A: That answer varies a little based on your lifestyle. It also depends on whether you are hoping to simply avoid weight gain or you want to lose weight. A male between the ages of 31 and 35 who is sedentary -- meaning you get less than 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity -- can consume roughly 2,200 calories per day and maintain your weight, according to USDA recommendations. If you are active, you can consume between 2,400 and 3,000 calories daily without experiencing weight gain.
You can calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate) using a simple math formula and factor in your own personal activity level. If you want to lose weight (and save yourself some math), check out Calories Needed for Goal Weight at About.com's Calorie Count. Simply enter your current weight and your goal weight to find out your caloric recommendations.
If you do want to lose weight, most people find it most comfortable to cut a set number of calories (around 250-500) per day, rather than making drastic dietary changes. Another option is to burn more calories with exercise, or, ideally to do a combination of both (e.g. cut 250 from your diet and burn an extra 250 with activity). As a rule of thumb, 3,500 calories is equal to one pound, so if you cut or burn a total of 500 calories daily, you could lose one pound a week, which is a safe rate at which to lose.
The following resources can help you understand your caloric needs a little better:
About.com's Calorie Count offers a way for you to enter your personal information to find your daily calorie expenditure. The site also offers free tools to track your caloric intake throughout the day with an online food diary and keep up with your "burn" (the calories you use up).
You may also find mypyramid.gov helpful.
Losing weight by cutting calories isn't just about eating less, but also getting the most "bang" for you calorie buck. It's important to educate yourself on nutrition and healthy food choices. After all, if you're only going to "spend" a certain number of calories each day, you'll want to use them on the most healthful, nutritious foods.
MyPyramid.gov. Inside the Pyramid - How many discretionary calories can I have?. 11 Sept 2008.