How many calories are needed as "bare necessities" (BMR)?


By: Gym Jones

I work 5-6 days a week about 8-10 hours a day and its affected my training greatly. It's laborious, at times very intense, other times its hardly work. Diet has to be spot on. If I eat casually, every few hours, I can flourish at work and get home and roar through a "hard" workout. But if I tread into a cycle of chronic calorie deficit I find myself extremely worn.

How many calories are needed as "bare necessities" (BMR)? How do I determine what's needed to fuel additional activity? Online calculators don't offer any science behind how the multiplier factors activity intensity, nor definitions of "sedentary" or "heavy" training. I don't want to under-estimate my intake and over-estimate my output.

I'm on the move... constantly. No refrigeration, no heating is usually available. "Decent" nutrition under the circumstances is difficult to maintain.

Could a hard day at work suffice for recovery? I'm sure there are more variables to consider but what accounts for recovery outside of proper rest/ sleep, therapeutic methods and moving around enough to flush out the waste?

I normally train in the evening and I hit the sack about 3 hours after to ensure a good 8-9 hours of rest. I am concerned that recovery may suffer due to disruption of sleep because of training and eating that soon before bed. Is it counter-productive to train in such a manner?


You've made me put on my thinking cap, which I always appreciate.

BMR: yes, definitions are the crux, I consider myself moderately active because I know guys who are very active. The most precise would be to find a BodPod and have the measurements taken. I don't know what this costs since I did it in March at a military base where we were working so it happened for no charge. But, barring access to that device, there is a basic formula to follow to figure metabolic rate calculations: If little/no exercise multiply bodyweight in pounds by 13-15x, if light/moderate exercise (45-60 min/day at medium intensity 3-4x/week) multiply bodyweight in pounds by 16-20x, if very active (60-120 min/day at medium intensity 5-6x/week) multiply bodyweight in pounds by 21-25x, if extremely active (i.e. high volume training for ironman or ultra) multiply bodyweight in pounds by 25-30x. Men use mid-to-high range, women use low-to-mid range.

This will get you in the ballpark.

The intake/output ratio is trial and error, generally. The only way to learn how much is too much and how little too little is to meticulously log what goes in and what is done (training) and to monitor performance, mood, recovery speed and depth, weight, body composition, etc. It will take time but the trend is far more important than a daily snapshot where performance can vary widely. Don't restrict for longer than a three-week block of time: calorie restriction leads to a down-regulation of metabolic rate, i.e. the body says "if you aren't going to feed me then I'm going to limit output so the pitiful quantity of calories you out in is adequate." After three weeks of restriction trick your body by giving it more than it has become accustomed to to prevent it from reducing metabolic rate. You can also trick it a bit my forcing a rate increase with high-intensity effort, which increase post-exercise energy expenditure.

Recovery can happen in many forms. Typically I don't like to identify any sort of work-related effort as recovery because it is still work, you must still pay attention, there is some stress, it's not relaxing, the mind is not recovering and the mind/body connection is strong. You can earn a lot of recovery points by taking a walk prior to sleeping (if that's all you can do). It's more therapeutic if you can do this with a dog IMO. Just moving helps of course, but it's not as powerful or effective as moving and breathing and relaxing and controlling the mood. Low impact movement is better than going for a run or something. Water (swim) is very therapeutic.

If no refrigeration or heat available food sources are - as you have learned - limited. A couple of good rules:

Mix your fuel sources at every snack or meal
a) Eat protein with every meal.
b) Eat carbohydrates with every meal (choose fruit/vegetable sources with high fiber content).
c) Eat fat with every meal (choose mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated sources. Be aware of saturated fats (meat, animal sources) but don’t avoid them entirely.
If all you can do is eat all three macronutrients in roughly equal caloric values at every snack or meal your performance and health will be well ahead of those who don’t. Also, the presence of the fat and protein will slow down absorption to blunt insulin response, and also increase the caloric cost of digestion.

What food sources are common where you find yourself? Once you know that you'll know what you need to carry with you to balance those out. Check out for good jerky to cover your protein requirements. It's good meat and they ship anywhere. Carry a variety of nuts to cover the fat needs. Carbs are everywhere so there's usually no need to worry about those other than to find carbs with high fiber content OR to add some psyllium husk to a juice or similar to increase fiber intake, make you feel full, and slow down whatever you have just eaten. Also carry some fish oil capsules (unless it's desert hot and then use Udo's Oil capsules which, being from vegetable sources, are heat-stable). You can take a lot of fish oil. Rob and I are in the 15g/day range right now. There's no toxicity. It's cheap at Costco. No excuse not to take it for heart, anti-inflammatory effects, stimulate fat metabolism, etc.

Training and eating close to sleeping can jack up metabolism and interfere with sleep. But sometimes that's the way it is. Normally three hours will have been enough time for your body to go through the cycle of food recognition and assimilation to include insulin response or not and blood sugar should have stabilized. Meal timing in this range should not be an issue for sleep/recovery so recovery meal composition can be whatever you like (short, heavy training sessions might favor more protein, longer sessions will need more carbs to ensure glycogen replenishment).

Training at high intensity can set you up for sleep deprivation by reducing duration or quality of sleep. If you get to sleep quickly then duration isn't being affected so the question is whether quality is good. Sleep in a totally blacked-out room. Keep your feet warm and your head cool. Practice a relaxation ritual prior to sleeping. I like the foam roller for this because, even though it can be painful sometimes, it is facilitating circulation, stimulating recovery, and if my body learns that the foam roller precedes sleep it will begin shutting down while I am doing the work, as a habit.

There's a start. Commit yourself to the long term learning process. Take notes. Be honest with them. Your truth will become apparent.


Your membership is about to expire

Renew your membership to avoid losing premium content

Your membership has expired

Here's what you need to do to get back in the gym

Hey Friend!

It looks like your credit card information has expired.
Let's get that taken care of!



Current plan will no longer be active.



View saved training plans or browse all training plans that are available.