Whether you have been counting macronutrients or "macros" for a while now or just getting started, at some point you may find yourself without a food scale, meal plan template or tracking app and the need to guesstimate exactly how much you should be eating. Or maybe you just want the fastest way possible to balance your portions and stay on track just about anywhere. Well, good news. You have your own portion control device in the palm of you hand already... your hand!
Put this info to good use and start building your ultimate macro based menu with this RD-written guide to meal prep. Get free custom macro recommendations, food, lists and expert advice.
How Much Should You Be Eating?
The size of your hand is unique and also closely aligns with your serving size requirements - the bigger your hand, the more food you need. Hold you hand up and look at your palm. One full hand is a single serving of protein. Now make a fist, one fist is a single serving of starches, and 2 fists is a standard serving of veggies.
Tailor Your Portions to Your Fitness Goals
The portion plate you use may change from one day to the next or one meal to the next, depending on your fitness and health goals. You can adjust your carb and protein portions around your workouts, eating more food when you are more active and a lighter meal on rest days or when you are not moving around as much.
Carbohydrate needs are directly related to your level of physical activity. Eat more carbohydrates when you are the most active.
Protein needs are directly related to lean body mass. You should get at least 1g of protein per 1 pound of lean body mass. Structuring your meals to fill 1/4th to 1/3rd of your plate with high quality protein will give you about 30-40 grams per meal, and enough to meet your needs.
The type of activity you are doing can also affect your macro needs. Heavy lifting and high intensity training will require more carbs and a little more protein, compared to moderate activity when you might not need to adjust your carbs at all.
Macros Food Lists
Learning your unique portions and counting macros without supporting tools, does require you to comprehend basic nutrition, or at least know what is considered a carb, protein and fat. Here is a quick breakdown to get you started.
What Counts as a Carb or Starchy Food?
Carbohydrates are sugars, fibers and starches, and come from anything that grows out of the ground, and dairy.
This includes fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and grains. As well as milk and yogurt. Carbohydrates also come from added and naturally occurring sugars like table sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, etc. But this does not include artificial sweeteners. Here is a summarized list of carbohydrate foods or starchy foods you may be eating:
- Peas, Corn, Winter Squash, Plantains, and Potatoes
- Beans, Lentils, and Peas
- Quinoa, Bulgur, Farro, Barley, Spelt, Teff, Oats, Millet, Buckwheat, and Amaranth
- Black Rice, Red Rice, Brown Rice, Wild Rice and White Rice
- Breads, Rolls, and Tortillas
- Noodles, Pasta, and Gnocchi
- Granola Bars
- Milk, Yogurt
- Crackers, Pretzels, Popcorn and Chips
Starchy options that provide a good source of fiber are the best choices. Even though fiber is a type of carb, it is not absorbed by the body and can help decrease your overall carb intake, increase feelings of fullness and promote heart health. As a rule of thumb, get more of your carbohydrates from simple, whole foods and less from added sugar and processed foods.
Veggies are Unique
|Starchy Veggies||Non-Starchy Veggies|
Vegetables can be broken up into two types: starchy and non-starchy. The starchy vegetables would fall under the carb section of the plate, while non-starchy are not significantly high in carbs, protein or fat, and have their own section. Non-starchy veggies are mostly water. They provide few calories and are the highest in nutrient density, meaning your can eat a lot more for a lot less calories. Eating more veggies will help make sure your micronutrient intake is up to par!
Not to mention veggies are typically high in fiber that will keep you feeling super satisfied.
Melon and strawberries are also mostly water and can help add volume to your plate without throwing off your macros.
What Counts as a Protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids and comes from meat, dairy and plant-based sources. Beef up on protein to curb your appetite, stimulate your metabolism, and keep your energy levels high. Look for a variety of protein sources to lock in more nutrition and don’t forget to get a good source of omega-3s from seafood two to three times per week. Here is a summarized list of proteins you may be eating:
- High Omega-3 Fish (Ex: Wild Caught Salmon, Artic Char, Atlantic Mackerel, Sardines, Sablefish/Black Cod, Anchovies, Rainbow Trout, Albacore Tuna, and Pacific Halibut)
- Other Fish like Basa, Tilapia and Tuna
- Poultry (Ex: Chicken, Turkey, Quail, Game Hen)
- Oysters, Mussels and Clams
- Shrimp, Crabs and Lobster
- Venison, Bison, Elk and Grass-fed Beef
- Whey or Casein Protein Powder
- Nitrate-free Deli Meat, Sausage, Bacon and Jerky
If you are eating a plant-based diet, it is possible to get all of the protein you need without meat and seafood. However, most vegan proteins are also a source of carbs or fat, and you will need to adjust you portion plate. Here are some of the best vegan and vegetarian options to get protein:
- Non-fat Greek Yogurt
- Milk (also a starch)
- Low-fat Cheese (also a fat)
- Edamame, Soy Beans, Beans, and Lentils (also a starch)
- Low-fat Cheese (also a fat)
- Nuts and Nut Butters (also a fat)
- Tofu, Seitan and meat substitutes (also a starch)
- Quinoa, Kamut, Teff, and Whole Grain Pasta (also a starch)
- Pea, Hemp, Brown Rice or Soy Protein Powder
Look for high quality proteins from meat, eggs, fish, Greek yogurt, or tofu and avoid added breading, heavy sauces, and added fat if you're trying to keep lean.
What About Fat?
Fats are not included as a portion in the plate because fat typically acts as a topping or extra ingredient. If you are trying to gain weight, fats are an easy way to add calories without adding a lot of volume. But if you are leaning out they should be kept moderate. Here are some common ways you can add fat to your plate:
- Flax Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Chia Seeds and Pumpkin Seeds
- Walnuts, Almonds, Pistachios, Peanuts, Cashews, Pecans, Macadamia, and other Nuts and Nut Butters
- Olive Oil, Sesame Oil, Coconut Oil, Hazelnut Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Avocado Oil, Pisatchio Oil, and Other Cooking Oils
- Beef Tallow
If your food is cooked with fat or naturally contains fat like from olives, avocado or nuts, you probably do not need to add any additional fat. But if you are eating very lean meats, steamed veggies and plain starches, you may want to add a little fat for flavor and satiety.
If adding fat to your plate, limit your portion to 1 Tablespoon or less per meal, 1 ounce of nuts/nut butter, or 1/3 of an avocado, to help control total calorie intake.
Stay on Track
Good nutrition and good health cannot be achieved from one meal or even a few weeks of dieting, it is a constant process that requires you to stay on top of your intake. Learning the basics is a great place to start, and it will only get easier from there! Find a diet plan that works best for you and one you know you can stick to.
Want to put these foods lists and portioning guide to good use? Build your ideal macro based diet with this free meal prep toolkit for weight loss. Complete with custom macro calculations and menu planning tools.