Although many tedious formulas exist to help determine your daily calorie needs, it’s simple to estimate your calorie requirements using just your body weight and activity level. Most women who weigh 120 pounds are within a healthy weight range. According to California State University Northridge, 120 pounds is the ideal body weight for a woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall; however, this estimate can vary by as much as 10 percent depending on frame size.
Using body weight to help determine calorie needs works for both men and women; although men require more calories than women, they tend to weigh more as well. According to a study published in a 2012 edition of “Food and Nutrition Research,” men and women need about 13 to 18 calories per pound of body weight each day; therefore, most 120-pound women require 1,560 to 2,160 calories per day to maintain a healthy body weight. Specific requirements are based on activity level.
Inactive women who weigh 120 pounds need fewer calories than 120-pound women who exercise. According to the University of Washington, women with low activity levels require 13 calories per pound of body weight each day. This means a 120-pound inactive woman needs about 1,560 calories each day to maintain a healthy body weight.
Moderate Active Women
Moderately active women need 15 to 16 calories per pound of body weight each day; the University of Washington recommends15 calories per pound of body weight for moderately active women, while Harvard Medical School advises moderately active women to consume 16 calories per pound of body weight. This means a 120-pound moderately active woman may require 1,800 to 1,920 calories per day to maintain a healthy body weight.
Active Women and Athletes
The University of Washington and Harvard Medical School both recommend active women who engage in regular strenuous exercise consume about 18 calories per pound of body weight each day. Based on these guidelines, a 120-pound active woman needs about 2,160 calories per day to maintain a healthy body weight. Women endurance or strength-trained athletes may need even more calories. According to North Carolina State University, men and women athletes trying to build lean muscle may require 24 to 27 calories per pound of body weight; this means a 120-pound woman who wants to increase muscle mass needs 2,880 to 3,240 calories each day.
- California State University Northridge: HAMWI Formula for Ideal Body Weight
- Food & Nutrition Research: The Influence of Eating Rate on Satiety and Intake Among Participants Exhibiting High Dietary Restraint
- Harvard Medical School: Good Nutrition: Should Guidelines Differ for Men and Women?
- North Carolina State University: Nutrition for Athletes
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.