How Many Calories To Get A Six Pack?

How many calories you need to get a six pack is a simple question to answer, though not quite as simple as some people claim. Our goal is obviously to get your body fat percentage down to less than 15, ideally less than 10, to allow your six pack to look its best. The common advice is that if you’re a man you should have 2,500 calories a day, and if you’re a woman you should have 2000 calories a day, so to reduce your body fat you just need to have less.

Not only is this wrong, but basing how many calories you eat on this could actually cause your body fat to increase.

How Many Calories Should You Be Having?

Man Measuring Waist How Many CaloriesThis depends on how many calories you use in a day, which we’ll call your Totally Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), which is calculated using two things. The first is your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is just the minimum amount of calories your body needs each day, assuming you did no activity whatsoever. It’s calculated using your height, weight, age, and sex but don’t worry if the sum looks complicated because I’m going to talk you through it:

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) – ( 6.8 x age in year )

Falling below your BMR can cause the body to go into what is known as Starvation Mode. This has several effects, one of which is that your metabolism will slow which and in turn lower your BMR so you require less calories. Plus your body will become a lot better at storing fat and you’ll have less energy.

The second thing we need to know to calculate how many calories you require is how active you are. Now unless you do indeed sleep all day or sit around doing very little, which I doubt, your TDEE is going to be higher than your BMR because this figure is based on how active your lifestyle is. The more active you are, the higher your TDEE, the more calories you need.

Because you now know your BMR, just multiply it by how active you are on average, according to the following list. This is how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.

Inactive (little or no exercise & desk job) = BMR x 1.2
Lightly Active (light exercise 1-3 days a week) = BMR x 1.375
Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days a week) = BMR x 1.55
Very Active (hard exercise 3-5 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
Extremely Active (intense daily workouts & physical job) = BMR x 1.9

To show you what I mean I’ll use the example of a man who is 25 years old, 6 feet tall, and weighs 220 pounds which is just under 15 stone. The calculation to find his BMR would look like this:

66 for being a man
6.23 x weight in pounds = 1,370.6
12.7 x height in inches = 914.4

6.8 x age = 170

So 2181 is the answer to how many calories are needed in this example, but only to equal his BMR. Because he doesn’t just lay in bed all day and has a moderately active lifestyle, in other words he has a job that doesn’t involve too much sitting down and goes to the gym 3 times a week, his BMR needs multiplying by 1.55 to work out his TDEE.

2181 x 1.55 = 3380.55

Taking Body Fat Percentage How Many CaloriesSo the man in this example needs 3380.55 calories a day, but if he has this amount he WILL NOT get a six pack. Why not? Because as I said earlier, a body fat percentage of 15 or even 10 is necessary to see even the best set of abs, and at his current weight the man in the example needs to lower his. To get there safely, effectively and sustainably he will need to lower his calories, but still be above his BMR.

The simplest way to do this is just to have 500 to 1,000 less than his TDEE, the slightly more complicated way is to have 10% – 20% less. This is useful if your BMR figure and your TDEE figure aren’t that far apart.

In this example, 2380 is how many calories the man should have to lower his body fat percentage. But like everyone else, he needs to re-calculate his BMR and his TDEE every 4 – 6 weeks until he reaches the weight he intends to stay at, or whenever his regular activity level changes.

An Alternative To Reducing Calories

If you find it hard to eat less calories because you enjoy high-calorie foods, or just enjoy eating a lot, you might have already realised there is a way to lower your body fat without necessarily having to eat less. If you exercise more, or just increase your activity level in general, maybe by walking to work and talking the stairs instead of the elevator, your BMR and TDEE will also increase.

In other words, how many calories you need to get a six pack basically depends on your size and how active you are.

If you have any questions or comments, leave a comment below.

39 Replies to “How Many Calories To Get A Six Pack?”

    1. For a male, I get around 1733 calories BMR with the figures you provide, then with your moderate exercise it comes to about 2686 for maintaining your weight. For weight loss have 500 less, so 2186 per day.
      It looks like you didn’t multiply your BMR by 1.55 (moderate exercise).
      Hope this helps.

  1. im 175 pounds and i work out 5 days a week… and im 6 foot… I want to know how many calories, carbs and fat do i need to pull out the 6 pack… i have been working out for 2.5 years and was 220 pounds so ive done well with eating right and working out.. but need to know the exact figures to get the rest of the results
    pls help…


    1. Thanks for the question. The answer depends on other factors besides those you have mentioned to be truly accurate, but a rough guide for you would be 2800 to maintain your current weight. Also, your BMR is about 1800 so a target of 2000 calories per day will give about 2 lbs a week of sustainable fat loss. As for how much carbs etc., while losing weight most of your calories should come from protein with a minimum of at least 175 grams, as few as possible from carbs, and the rest from healthy fats and oils.
      Unless you have a full time nutritionalist and trainer on hand at all times this is far from an exact science, but eating mostly protein, minimum carbs and with a daily calorie total of 2000 you should burn off fat pretty quickly. This is what I am currently doing myself and I have lost 10 lbs of fat in about 4 weeks and my body fat was only around 15% to start with, so I can assure you it works.
      Hope this helps.

  2. Hi…
    Im 125lbs
    5’7″ in height
    24years of age
    And have moderate work . Im working on my tummy to have abs.. how many calories should i have per day… can u also help on how to manage my meals everyday ea: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks.

  3. So I’m 5 foot 10, weigh 162 pounds, and am 18 years old, male. After doing the calculation and subtracting 1000 from my TDEE I need about 1855 calories a day. I just wanted to know if this will make me lose muscle? Also, if I eat junk food like chips but still keep my calorie intake to 1855, will I still make it to visible abs?

    1. It is said that abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym, in other words your diet is far more important than your abs routine. Junk food isn’t going to give you a good body, let alone a healthy body. As for losing muscle, if you keep up your current workout and make sure your reduced calorie diet includes sufficient protein you should maintain what you have already achieved.

  4. Hello I’m 25
    5ft 11
    169 pounds (77kg)

    I’m about 17% body fat but finding it very hard to drop anymore fat I’m eating quote healthy to all chicken veg stakes ? I work out 5 times a week sometimes more is it possible I could be eating to much health foods ? Cause I’m totally lost I’m dropping no more body weight an I feel like given up ha thanks

    1. Calculate your BMR, which for you I get at 1800
      Divide this number into 5 equal meals (360 calories) of mostly protein and as little carbs as possible
      Eat a meal every 2 or 3 hours

      If you don’t lose weight doing this, check that the food you’re eating does not contain additives such as artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) or MSG, as these can actually cause weight gain. You’re pretty much the same height and weight as I was before I started cutting for spring a few weeks ago and this worked great for me, so if you still have no success, check what’s in the food you’re eating.
      I hope this helps and if you have any other questions get in touch.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply I will try that so would u recommend a certain diet then seems were around same weight ect . Cheers

        1. Apologies for the late reply this time, Karl, I don’t always have the opportunity to check comments as often as I would like. In answer to your question, an example of my diet for cutting/losing weight this spring was as follows:

          8 am: 4 eggs (400 calories)
          11 am: Sweetener/sugar free Protein shake (40g) half before training and half after (400 calories)
          1pm: 2 chicken breasts and veg (400 calories)
          4pm: Fish and veg (400 calories)
          7pm: low fat cottage cheese (400 calories)

          If I was hungry after my final meal I would just eat salads, otherwise I would be dreaming of food all night. Obviously you don’t have to eat the same as me but this is an idea of how it works. You can also replace the protein shake around your workout with an actual meal, I just prefer that and only seem to get hungry on a night with this diet.


          1. Just seen this mate cheers for the tip I’ll give this diet a try when my 8 weeks is up ?

            Thanks 🙂

  5. Hi
    Im 197 lbs
    6’3? in height
    22 years of age
    And usually go to the gym 4-5 times a week . Im finiding it difficult to lose stubborn belly fat and get my abs to show. How many calories should i aim to have daily? Thank you.

    1. Hi. Thanks for the question.
      Your BMR is about 1700 and your maintenance calories is around 3000, so if you aim to have 2000 calories a day (with as much protein and as few carbs as possible) you should comfortably lose a couple of pounds a week. Remember to divide your meals into 5-7 equal sized meals throughout the day and let us all know how it goes.


  6. Hi, I’m
    5ft 9.2 inches
    171 pounds
    13.8% body fat
    Go the gym 5 days a week each day consists of weight training, 20 minute high intense cardio and ab workout

    My aim is to get abs so lower than 10 percent, what should I aim for calorie intake wise?


    1. Your maintainance calories is about 2700 and your BMR, which you shouldn’t drop below, is about 1750. Depending how strict you are with your diet, aim for 1800 which would give you around 2 pounds of fat loss a week or 2200 for one pound of loss a week. Look to minimise carbs and focus on protein to maximise results. Also remember to alter you intake as your weight decreases to keep losing.

  7. Hi..

    That was a very useful article.. Could you please help me as i m so confused why i can reach my goal of getting a six pack,

    My stats:
    Height – 6ft
    Weight – 181 pounds
    Body fat – 18% (almost everything of this is stored on my belly. I have been working out for almost two years that all my muscles are developed but i was lazy on cardio or abs. Just started two months back on cardio and abs workout. I’m on 2000 calorie diet now with 55% carbs, 35% protein, 10% fat. I burn around 250 calories daily on cardio.

    All I’m seeing is that i m losing some muscle from other body parts but belly not much change.. please advise if I’m on the correct path…Rescue me pleeeezzz…

    1. Hello and thanks for the question.
      The first thing I notice is that you’re doing daily cardio and say that you seem to be losing muscle. What type of cardio are you doing? I would always advise doing high intensity interval training for no more than 20 minutes to avoid causing muscle loss, or at least the loss of muscle size. Also, six packs tend to appear around 15% body fat or less, especially if you’ve been neglecting your ab exercises as obviously the muscles will be smaller.
      As for your diet, I always recommend high protein/minimum carb diets, so reduce your carbs as low as you can manage and replace those calories with protein.

      I suggest your cardio consist of high intensity interval training (30 seconds intense work, 30 seconds rest) for no more than 20 minutes.
      Do abs training once or twice a week, no more, for around 20 minutes a time.
      Reduce your carbs as much as you can and replace with protein.

      Hope this helps. Let me know how you get on and any more questions get in touch.

      1. Dear David,

        Is 50/35/15 (Protein/Carb/Fat) ratio is ok or not for reducing fat and building muscle mass

        1. That depends on how you react to low carbs. If you’re wanting to reduce fat, I always advice keeping carbs as low as possible, but this varies from person to person. Personally if my daily carb intake is too low I find it hard to concentrate on anything, but on the other hand I have a friend who has been virtually carb free for months now and is quite happy!
          Try 35% carbs and see how you feel. If you can still train and function okay, try lowering it to your optimal level.

  8. hi my height is 5’8, I weigh 65kgs and im 19yrs male can you please suggest how much calories do I need to burn the excess fat and get abs I workout 6 times a week 3 days high intensity cardio and 3 days moderate weights.
    And right now im having 1500 calories a day after checking your article and doing all the calculation, am i doing it right or should I have more or less calories ?

  9. First month when I started I lost around 9kgs from 74kgs to 65kgs now this is the second month going on and im not losing much weight its actually stuck to 65kgs and there is still some fat near my lower abs and the love handles though im following the same 1500 calorie diet and high intensity cardio and weights alternate days whats happening its really killing my motivation please help.

    1. One thing to remember is that if you are lifting weights while dieting you are going to be gaining muscle, which weighs more than fat, so it isn’t unusual for your weight to level off. I’ve even had some clients whose weight actually goes up as they gain muscle. The stage you’re at, appearance is just as important, if not more, when evaluating your progress.

      Based on the stats you sent me, your body fat percentage is now pretty low, which means it’s going to be harder to lose. However, if your calorie intake is lower than the calories your burning, you’re going to keep losing body fat. Obviously the last place your body loses fat, and the first place you put it on, is your abs. I’m the same. To lose 9kgs in the first month, given you didn’t have that much to lose in the first place, is very impressive and you should be proud of yourself. To expect all the fat to be stripped off your abs in two months is tough though.

      Just keep doing what you’re doing and remember where you started, how well you’ve done and that getting your body fat down even lower will take a bit more time. Keep at it!


  10. Hi, I’m 169 pounds and I work out 5 days a week… and I’m 5 foot 11 inch, how many calories, carbs and fat do I need to pull out the 6 pack… I’m working out for more than an hour with jogging after workout sessions. Could you plz help me that how much calories, protein, carb and fat I required gaining 6 pack abs with 175-pound muscle weight. need to know the exact figures to get the rest of the results pls help…

    1. Your BMR is 1774 and your daily calorie requirement is around 2763, though you don’t mention how active you are outside the gym so the figure could be higher. If you consume 2000 calories a day you should lose about 1lb a week. Using the figures from your other comment that would give 1000 calories from protien, 700 from carbs, 300 from fat.

      1. Thank you, David, for your support. outside the gym, I am doing a sedentary job, but working hard at the gym for min 4 days. Currently, I am holding a weight of 160 lbs. using a diet plan of 2000 calories with 1064 calories from protein, 590 from carbs, 315 from fat for 4 days and high carb for 2 days with one low carb day (below 200 calories from carb). but still packs are not visible due to a small amount of belly fat.

        Please guide me to burn all those fat to achieve a 6 pack body, at the same point, I want to gain a weight of 180 lbs.

        Help me with calorie guide so that I can achieve 180lbs body with a 6 packs abs.

        1. What you are doing looks already looks good. Keep working on lower your body fat but remember that while it is possible to gain muscle while cutting it’s more difficult. Once you have your body fat down and return to a higher calorie diet, then you can work on putting on the 20lbs of muscle you’re wanting. If you still can’t see the six pack as you’d like, try making the muscle bigger!

          1. Thank you, David. As you advised, I will focus on reducing my body fat. Once my packs got visible will increase the calorie intake to putting on another 20 lbs. So mean time do I follow a heavy weight workout with 4 set of 6-8 rep or medium weight with more reps for fat loss?

            Waiting for you valuable reply.

          2. My usual answer to a question like this is, that depends on how your body responds to exercise. For example, I have a friend who does 5 or 6 reps per set at most to build a ton of muscle, but for me that would increase my strength yet decrease my muscle mass. Instead I tend to do 8 to 12 reps. If you’re doing 6-8 reps and find that you are maintaining your strength then continue with that, especially as you are also doing plenty of cardio. Also, do you cycle your workouts? By this I mean do you do some strength training for a few weeks, then some muscle building, then some endurance work? If so, the endurance phase should come while dieting, then when you have lost the fat you want and start with a higher carb intake, this is where the strength and muscle building usually comes in.
            What’s most important while dieting for fat loss is burning calories.
            I hope this helps.

  11. Dear David,

    I used to cycle my workouts every 2 weeks by including new workout sets, and as per your instruction now working with 4 set min with a 10-12 rep for 3 days and 3 days for abs/jogging for reducing my body fat, or is it recommended to do 4 set with 15 rep.

    kindly advice.

    1. 4 sets with 10-12 reps is good, vimal. The only thing I would suggest in future is to cycle your workouts more like every 6-8 weeks

  12. Hi, David, I will keep this short so I am planing to get a 6 pack this summer and maintain it 17 to life since school is closing and I have more time to workout so I did the BMR and got 2,952.44(moderate exercise) so to lose weight to get a 6 pack how much calories would I have to reduce?
    and though in the summer I am running 3 miles like 5 days and lifting for 3 days so I can get a D1 scholarship this summer also including skill workouts so what kind of exercise category does all that fall into right now I weigh 160 lb and I am 5 foot 8 .Thank you

    1. And also Iam going to tell you my diet if it’s okay to get a 6 pack
      Breakfast-oats, Greek yogurt, and banana: Calories:355
      Post workout 1- lean body protein shake and protein bar:calories:540
      Lunch- chaptai(Indian food),cooked shrimp and lot of beetroot-301 calories
      Post workout meal 2- one protein shake- 330 calories
      Dinner- Same as lunch-301 calories
      Please help thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *