This Is the Easiest Way to Determine How Many Calories You Need on a Low-Carb Diet

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POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim
POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim

Before you go on a low-carb diet, you'll need to figure out not only the number of carbs you can eat, but also the number of calories — because low-carb or not, eating fewer calories than you burn is essential for weight loss.

There are lots of tools and apps that can help you determine your calorie goals, but Amanda Nighbert, a registered dietitian in Lexington, KY, who specializes in weight-loss nutrition, shared some general guidelines you can use as a starting point. "The average woman needs about 2,000 calories for maintenance and 500 less than that, or 1,500, for weight loss," she told POPSUGAR.

The portion of calories that should come from carbs will vary from person to person, but "a typical low-carb diet will range between 20 to 100 grams of total carbs per day," Amanda said. (She uses the lower number for her clients who are carb cycling.) To keep things simple, aim to get 10 to 20 percent of your calories from carbohydrates each day.

For an exact carb count, multiply your calorie goal by the percentage of calories you plan to eat from carbs each day and divide that number by four (because one gram of carbs contains four calories). For example, if your goal is 1,500 calories per day, with 15 percent of calories coming from carbs, you'd multiply 1,500 by 0.15 and divide that number by four, making your total about 57 grams of carbs per day. The rest or your calories will come from protein and healthy fats.

Because these are general recommendations, Amanda always advises her clients to listen to their body and make adjustments as needed. "Low energy is the biggest sign that you are not getting enough carbohydrates or calories," she said. If you feel drained or find that you're not losing weight, add or subtract only 100 calories at a time, while also adjusting your carb ratio. "Give yourself a week before making another increase or decrease," she said. "Give your body time to adjust and see how it responds." Over time, you'll find your low-carb sweet spot and have the tools to adjust as needed.