If you’re new to the world of calories and macros, you may not understand how much 500 calories represents in terms of actual food, and whether it’s a lot of calories or not based on your nutrition goals.
So is 500 calories a lot? If you are on a weight loss diet where your caloric requirement is 2000 calories or less, 500 calories can represent over 25% of your daily caloric intake (which is a lot). However, if you are a large male athlete eating 3500-5000 calories per day, 500 calories will feel like a very small snack in the context of your overall goals.
As you can gather here, context is really important in determining whether or not 500 calories is a lot. People will have different daily caloric budgets based on their gender, body composition goals, and activity levels.
After reading this article, you’ll learn:
- 12 examples of what 500 calories looks like
- Why 500 calories can look so different between different food groups
- If 500 calories is too much or too little based on individual factors
- Tips for eating 500 calories
What Do 500 Calories Look Like? 12 Examples
1. Plain Bagel With Cream Cheese (500 Calories)
- Plain Bagel (360 Calories)
- 2 Tbsp Cream Cheese (140 Calories)
2. McDonalds Big Mac (506 Calories)
- 41g Carbs (164 calories)
- 26g Fat (234 Calories)
- 27g Protein (108 Calories)
3. 5 Medium Bananas (522 Calories)
- 96g Carbs (480 Calories
- 2g Fat (18 Calories)
- 6g Protein (24 Calories)
4. 5oz Cheddar Cheese (512 Calories)
- 41g Fat (369 Calories)
- 31g Protein (124 Calories)
- 3g Carbs (12 Calories)
5. 0.8 Costco Blueberry Muffins (499 Calories)
- 27g Fat (241 Calories)
- 58g Carbs (232 Calories)
- 6.5g Protein (26 Calories)
6. 2 Glazed Dunkin Donuts (516 Calories)
- 28g fat (252 Calories)
- 60g Carbs (240 Calories)
- 6g Protein (24 Calories)
7. 10 Cups of Carrots (520 Calories)
- 111g Carbs (444 Calories)
- 12g Protein (48 Calories)
- 3g Fat (27 Calories)
8. 2 Medium Slices of Pepperoni Pizza (501 Calories)
- 21g Fat (189 Calories)
- 61g Carbs (244 Calories)
- 17g Protein (68 Calories)
9. Carl’s Jr. Biscuit ‘N’ Gravy (487 Calories)
- 27g Fat (243 Calories)
- 53g Carbs (212 Calories)
- 8g Protein (32 Calories)
10. Starbucks Raspberry Scone (509 Calories)
- 25g Fat (241 calories)
- 59g Carbs (236 Calories)
- 8g Protein (32 Calories)
11. 3oz of Almonds (515 Calories)
- 43g Fat (387 Calories)
- 16g Carbs (64 Calories)
- 16g Protein (64 Calories)
12. 2.6 Oz Steak (498 Calories)
- 34g Fat (306 Calories)
- 48g Protein (192 Calories)
Looking for more 500 calorie meals? Check out my article on 500 calorie bodybuilding meals, which outlines healthy homemade meals.
- Related Article: 500 Calorie High Protein Meals: 15 Examples
Why 500 Calories Can Look So Different
500 calories can look very different depending on whether the food is made up of protein, carbs, or fats. This is because 1 gram of fat holds 9 calories, whereas 1 gram of protein and carbohydrate only holds only 4 calories.
Therefore, it takes a much smaller amount of fat to reach 500 calories than carbohydrates or protein.
There is also the non-caloric component of the food (fiber and water) that contributes to the food volume. Some foods naturally have more water and fiber content than others, which increases the amount of food volume, without increasing the caloric content.
For example, a vegetable like a carrot is mostly made up of water and carbohydrates, whereas almonds are primarily made up of fat, so it takes a much smaller amount of almonds to reach 500 calories.
To illustrate, you would need to eat almost 3lbs of carrots to reach 500 calories, whereas with almonds, you would only need to eat only 3oz to reach 500 calories.
Is 500 Calories Too Much or Too Little?
Whether or not 500 calories is too much or too little to eat, in a meal or a snack, is going to depend on how many overall calories you need to eat each day to meet your goal, whether that is weight loss, weight maintenance, or weight gain.
Your individual daily caloric requirement is going to depend on a number of factors, including age, gender, weight and activity level.
As an example, the average recommended daily caloric intake for a moderately active 5’10”, 170lb male is 2500 calories, and for a moderately active 5’6” 140lb female, 2000 calories.
For an average male, 500 calories represents 20% or 1/5 of the daily recommended caloric intake, which would be a small meal, or a large snack.
For an average female, 500 calories represents 25% or 1/4 of the daily recommended caloric intake, which would be a very large snack, or an average-sized meal.
With that as a starting point, we can look more closely at the individual factors that influence whether or not 500 calories is a lot.
Your Daily Caloric Requirements
The largest component of your daily caloric intake is your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Your BMR is the minimum number of calories that your body needs in a day in order to perform necessary life-sustaining functions.
Your BMR will be impacted by a number of factors which include your biological sex, your weight, your body fat percentage, and your lean body mass.
An individual who has more muscle will burn more calories at rest. An individual who weighs more will have a higher BMR as it requires more calories to move and sustain a larger body.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure
On top of your BMR, your body burns calories from movement, whether deliberate exercise or simply day to day moving around.
Factoring your movement into how many calories your body burns in a day is known as determining your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
You can determine how many calories you burn in a day using this total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) calculator. If you are curious to know your BMR, use our BMR calculator.
This calculates the calories you burn from physical activity and daily movement on top of your BMR and will help you to better determine what an appropriate calorie intake will be.
Your Nutrition Goals
If your goal is weight loss, and your TDEE is less than 2000 calories, 500 calories is a lot, as it represents 25% or more of your daily caloric intake, and could be sufficient for a single meal.
Your Activity Level
The more active you are, the higher your TDEE will be, and as your TDEE goes up, 500 calories represents a smaller percentage of your overall caloric intake.
For example if you are a highly active large male athlete, who requires upwards of 5000 calories per day, 500 calories represents only 1/10 of your daily calorie intake, and might be better suited as a snack.
Your Biological Sex
Males will have higher basal metabolic rates than females.
One of the major contributing factors is that males carry significantly more muscle mass on average than females, meaning that they burn more calories at rest.
This also means that males burn more calories during activities, as it takes more calories to sustain a larger body with more muscle mass.
What this means is that, on average, 500 calories is a lot more calories for women than men.
Tips For Eating 500 Calories
If You Are Eating To Maintain or Lose Weight
If you are trying to lose weight, you want to get as much satisfaction out of 500 calories as possible. You’re looking to get as much food volume as possible, so you feel full when you eat meals.
Here’s how you can do this:
- Choose foods with a high water content such as apples, melons, cucumbers
- Choose foods with low calories per gram, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and other non-starchy vegetables
- Choose leaner cuts of meat that have a lower fat content such as beef flank steak or skinless chicken breast
- Avoid drinking your calories from high-calorie drinks such as soda or frappuccinos
- Limit added fats in the form of oils, salad dressings, etc, as these high-fat liquids add calories very quickly
- Choose lower-calorie methods of cooking such as baking, broiling, steaming, or air frying where little to no oil or fat is used in cooking
Related Article: 500 Calorie Deficit: Is It Healthy? How Much Can You Lose?
If You Are Eating To Gain Weight
If you are bulking and trying to gain weight, you want to choose meals that have lower food volumes and high calorie content, so that you can fit more calories into your meals.
Here’s how you can do this:
- Add nut butter to smoothies to increase their calorie content
- Snack on high-calorie nutrient rich nuts such as almonds, cashews and brazil nuts
- Choose low-volume vegetables such as spinach, kale to add nutrients without too much water and fiber
- Choose easy to digest carbohydrates such as white rice, potatoes and yams
Frequently Asked Questions:
Will 500 Calories Fill You Up?
If you choose high-volume, low-calorie foods like fruits and vegetables, 500 calories can feel very filling. On the other hand, if you choose high calorie, low volume foods like potato chips, 500 calories may feel like you’ve hardly eaten anything.
Is 500 Calories A lot For A Snack?
If you are trying to lose weight, and require between 1500-2000 calories per day, 500 calories is a lot for a snack, and is better suited as a meal.
Is 500 Calories A lot For Breakfast
If your daily caloric requirement is above 2000 calories per day, 500 calories is not a lot to eat at breakfast time.
As an example, if we consider someone with a daily caloric requirement of 2500 calories, we can break those 2500 calories into 3 meals and 2 snacks, each meal (including breakfast) could comfortably be 700 calories, with 2 snacks being 200 calories each. In this case, 500 calories would be a smaller breakfast.
Is 500 Calories A lot For A Drink?
500 calories is a lot for a drink if your goal is to lose weight. Liquid calories are the easiest to overconsume, because they aren’t filling and they pass through your stomach very quickly. Common drinks that are over 500 calories would be drinks such as frappuccinos, smoothies, and milkshakes.
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About The Author
Jon McLernon (aka Coach Jon) is a Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certified Master Coach. With a background in chemistry and psychology, Coach Jon has a passion for supplement/nutrition science and behavioral psychology. When he’s not helping his clients crush their nutrition goals, he’s usually trying to wrangle a busy toddler (and get him to eat more veggies), or he and his Aussie wife are off on another globetrotting adventure!