Teen Calorie Intake

Understanding teen calorie intake can be very confusing as much of the information and calculators available on the web are geared for adults. 

The reason for this is that determining an adult’s calorie intake need is straight forward as our growing is over.

For teens, however, you are still growing and your calorie intake needs and nutrient needs will vary based on age, activity level, current weight and your growing needs. 

Between the ages of 12 to 18, you will experience several growing spurts during this time. 

Some of these growth spurts are in areas you cannot see, like muscle tissue, organs, etc. So even if you think you are done growing, the fact is your body is still developing and growing somewhere.  

Therefore it is important to understand your teen calorie intake needs and overall nutritional needs. 

Your body needs more nutrients to help the growing process.  Nutrients are found in the foods you eat and include calories, vitamins, protein, fats and minerals.

The best person to help you determine the proper teen calorie intake is your doctor.  Before starting any weight loss program, as a teen you should talk with your parents and doctor to ensure you are approaching your teen weight loss in a healthy way.

Below outlines a guideline of the teen calorie intake needs and other nutrient needs based on age.

Guideline for Teenagers

Below are estimated calorie intake needs for children in order to maintain energy balance.

These values are rounded to the nearest 200 calories.

These are based on the guidelines from the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrients report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals.


These recommendations are NOT for teens that are recovering from certain medical conditions, especially eating disorders.

For teens that are under doctor's care for any eating disorder, they should always follow the doctor's recommendations.

Please keep in mind that these are just guidelines

Gender Age (years) Sedentary Moderately Active Active
Child 2 - 3 1,000 1,000 - 1,400 1,000 - 1,400
Female 4-8
9 - 13
14 - 18
1,400 - 1,600
1,600 - 2,000
1,400 - 1.800
1,800 - 2,200
Male 4 - 8
9 - 13
14 - 18
1,400 - 1,600
1,800 - 2,200
2,400 - 2,800
1,600 - 2,000
2,000 - 2,600
2,800 - 3,200

The child and teen calorie intake needs are based on gender, age and activity level.

The “reference size” is based on median height and weight for ages up to 18 years old.

This table shows approximate daily calorie intake for different activity levels; sedentary, moderately and active.

Sedentary = Only light physical activity typical of a normal day.

Moderately Active = Includes physical activity equivalent to walking 1 1/2 to 3 miles per day at a pace of 3 to 4 mph. This activity is in addition to the normal daily activity.

Active = Includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at a pace of 3 to 4 mph. This activity is in addition to the normal daily activity.

Energy Expenditure Calculation for Children

Child / Teen Calorie Calculator

Here is an interactive calculator from Baylor College of Medicine to find your teen calorie intake based on age, gender, weight, and height.

While the above table is a good guideline, these are just an estimate of children and teen calorie intake needs.

If you want to get more exact, then below is the formula as set by the Institute of Medicine.

There are different formulas for boys andgirls as well as for healthy weight versus for kids who are obese.

All weight measurements are in kilograms and height is in meters. Age is in years.

The PA (physical activity) is based on the level of activity the child does during a typical day (see table below).

Healthy Weight Formula

Energy Expenditure Requirements (EER) - Boys Ages 3 - 18

EER = (88.5 - (61.9 * age)) + PA * ((26.7 * wt) + (903 * ht))

Energy Expenditure Requirements (EER) - Girls Ages 3 - 18

EER = (135.3 - (30.8 * age)) + PA * ((10 * wt) + (934 * ht))

Obese Formula

Energy Expenditure Requirements (EER) - Obese Boys Ages 3 - 18

EER = (-114 - (50.9 * age)) + PA * ((19.5 * wt) + (1161.4 * ht))

Energy Expenditure Requirements (EER) - Obese Girls Ages 3 - 18

EER = (135.3 - (30.8 * age)) + PA * ((10 * wt) + (934 * ht))

Physical Activity Table

Activity Level Boys 3 - 18 Girls 3 - 18 Obese
Boys 3 - 18
Girls 3 - 18
Sedentary 1 1 1 1
Moderately Active 1.13 1.16 1.12 1.18
Active 1.26 1.31 1.24 1.35
Very Active 1.42 1.56 1.45 1.6

Sedentary = Only light physical activity from normal daily routine.

Moderately Active = Half hour of moderate to vigorous exercise in addition to normal daily activities.

Active = A minimum of 1hour of moderate to vigorous exercise in addition to normal daily activities.

Very Active = Being physically active for several hours each day in addition to normal daily activities.


To better understand this formula for the teen calorie intake needs, let's walk through an example. For this example, let's use a 13 year old girl who weighs 125 pounds and is 5 ft tall. Her activity level is moderately active.

Using the BMI Calculator on the Centers for Disease Control's website, her BMI is at the 91st percentile. This puts her as overweight, but not obese. So we will use the formula for healthy weight.

The formula would be as follows;

EER = (135.3 - (30.8 * age)) + PA * ((10 * wt) + (934 * ht))

The first thing we need to do is convert her weight to kilograms and height to meters.

The conversion for pounds to kilograms is 1 lb = 0.453592 kg.

So her weight would be 125 * 0.453592 which is 56.699 kg.

The conversion for height is 1 inch = 0.0254.

So her height (which is 60 inches or 5 ft) would be 60 * 0.0254 which is 1.524 meters.

Using these numbers, along with her age of 13 and moderately active, the formula would be;

EER = (135.3 - (30.8 * 13)) + 1.16 * ((10 * 56.699) + (934 * 1.524))

Let's do each section of the formula below;

EER = (135.3 - 400.4) + 1.16 * (566.99 + 1423.42)

EER = -265.1 + (1.16 * 1990.41)

EER = -265.1 + 2308.87

EER = 2044 (rounded)

The results are a close approximation of the actual teen calorie intake needs.

Due to rounding and using only age in years (and not the months over that year) the results will not be exact.

However, it is a good guideline to use in order to maintain your current weight.

If you need to lose weight, then you would either need to reduce these calories and/or add additional exercise.

To know exactly how many calories to reduce each day, you want to discuss this with your doctor and your parents to ensure it's a healthy way to lose weight.

If you are calculating your teen calorie intake needs using these formulas, be sure to use the correct values for boys versus girls and whether you are obese or within the healthy weight range.

What To Eat

Knowing the proper teen calorie intake is just one step. You also want to ensure you get the proper nutrition from those calories. Bascially, you need to eat foods from the various food groups.

These include fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. The portions for each of these 5 food groups is also important.

The USDA has introduced the "MyPlate" concept replacing the older My Pyramid. The reason for the plate, versus a pyramid, is to provide a visual on portion sizes for each of the food groups.

usda my plate

Per the USDA guidelines, your plate should be half filled with fruits and vegetables, with slightly more veggies.

The other half of a nutrition plate should be filled with proteins and grains, with slightly more grains.

The last food group, dairy products, is represented off the side of a plate. This would represent a glass of milk as an example. However, other dairy products like cheeses and yogurts can be used for this group.

The exact size of the portions is based on age, gender, height, weight and physical activity.  Obviously for younger children portion sizes would be smaller. For older children, the portions get a bit larger.

You can use the Super Tracker tool on the USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov. This is the best way to ensure your needed calories and serving sizes are designed for your age, weight, etc.

To learn more about the different food groups and what's in each group, check out this article on food groups.

Now that you know your teen calorie intake needs, check out this article on teen weight loss if you need to lose some extra pounds.

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