With the ever-increasing focus on macros in the fitness industry, the use of macro-tracking apps (like MyFitnessPal), and the feeling of control that macro tracking provides, some folks question how accurate our hand-size approach to determining and tracking portions really is.

So, let’s find out :).

—-

*For Men*
1 palm = ~4oz meat, 1 cup cottage cheese/Greek yogurt, 1 scoop protein powder
1 fist = ~1 cup
1 cupped handful = ~2/3 cup, or medium-sized tuber or fruit
1 thumb = ~1 tbsp

*For Women*
1 palm = ~3-4oz, 1 cup cottage cheese/Greek yogurt, 1 scoop protein powder
1 fist = ~1 cup
1 cupped handful = ~1/2 cup, or medium-sized tuber or fruit
1 thumb = ~1 tbsp

And with the above approximate portion sizes, we can create a bunch of various meal scenarios, with varying foods, and calculate the approximate macros these portions provide. This helps the number-oriented folks to compare their measuring and scales vs just using their hands.

*For Men*
Each Palm contains ~ 24g protein, 2g carbs, 4.5g fat, 145kcal
Each Fist contains ~ 1.5g protein, 5g carbs, 0g fat, 25kcal
Each Handful contains ~ 3g protein, 25g carbs, 1g fat, 120kcal
Each Thumb contains ~ 2g protein, 2g carbs, 9g fat, 100kcal

*For Women*
Each Palm contains ~ 22g protein, 2g carbs, 4g fat, 130kcal
Each Fist contains ~ 1.5g protein, 5g carbs, 0g fat, 25kcal
Each Handful contains ~ 3g protein, 22g carbs, 1g fat, 110kcal
Each Thumb contains ~ 2g protein, 2g carbs, 8g fat, 90kcal

—-

Let’s see how this system works in practice, and in comparison to manually tracking and counting macros and calories.

*Example 1 – High-level, 135lb, 18% bodyfat, female athlete training twice per day*

Pre-Workout @ 6am — 16 oz black coffee, 1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt, 1 cup chopped pineapple, 2 tbsp chopped walnuts, 1 glass water
Workout @ 7:15-8:30am – Sips on water during
Post-Workout Shake @ 9:00am — 12 oz water, 2 scoops protein powder, 1 medium apple, 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats, 2 handfuls spinach, 1 tbsp ground flax seed, 1 tbsp almond butter
Lunch @ 12pm — 3.5 oz salmon, 1 cup steamed mixed veggies, 1 medium sweet potato, 1 tbsp coconut oil, 2 glasses water
Mid-Afternoon Snack @ 4pm — 1 banana, 2 tbsp natural peanut butter, 1-2 glasses water
Workout @ 5:30-6pm – sips on water during training in 16oz water
Post-Workout Dinner @ 7pm — 4 oz chopped chicken breast, 2 cups cooked whole grain pasta, plus 2 cups sautéed veggies with 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic and white cooking wine, 2 glasses water

If you calculate out the calorie and macronutrients of this intake using the USDA nutrient database it will provide approximately:
2672 kcal
170 g protein
264 g carbs
104 g fat

And if you were to put this intake into hand-size portion terms, it looks like this:
Protein = 5 palms (Greek yogurt, protein powder x 2, salmon, chicken)
Veggies = 5 fists (spinach x 2, mixed veggies, sautéed veggies x 2)
Carbs = 10 handfuls (pineapple x 2, apple, oats, sweet potato, banana, pasta x 4)
Fats = 9 thumbs (walnuts x 2, flax seed, almond butter, coconut oil, peanut butter x 2, olive oil x 2)

When you multiply those portion numbers against approximate hand-portion math for women, it would provide an estimated intake of:
2672 kcal (exactly the same as calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
166 g protein (4 g fewer than calculating)
273 g carbs (9 g more than calculating)
102 g fat (2 g fewer than calculating)

*Example 2 – Moderately active 210lb male, 17% bodyfat*

Wake @ 5:30am – 12 oz black coffee
Breakfast @ 7:00am — 4 whole eggs with a large bunch of peppers, scallions, and mushrooms cooked in a large pat of butter, placed on whole wheat wrap, with ~1 oz cheese, 1 handful black beans, and some pico de gallo, large glass of water, 12 oz black coffee
Super Shake @ 10:30am — ~10 oz water, 2 scoops chocolate protein powder, 2 handfuls spinach, 2 cups frozen cherries, ~1 tablespoon cacao nibs, ~1 tablespoon chia seeds,
Lunch @ 2pm — 4 oz turkey breast, ~⅔ cup quinoa, 1 fist of mixed veggies, 1 apple, 2 thumbs of roasted almonds, 1-2 large glasses water
1-2 cups green tea @ 3-4pm
Dinner @ 6pm — 8 oz sirloin (lean), 2 handfuls roasted red potatoes with onions, 2 cups roasted rainbow carrots, 2 tbsp olive oil for roasting, 1 glass wine, 1-2 large glasses of water

If you calculate out the calorie and macronutrients of this intake using the USDA nutrient database it will provide approximately:
3130 kcal
212 g protein
283 g carbs
111 g fat

And if you were to put this intake into hand-size portion terms, it looks like this:
Protein = 7 palms (eggs x 2, protein powder x 2, turkey, sirloin x 2)
Veggies = 6 fists (scallions / peppers / mushrooms / pico, spinach x 2, mixed veggies, rainbow carrots x 2)
Carbs = 9 handfuls (wrap, beans, cherries x 3, quinoa, apple, potato x 2)
Fats = 8 thumbs (butter, guacamole, cacao nibs, chia seeds, almonds x 2, olive oil x 2)
Alcohol = 1 (wine)

When you multiply those portion numbers against approximate hand-portion math for men, it would provide an estimated intake of:
3183 kcal (53 kcal more than calculating it with apps and spreadsheets)
220g protein (8 g more than calculating)
285g carbs (2 g more than calculating)
113g fat (2 g more than calculating)

When looking at both examples, simply using your hands would be 96-100% as accurate as weighing, measuring, and logging all foods on apps or spreadsheets.

Plus, with the known error rates of calorie and macronutrients on labels or nutrient databases, this level of accuracy can suffice for all but the most advanced individuals (i.e. people being paid to look a certain way).

Of course, this isn’t to suggest there isn’t value in having folks track their intake in other ways, such as scales and apps. It can definitely help folks have more awareness of what, and how much, they are eating.

And some folks, particularly the mathematically inclined (as well as the more advanced), find the numbers enjoyable and empowering. So they can and likely should track their intake more precisely, as it helps them eat well consistently.