Emergency Food Calories – How Much Do You Need?

How many calories a day to survive during a time of emergency?How many calories do you need each day?

In addition to general nutrition you need to understand how many calories that your body needs to survive.

Your body burns calories in three different ways:


Your body needs energy to survive — even when you are sleeping. Your heart is constantly pumping, your body is working at maintaining a normal body temperature, your brain is always ‘on’, damage is being repaired behind the scenes within the body — and these body systems require fuel. Roughly 60% to 70% of the calories you burn every day is to keep all of your body systems functioning.

Physical Activity

Your body burns calories through ANY sort of physical activity and manual labor, ranging from simply walking to strenuous physical exercise. The number of calories you burn from physical activity might range from 25% to 40% the total amount of calories you burn in a day.

Digesting Food

Your body also uses energy to digest the food you eat, although it only accounts for about 5% to 10% of calories burned.

Calorie Requirements Vary With Physical Activity

If you consume fewer calories than your body needs, you will create a ‘calorie deficit’ — and your body will attempt to make up the difference by depleting-metabolizing (‘burning’) your excess body fat. While this may be desirable while dieting, it is undesirable (a calorie deficiency) in a survival situation.

A physical work day will require more calories than sitting around all day. When planning for emergency preparedness, it’s best to assume you will need more rather than less. In general, teenage and adult males may need 2800 calories per day, while teenage and adult females may require 2200, and children 13 and under may use 1400 calories.

Going by these figures, an adult male needs more than 900 calories per meal, assuming three meals per day, for an active lifestyle.

The following two examples may give you a general idea of caloric needs and how they vary with physical activity.

A 200 pound, 6’2″ man 40 years of age who is ‘lightly active’ during a typical day will require 2,700 calories to maintain body systems function without gaining or losing weight. That same person will require 3,400 if he is ‘very active’ and 3,800 if ‘extremely active’.

A 140 pound, 5’7″ woman 40 years of age who is ‘lightly active during a typical day will require 1,900 calories, but if ‘very active’ will require 2,400, and if ‘extremely active’ will require 2,600 to maintain body systems function without gaining or losing weight.

General Daily Calorie Requirements

These numbers vary with gender, age, environment, physical condition and activity. There are charts and resources online to narrow down your own specific requirements, but here is a general range…

Male, 5’11”, 190 pounds, lightly active

Age-20: 2,800
Age-30: 2,700
Age-40: 2,600
Age-50: 2,500
Age-60: 2,400
Age-70: 2,300

Female, 5’5″, 150 pounds, lightly active

Age-20: 2,100
Age-30: 2,000
Age-40: 1,900
Age-50: 1,900
Age-60: 1,800
Age-70: 1,800

How many calories a day

As a very general rule of thumb, most people say “about 2,000 calories a day” at a minimum.

Note: With regards to survival preparedness, the generality of daily caloric intake is only part of the food-storage bigger picture. Nutrition, balance, variety, are additional (important) factors which will affect one’s overall food health (among other things).

The information listed here is to provide you with the general knowledge that your body needs a given amount of calories to survive. Use this to better understand your long term food storage (and your equivalent ‘survival days’), or the emergency food kits that you may consider purchasing (don’t go by number of servings!). Count the calories. Nutrition and Flavor matters too, but, I’m just sayin…

Oh, here’s a statistic for you…

2,000 calories per day per person equals about 60,800 for a survival month, or about 730,000 for a survival year. Got enough?

[ Read: How Many Calories In A Pound Of Rice, Beans, Wheat ]

[ Read: Rice and Beans, A Survival Combination ]


  1. That’s a lot of calories. No way to store it all ahead of time, at least not for a long period of time. Gardens, hunting, fishing, foraging, etc. will have to be involved. Even then, the act of doing all of these same activities requires even more calories. The human race has managed for a long while. Not going to be an easy or leisurely life, but at least there will be NO MORE spam, robo-calls, ………..etc. I don’t want shtf, but I think it’s coming.

    1. “No way to store it all ahead of time, at least not for a long period of time.”

      Actually, yes there are ways. I’ve done it. There are plenty of diversified foods that you can store for many, many years. Decades even. It’s simply a matter of quantity thereafter. However with that said, self sustainability involves as you said, gardening, hunting, fishing, etc… Absolutely.

      1. Ken J.
        hunting and fishing can augment a food supplybut if a person really has not done it, it’s a steep learning curve. it takes YEARS to learn. that’s where rednecks and cajuns come in handy. you know, the illegal, put food on the table thing.
        i have never done it but i know how. head lighting deer, trot lining turkeys, fish and turtle traps.
        gardens are everyone’s best hope for a sustainable food source, and even that can be hit or miss. i have had good years and bad one’s.
        i see websites that advocate foraging for a meal, what a joke. those people will not last long.
        as far as long term storage, we plant a lot of peas and beans every year and we always come across some that we missed picking that have dried. we pick them and put them in grass sacks in the barn.
        we use them for seed the next year.
        DW and i have been doing this for 37yrs now and we still learn something new everyday.
        we are not 100% sustainable but we are working in that direction.
        honestly, being 100% sustainable is a pipe dream IMO. i can’t grow salt or TP, i’ve tried. : )
        thanks for what you do here Ken.

        1. So you grow pepper, or basil, or something else that the person who has salt will want. There are solutions. Or learn how to distill sea water.

          If you trade something you have for something someone else has, is it still self sufficiency? I personally think it is.

  2. If you have access to a salt lick — you have salt.
    How to make salt? Read the account of the capture of Daniel Boone & the men of Boonesborough.
    As an aside, if you grow corn. You do indeed grow “toilet paper.” Grin.

  3. I’ve been losing weight, in spite of making sure I eat normally. The only cause I can see is additional stress–I’m sleeping fine, the food hasn’t changed, my activity level hasn’t changed. But I found today that I fit easily into clothes that have always been snug.

    Something to think about. How does your body respond to stress? Will you have to eat more? Less? Different things? Do you respond differently to various foods when you’re stressed? Stress will be a major part of life after even a temporary disaster.

    1. Lauren,

      Stress will certainly help cause weight loss or weight gain among other things. It depends on how your body deals with it. I seem to remember that most causes of death (other than old age) can be traced to the body coming to full alert, too often, and staying there too long. Heart attack, stroke, wandering into traffic because you mind is too tired to pay attention, etc. The point is everyone needs some down time for good health, prayer, meditation, what ever work for you.

  4. Good food for thought Ken. This article makes one think a lot. From the stand alone view point from inside my home, I am not 100% there. After talking to some of the local farmers and ranchers though, I know where I can buy shares of meat and vegetables in the near future.
    Lauren brings up a good point about stress that includes grieving the loss of a loved one which can be just as draining as many physical activities and illnesses. The body needs to recover and nutritional needs need to be taken into account for the body and mind to heal. (think: comfort food)
    Nutritional needs goes way beyond calories. How much thought is being put towards %’s of protein, carbs, fats and sugars in one’s diet? What works for one person may not work for another. Do you have any finicky eaters within your household? When cooking for a fire crew that worked hard in the heat most every day, there was a higher % of protein in the diet in the forms of meat, fish, cheese and eggs. This was modeled after the diets of soldiers in elite infantry units that also worked hard every day. ( same applies to professional athletes who tear down muscle daily and need to rebuild when they rest at night). One season, we had a vegetarian on our fire crew. He did not last very long. Difficult to pack on that many calories in 3 meals without some protein in the form of meat/cheese/eggs or fish.
    I no longer work that hard therefore: I no longer eat like I used to back then. My job keeps me on my feet these days but I am not working anything like I did as a wild land fire fighter in my 20’s. I still struggle to cut back on my portion sizes to this day.

  5. Several people have mentioned the idea of living off the “fat of the land”. As a kid growing up around farms and ranches south of where John Steinbeck lived, I can tell you there is not much fat on the land. (this line came from: of Mice and Men by Steinbeck). Hunting and fishing may augment your diet but you will have to make trap sets and establish hides and ambush spots around your stores of grain/potatoes, fields of vegetables, chicken cops and calving pens where the livestock are concentrated and at their most vulnerable. Scout mentioned hunting and fishing to augment the food supply. This is true up to the point of some animals that people are not willing to eat. More often than not: trapping and hunting by ambush will be done a lot more to protect existing food stores, crops in the field, hen houses/chicken coops and livestock in the pastures. Fishing is very similar to trapping in that you are setting a trap in aquatic form.
    Since the days of my working in enforcement of fish and game laws, I have made it a point of going after feral species or these that have been deemed as agricultural pests. I prefer the meat of a feral hog to that of a deer. To those farmers that raise oats or alfalfa, the farmers will welcome a responsible hunter that can remove the animals that eat their crops and tear up their irrigation systems. Asking a land owner about hunting deer on their land, they are likely to charge you a large fee or simply tell you no.

    1. Calirefugee, the clueless will find out there is very little fat out on the land. My Grandson loves watching the” naked and afraid” series . Two strangers dumped out in the wilderness butt naked with only a couple of tools. I have watched it a couple times with him. “Well Granpa, the lizard population is gonna suffer and the bugs better hide.” Sure enough, it seems like that is all some of these folks can catch. Takes them all day to do it too. Being a hunter/gatherer is not as easy as these “survivalist ” thought it would be. Some do better than others but they all have something in common. They lose alot of weight. Lessons to be learned from other people’s lack of skills…

  6. Cali,
    I’m very comfortable in the woods. Catching sun perch from a creek or bull-heads from a pond. Lots of edible things in the wild, but it takes a lot of effort. Fish traps, yeah I can make those. Made a lot of “perch” traps for baiting limb lines or trot lines. Problem is, takes a lot of time so ya don’t get much ELSE done. Seined a lot of crawdads too. Good bait and ya can eat the big ones. It’s fun for a day or two, but needing to do it daily for sustenance would be tough. It would be best to simply catch/kill what ya need to eat that day. Grid down will eventually lead to no fridge/freezer. Not a good thing at all. I’ve got back-ups to the back-ups for freezer, but …….?

    If shtf, it will not be an easy life. Might be a good life though?? Electricity makes everything easier.

  7. SoulSurvival
    Your post really hit close to home.
    I don’t know how many times I re-read it! Then slept on it, and read it some more…
    A month after turning 12 years old, our family had a — “financial downturn.”
    Living out in the country, I proverbially, looked around. And thought… the Algonquins and nearby Iroquois had lived here for thousands of years before the coming of the Europeans! Everything they needed to survive and to thrive came from these same woods and waters.
    So, I started studying them, and doing things the way they did.
    That spring, still 12, I tried making maple syrup. Largely using their methods. To be sure I must have made about every mistake possible — don’t use pine for your firewood, it will make the syrup taste like turpentine…!
    Tracking wildlife — you cannot learn much, other than anatomy, from a dead animal. Live animals will teach those who will listen.
    We have some resident moose. We watch mama and her newborns. Then watch those calves thru the seasons and years. Then watch those now grown calves wondering why mama kicked them out…
    We watch mama grouse and her flock of chicks, watch them grow thru the spring, summer and fall. Then head out on their own.
    This is all quite different from the “hunter” who heads for the woods on opening day and only stays until the intended quarry is taken.

    The main thing I learned is respect. Respect for the fish, game and plants. Everything has a life…
    Well, Soul, you know what I mean.

    We’ll be heading to the cabin within a month or so and will be off-grid and away from the internet. Depending on what happens in the world, we may be staying out there. Putting to the test what we’ve learned. Otherwise. we’ll be back next fall.
    When we get out there. I’ll put together a couple of those solo stoves.
    I may post again before we leave, but if not — take care.

    1. SoulSurvival
      Thank you and thank you for your prayers. They are very important to us.
      Our prayers go out to you and yours as well. And to our Nation.
      I’m sure our paths will cross.
      Take care!

  8. Do you know how to hunt?
    Do you know enough about gardening?
    Do you how to identify significant health issues in time?
    Do you have things of value to trade, if necessary?
    Do you know how to secure yourself and your stuff against motivated attack?
    Are you willing to keep quiet about what you have?
    Can you say “no” to people who didn’t prepare?

    Life can change overnight. Ask the Ukrainians.

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