Guide To Hand Portioning

Guide To Hand Portioning

It is almost impossible to be unaware of trends in diets that come up as we are surrounded by social media, news and celebrities promoting new ideas and it leads to a lot of dietary confusion.

This leads to people trying unrealistic methods and continuing to struggle with their bodies and relationship with food. Repeated unsustainable efforts create a lack of trust in peoples confidence with their bodies and we end up with so much information we just don’t know who to trust.

The method of hand portioning combined with intuitive eating promotes flexible, sustainable nourishment that uses rational thought and instinct. It is not a method to just ‘eat whatever you want’ but to work with your brain and eat in a way that satisfies, nourishes and satiates.

No matter how experienced a person is to refining nutrition for their goals, hand portions work, fact. The goal of your nutrition is to create a sustainable pattern of dietary behaviours that culminate in a manner of eating that aligns with your physical goals.

The intention isn’t to force unpalatable foods down your neck to achieve a short-lived physiological outcome but to re-address your eating behaviours and habits, ending up with a perpetual way of eating that both achieves and maintains your results.


Hand portioning is one of the best ways to eat a range of food in an amount relative to your body.

It helps you know exactly how much food to eat, what a meal should look like and which foods to eat for body composition, muscle building and fat loss.

Hand portions take out the guesswork, means you can forget about the perfect macros and rely on your own hunger and fullness with no limitations on the amount or type of food you eat with repeatable consistency.

The best thing…You always have it with you!

It’s great to use when travelling or at the buffet table, ordering food out and eating meals with friends. It is a fail-safe approach to building meals that align with your body composition goal.

Here’s how it works.


We obtain calories from three primary sources within our diets. Commonly these are known as macronutrients.

Depending on the source of the calorie it may also provide us with an array of critical nutrients such as dietary fibre, amino acids, antioxidants and dietary vitamins and minerals. Each of which contains a given amount of energy per gram.


A portion of protein is one palm

A portion of fat is 1 thumb

N.b. if you use a fatty cut such as skin on chicken, Kiev’s, steaks or oily fish, remove the fat addition from the meal and include the thumb in the portion size.

A portion of vegetables is one fist

A portion of carbohydrate is one cupped handful.

A snack portion, if needed, would be the complete size of 1 palm.

For those of you that wish to consume alcohol. Alcohol contains 7k/cals per gram. There’s also a hand portion method for that.

A portion of alcohol is 1 medium glass of wine, 1/2 pint, 1 bottle of beer, 1 single shot of spirits or 1 pre mixed can or bottle of mixers drinks.

N.b. Remove the cupped handful of carbohydrate or thumb of fat with a meal for 1 alcoholic drink.


For a highly nutritious delicious meal you can build a meal by doing the following:

1. Start by adding a cooked palm of protein to a normal plate.

For most people this is perfectly enough but if you are exercising or have a specific goal then you may wish to increase your protein intake, especially on days you  exercise.  

2. Add a fist sized amount of cooked vegetables including dark, thin skinned berries and fruits.

3. Add a thumb sized amount of essential healthy fats.

4. Add a cupped handful of cooked carbohydrates.

A meal like this is designed to balance the energy intake across the three macronutrients protein, carbohydrates and fat whilst providing adequate fibre and ensuring the intake of vitamins and minerals.


Moderately active people can maintain their weight and improve their health with one to two portions of each food group per meal but there is lots of potential for variation based on activity, food preferences and output.




For Your Goals 

Eating meals like this for everyone takes some time to adjust and find what works, 

here are some recommendations to help adjust when starting out. 

You will need more food if: 

• You are not feeling full after meals. 

• Eat fewer times in the day. 

• Not getting the strength and muscle gain result you’re after. 

Start by adding: 

• 1 cupped hand of carbs 

• and/or 

• 1 thumb of fat 

To a few meals, for a total of 2-3 additional portions each day. 

You will need less food if: 

• You are feeling too full after meals. 

• Eating more frequently in the day. 

• Not getting a weight loss result. 

Start by removing: 

• 1 cupped hand of carbs 

• and/or 

• 1 thumb of fat 

From a few meals, for a total of 2-3 fewer portions each day. 

If, over time, you have not been listening to your body, it becomes easy to ignore signs of hunger until you are ravenous. This often leads to uncontrollable overeating and feeling uncomfortably full. Recognising the gentler signs of hunger (like headaches, irritability, or mild stomach gurgling) will allow them to assess where their hunger is and not let them stray to the extreme ends of the hunger fullness scale.



The hunger fullness scale helps you better understand different levels of hunger and fullness before and after meals, it helps you respond to those levels and know the signs of your body. It’s measured on a scale of 0-10, and each number correlates with a different level of hunger or fullness. 

P10 images


The scale should be a tool used to get in touch with your own hunger and fullness cues. 

This provides you with a deeper understanding of your bodies needs. 

As you can see, this is not a calorie method but a method based on feedback from your hunger and fullness. This may help guide you on the food behaviours and preparation habits to build into your diet. 



To make sure you get adequate nutrients in line with calorie expenditure, you may benefit to increase the carbohydrate amount after exercise. When you exercise, the bodies preferred fuel is to use carbohydrates and when large amounts of oxygen is also consumed (long runs, highly metabolic work) the body will use fat too. 

Importantly for recovery, is to add the right type of calories at this meal. Depending on the type, duration and style of exercise, after exercise you may wish to omit the vegetable portion and add an additional 1-3 cupped handfuls of carbohydrates. 

Your coach may also ask that you use a protein powder and carbohydrate mix 

directly on finishing. 

If so, 45-90 minutes after training eat a meal in line with the hand portions as outlined with no need to manipulate the energy density of the post workout meal. 

This may need discussing and agreeing with your health professional but it is an efficient, time saving and effective way to promote recovery from exercise. 




This is the amount of energy, as represented by the number of calories, in a specific weight of food. Energy-dense foods have a large number of calories per serving and tend to include foods that have a high sugar content, are high in fat and have a low water content. These should play a smaller part in your diet. 

An example of a food with high energy density could be a doughnut. 

Doughnuts have lots of calories from sugar and fat that fit into a small serving size but also bundles of taste as it has a very low amount of hydration and fibre and high levels of flavour enhancers such as salts, sweeteners and sugar additives. 

In comparison, asparagus has low energy density, there are only a few calories in a whole plateful of asparagus but not a great deal to satisfy the taste buds. 


This is the amount of dietary fibre, complex carbohydrates, amino acids, antioxidants and dietary vitamins and minerals again represented by the number of calories, in that food. 

To use the same example, asparagus is packed full of nutrients, yet a doughnut has very little. 

Packing a diet with a higher proportion of nutrient dense food with a lower ratio of energy ultimately gives you a diet that can satisfy both hunger and taste whilst sustaining an intake of calories relative to your goals.

Here are some examples: 


Here are lists of foods and their macronutrient families, you are able to eat any foods you like and these are all intended as examples. 


Examples of foods that are proteins include: 

Eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, salmon, tofu, seitan, edamame, kidney beans, 

chickpeas, bacon, pork, lamb, greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, quark, cheese, duck, 

game, pollock, cod, basa, haddock, sardines, mackerel. 

Eat often: whole cuts of lean animal meats, fish fillets, eggs, organic dairy, 

legumes and lentils 

Eat sometimes: protein powders, bacon, chicken sausages, vegetarian meat 

substitutes, biltong and jerky 

Eat rarely: fried chicken and nuggets, brined sausages, battered fish, processed 

deli meats 


Examples of foods that are fats include: 

Sesame oil, olive oil, fish oil, ghee, butter, coconut oil, coconut, avocado, nuts and 

seeds, nut butters, dark chocolate, cheese, eggs, bacon and fatty meats, cream 

and full fat diary, pestos and tapenade. 

Eat often: extra virgin olive oil, avocados, fresh white cheeses, nuts and nut 

butters, egg yolks and fish oils 

Eat sometimes: rapeseed oil, dark chocolate, aged cheeses, coconut oil, butter, cream 

Eat rarely: vegetable oils, margarine, high fat sausages, thick heavy sauces



Firstly, don’t overthink it… As you prepare your own food more often and understand the portions, you have a sound understanding of food items and their macronutrients and you can add the nutrients it may not have and choose to catch up at another meal if you’d like. 


Guesstimate the portions and use rational thought. Eat mindfully and slow down at that meal and pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. Most meals prepared like this won’t have the protein or vegetable amount as outlined so add a side of veggies and maybe some 

extra protein. 

If you have soup and a roll for lunch, because that was all that was available, typically it has all of the vegetable portions, carbohydrate portion and fat you need. As it may lack protein you could swirl through Greek yoghurt or choose a soup with a protein inclusion, buy additional deli items to make a complete meal or even ask for additional protein side orders if you’re eating at a restaurant. 

The food you prepare yourself you can adjust and balance the meal to suit your preference. 


Additionally if you are well versed with the details of hand portions and nutritional labels, you will be able to convert the information from the label into a hand portion. 

1 palm of cooked protein is approximately 20-30g of protein. 

1 cupped hand of cooked carbohydrates is approximately 20-30g of carbohydrate. 

1 thumb sized amount of fat is approximately 8-15g of fat. 

1 fist of vegetables is approximately 60-80g of fruits or salad greens, 80-120g raw weight green vegetables. 

A nutritional label for a pre prepared meal will include the the macronutrients and it’s easily converted by knowing the details. 


When using hand portioning, we also rely on your hunger and fullness. Most people do really well eating 3-4 meals per day with some allowance for a snack and a post workout shake if it works for their goal. 

Intuitive eating and hand portions makes things flexible and adaptable and relies on eating more and less when you’d like to. For a consistent approach you may find it useful to find an amount of food for your every day diet and scale up and down as appropriate.



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