How Much Food Does a Person Need Per Day to Survive?

How Much Food Does a Person Need Per Day to Survive
Image Credit: Kien Lee

A lot of people who are stranded in the wilderness without any emergency supplies often freak out about water, first and foremost. And for good reason. On average, the human body cannot survive without adequate water (about 10 cups) for 3 days, and most people usually die of dehydration within 3-5 days.

Food is another question entirely. With a constant water intake, humans can survive about a month without food. A month!

But certainly, a lack of food has adverse effects. Weight loss, lightheadedness and dizziness, loss of energy, and even more severe consequences come with lack of food. There are some benefits, however. People who use intermittent fasting or similar fasting strategies like calorie deficits are able to burn fat while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

However, if you’re stuck in a situation where you’re fasting out of necessity, or simply have no way to get food, there are a few elements you must consider that are critical for your survival.

Daily Calorie Intake for Survival

Now, if you’re in the middle of the desert or camping out in a shady grove waiting for rescue, chances are you’re not counting calories. And even if you wanted to, you probably don’t have the means.

But it’s worth examining what the baseline calorie intake should be for survival.

We’ve all heard that the baseline number of calories we should intake per day is 2,000. These calories should consist of a healthy balance of carbs, fats, protein, fruits, and vegetables.

The 2,000 is an average, and each individual has their distinct dietary needs. For example, bodybuilders and strongmen consume between 8,000 and 10,000 a day just to maintain their muscle mass, while other people might operate on a calorie deficit to lose weight.

However, it’s clear the minimum number of calories a person should consume each day is around 1,200. While consuming such a low number of calories isn’t sustainable, you can survive on this kind of diet for months or even years.

But what kind of foods should you be eating?

Types of Survival Food

Obviously, if you’re forced into a situation where you don’t have hardly any food, you might not have a choice of what to eat. And depending on your environment, you might not be able to scavenge or hunt for nutritious food.

That’s why it’s important to pack survival food if you’re planning on going camping or hiking, or even on an extended trip, like a hike across the Appalachian Trail.

Foods that don’t have to be cooked are great for emergency food kits because you might be stuck without power or means to boil water. A lot of MREs require hot water to prepare, so they’re not super great if you’re in a life-or-death situation.

When in doubt, stick with easy-to-eat foods that satisfy multiple food groups. We’ll give some examples:

Protein, Carbs, and Fat: The Essential Survival Foods

When prepping for a disaster, or even just a casual outdoor adventure, be sure to consider the three high-energy food groups for survival.

Protein is great for improving your body’s muscle mass, reducing your hunger, and healing structural ailments (cuts, scrapes, broken bones, etc.)

Carbohydrates provide long-lasting energy for your body and brain, while also regulating digestion and fueling essential bodily functions.

Fats help your body store energy and absorb nutrients from other foods.

Choose foods that have a healthy balance of these three food groups, because they’ll help you survive in the long run.

Some essential food items include:

  • Jerky (beef, pork, elk, turkey, etc.) is high in protein.
  • Peanut butter (or PB powder) has essential fats and vitamin E, while also lasting a long time.
  • Honey keeps forever, while also storing necessary sugars and nutrients.
  • Powdered milk will give you protein, fat, and vitamin D, while also lasting up to 25 years in a stable condition.
  • Canned tuna or salmon contain high levels of protein and omega 3 fats.

Fibrous Foods

Fiber is often an overlooked nutrient and is associated with pooping, and it’s true. Foods with high levels of fiber will help you go to the bathroom better, but fiber does so much more than that.

When you’re in survival mode, fiber can help you maintain a better weight, lower your cholesterol, and regulate your blood sugar levels.

Fibrous foods to pack in your backpack include:

  • Canned or dried beans (lentils, black beans, pinto, etc.)
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews, etc.)
  • Dried figs, prunes, or dates (the sorbitol in these fruits can aid digestion and regulate body sugar)

How Much Food Do You Need To Survive?

At the end of the day, how much food a person needs to survive depends on a lot of factors. Current bodyweight, medical conditions, fitness, the environment, the climate, and the length of time you’ll be eating the bare minimum all play a part in a person’s survival.

Nothing beats a good balance of protein, fats, carbs, and at least 1,200 calories per day. In a pinch, you can survive on less, but it’s all about the quality of the food you’re eating.

A lot of survival experts claim it’s better to already have a food source prepared in case of an emergency, like a survival food kit, rather than foraging for your own food. There’s solid reasoning behind this, because many plants, fungi, and insects might seem tasty, but will actually end up doing more harm than good.

Not everyone has the luxury of loading up on MREs, so we fly by the philosophy that preparedness is more than just what you bring in your backpack, it’s your survival know-how. Yeah, it might be advantageous to have some protein bars and beans in your bag, but you should also know what food items you can hunt or scavenge to supplement your supplies.

You can use directories like this to help you learn about plants and animals native to your area, which are safe to eat, and what is critical for your survival.


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