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Fundamentals Of Good Nutrition: Food Quantity Made Simple

This week, Ciaran Ruddock from FFS takes us through the ins-and-outs of food quantity when leading a healthy lifestyle.

Are you tired of tracking everything you eat on your phone?

Do you want to get back to seeing food as food, instead of a maths equation?

Sounds pretty cool, right? 

Portion controlling what you eat is a huge factor in reaching your goals. I am going to explain the system that I use to help people make portion control simpler.

Now let me preface this by stating that I am not saying calories are not important. I know that calories are one of the most important variables when it comes to good nutrition.

Ensuring that you are consistently keeping your energy balance in line with your goals is one of the most important variables when it comes to body composition or sports performance goals.

The diagram below outlines this very clearly:

  • If you consistently eat more calories than you are expending, it will lead to weight gain.
  • If you consistently eat less calories than you are expending, it will lead to weight loss.
  • If you consistently match your energy intake to your energy expenditure you will maintain your bodyweight.

We have established that calories are important, but counting them for the rest of your life is not essential.

Calorie counting is:

  • Inconvenient
  • Time-consuming
  • Not necessarily totally accurate
  • Can lead to people over-complicating things
  • Difficult to do when eating out or on the road

Counting calories for a week can be a useful experiment to roughly teach you the energy value and composition of what you are eating. For the majority of people, I wouldn’t recommend using it for more than a week.

I prefer to teach people to get hands on with their nutrition. I like to get people to use their hands to measure portion sizes. I show people how to use the system below from Precision Nutrition.

As a starting point for women, aim for: 

  • 1 palm-sized serving of protein dense foods per meal
  • 1 fist-sized serving of vegetables per meal
  • 1 cupped hand-sized serving of carbohydrate dense foods per meal
  • 1 thumb-sized serving of fat dense foods per meal

I would recommend women start with this template for three to four meals per day. Then adjust based on results, activity levels and individual differences.

As a starting point for men, aim for:

  • 2 palm-sized servings of protein dense foods per meal
  • 2 fist sized-servings of vegetables per meal
  • 2 cupped hand-sized servings of carbohydrate dense foods per meal
  • 2 thumb sized-servings of fat dense foods per meal 

I would recommend men start with this template for three to four meals per day. Then adjust based on results, activity levels and individual differences. 

Based on my experience I have found the following benefits of using this system:

  • It is simple.
  • It is sustainable.
  • You can do it anywhere – you always have your hands with you!

Playing The Percentages

In addition to learning to use your hands to help measure portion sizes, learning to play the percentages is essential for consistently eating the right amount for you and your goals.

If I am working with someone who wants to lose weight or decrease body fat I will tell them that the most important habit for them is eating to 80% full consistently. This ensures that they are consistently in a calorie deficit, which is the most important variable when it comes to fat loss or weight loss.

Personally this was the game changing habit that helped me to get to 5% body fat twice in a year. 

If you want to lose bodyweight or decrease body fat, here are a few simple tips that will help you to implement the 80% full habit daily: 

  • Making smaller portions
  • Eat slower
  • Eat from a bowl instead of a plate (this is what worked for me)
  • Save some of your meal for later. Tupperware at the ready

If I am working with someone who wants to increase their bodyweight, muscle mass or is very physically active with their sport – I will tell them that a fundamental habit for them is eating to 100% full (or close to it) at each meal.

This will ensure that that they are consistently in a calorie surplus, which is the most important variable when it comes to weight / muscle gain and recovery from high training volumes.

If you want to increase weight, muscle size or improve recovery from high training volume, here are a few simple tips that will help you implement the 100% full (or close to it) habit daily:

  • Making larger portions
  • Eat faster (remember your table manners)
  • Eat from a larger plate or Tupperware box
  • Eat with someone who eats more than you

The three take-home points when it comes to food quantity are:

  1. Eat to match your needs and goals
  2. Use your hands
  3. Play the percentages