking to bulk (add lean muscle). At 15 calories per pound of bodyweight, the total daily calorie intake would be 1,950. Again, if its working, don't change anything. If you are not gaining weight, bump it up to 16 calories per pound of bodyweight, which would put you at 2,080 total daily calories. Make adjustments accordingly.
Don't forget, there ARE variables to these calculations, so you will have to play around to find what works from you. These variable include, but are not limited to: your activity level, the speed of your metabolism, the macronutrient ratio that is right for your body (again, I will discuss next post), etc.
The sure fire way to find the numbers that work for you are to stay as close to the set number every day, consistently! When you do this, you remove the most important negative variable...INconsistency! Train hard, eat smart!