Experts Share What You Should Actually Set As Your Calorie Goal

Getting a fitness tracker is exciting. You think this gadget will transform the way you workout. You’ve seen its impact: you’ve watched your friends walk circles around their kitchen at 11:55 at night trying to do what they can to complete their circles and meet their goal for the day. So immediately, you rush to get your new Apple Watch out of the box and set it up.

Country- check, language- check, calorie goal… uhh. 300 sounds like a lot, right?

how to set apple watch goal

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love sharing posts with information that I want to know. After various dinner table banter with friends and family, I’m convinced that no one actually knows what they should set their Apple Watch calorie goals at and we all just kinda guess.

Luckily for all of us, I’m committed to getting the true scoop on what you should actually set your calorie goal at + I surveyed over 250 of you – and I have answers!

It can be confusing to try to figure out what your goal should be for the day. Two of the three are auto-populated (at least on the Apple Watch):

  • Stand for at least 1 minute at a time for 12 hours a day
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes.

Easy enough. But what about when you try to set your “move” calorie goal?

One thing to note is that your “move” goal on your Apple Watch only tracks your active calories burned that means none of your sedimentary calories count i.e. the freebies you get from living and breathing every day (more on that below).

Other fitness trackers like the Fitbit will give you some resting calories but don’t be fooled by the inflated numbers. This post is specific to what to set your active calorie goal at.

Related: The Best Free Workout Programs You Can Do Anywhere


Before I jump to the experts, I had to ask the squad. Simply Sabrina readers are predominately millennial women of color, based in the US. With even a niche market like this, how much can our goals really vary? Data tells all, and here it is by the numbers:

50% of those surveyed said they only meet their calorie goal 3x a week, with a whopping 15% that said they meet it every day.

So what’s the magic number?

Of course, the answer is that there isn’t one, but of the nearly 200 people surveyed, we learned this:

  • The average calories burned goal is 507 for all women ages 18-35, with an average age of 26.
  • If we only use the data from users who self report meeting their calorie goal 5-7x a week, then the number drops to a whopping 482.

We asked professional trainer & Atlanta fitness boutique studio savant, Jeff Toney, what he thinks about how you should set up your watch or fitness tracker for optimal results. Jeff is the co-owner of Fit9 ATLStellar Bodies, and Eclipse 1on1 studios. Here’s what he said:

What is the Apple Watch calorie goal, and what exactly does it measure?

The Apple watch measurement during a workout automatically subtracts calories burned due to exercise. It uses your height, weight, gender, and age to calculate how many calories burnt during your workout. Your Apple watch calorie goal should not be a general statement, more of an individual goal such as thinking “What do I want to achieve?”

Related: Fitness Pros Dish: Best Ways To Stay Motivated

How much does the Apple watch calorie goal vary per person? Per body type? Per age?

If you are more muscular, you will burn more calories in a workout as well as the older we all get, the less the calories burnt per workout because when we age our muscle tends to decrease. Thus men tend to burn more than woman.

(Editor’s note: Uh yah, I’ve noticed this. It’s especially transparent when my husband and I do the same ridiculous workout and he burns double as much as me. #stillbitter)

Image result for gym mindy gif

Related: Why You & Your Beau Should Workout Together

Speaking of, how do calories burn differ for men and women?

Men burn more calories because a male has more muscle and less body fat genetically when compared to a female of the same age.

Remember when we were chatting about those freebie calories? The ones you get from just being alive? Well those are important too.

See Also

An individual’s calorie needs can be calculated by determining their Basic Metabolic Rate. A BMR is basically the number of calories you would burn if you stayed in bed all day. As you may have noticed, your BMR decreases as you age and your body’s ability to burn energy will gradually slow down.

The formulas for BMR are:

  • Women: BMR= 655 + (9.6 * weight [kg]) + (1.8 * height[cm]) – (4.7 * age [years])
  • Men: BMR= 66.47 + (13.7 * weight[kg]) + (5 * height[cm]) – (6.8 * age [years])

If you hate math, here is a calculator that will do it for you. Yay for the internet!

BMR Calculator

For fun, I calculated this for Sahir (my husband) & I:

  • Sabrina: BMR= 655 + (9.6 * 50.8 [kg]) + (1.8 * 155[cm]) – (4.7 * 29 [years]) = 1292.6
  • Sahir: BMR= 66.47 + (13.7 * 88.4[kg]) + (5 * 185.4[cm]) – (6.8 * 29 [years]) = 2010.75

Great, now that we have this – how can we set our goals? Well there’s a magical thing called a Harris-Benedict formula. Here’s the rundown: To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise)= BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week)= BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week)= BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week)= BMR x 1.725
  • If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & a physical job)= BMR x 1.9

Related: Is This Workout The Best Ab Exercise You’ll Ever Do?

So, what’s the right Apple watch calorie goal for you?

Science and popular data seem to indicate that if you are in the 20-30ish age range you should be tracking an active calorie goal of about 400-600 calories. Of course, all of this depends on your lifestyle, your day to day activities, and what you generally like to keep it at.

Ultimately, if getting those rings completed every day is important to you then set your goal to something that is attainable, but with some effort. Whether you plan to reach for the stars or go slow and steady, you are now armed with the knowledge that you need to make your own decision.

I hope your fitness journey brings you to knock your goals out of the park and beat all of your friends in your weekly challenges. Remember, laps around the kitchen right before midnight are always a good idea. Get those steps girlfriend!