Every serious athlete knows one thing: training is useless without fuel. And knowing how to fuel the athlete’s body is no simple subject. Athletes need carbs and protein. They need good fats and more protein. They need a lot of water, and they need fruits and veggies, vitamins, minerals, omegas, and aminos.
Most athletes already know the basics.
And most athletes also know what foods they love, what work best for performance, what helps them recover, and what they need to eat to feel satisfied and happy.
Knowing what to eat isn’t always the issue. Many times, it’s knowing how much to eat that really stumps people…especially people who are trying to get the most of their gym life while building muscle and burning fat. The ratio between the two tends to be a very fine line and is sometimes tough to get “just right.”
And in order to get those ratios perfectly aligned with lifestyle, gymstyle, and gainz, many athletes find themselves all but obsessing–sometimes daily–about counting every last protein, fat, and carb gram to ensure their macronutrient partitioning is exactly as it should be. For some, this is a sure-fire way to meet specific fat loss and muscle-building goals with certainty.
For others? Some people do NOT like calorie counting. They don’t have enough time, extra daily energy, or even the patience to sit around and log every single morsel eaten at every meal, up to six times a day.
In my experience, people are either calorie counters, or not. Some people are just fine logging daily meals and snacks. Other people say, “Hey. I want nutrition to be an easier part of my lifestyle.” And I get that and respect it. Some people will actually stick to eating healthier–for a longer period of time–because of the lack of obsession over numbers.
It doesn’t mean that those who count are wrong–or vice versa. Personally–I’m a counter. I realize how much it helps me. But for many of my clients, they’ll admit upon first consult, “I want to get stronger and leaner but I want my food to be a way of life. If I have to count calories, I won’t do it.”
So I resort to a method that works really well for a lot of people. It’s completely centered around the size of the person’s hand, and as long as a person knows the difference between a carb, a protein, and a fat; he or she cannot go wrong with this lifestyle method. (If you don’t know the difference between the three macros, check out this post: A Quick Guide to Understanding Macronutrients)
The Hand Method, developed by Nutritionist John Berardi
The hand method is a fantastic way of ensuring that you’re eating very well and you’re eating foods of the highest nutritional qualities. Personally, I think most people who follow the hand method tend to eat even healthier than those who count calories. You can log two slices of pizza in your nutrition tracker, but it’s really hard to justify three slices of supreme as the same size of your hand.
The method works well for anyone. There are ways to tweak it to make it for work best for women, men, lifters, and those who just want a simpler way to lose weight and eat healthier.
How the hand method works: Look down at your hand.
- The size of your palm = one protein serving
- The size of your fist = one serving of veggies
- The size of your cupped hand = one serving of carbs
- The size of your thumb = one serving of fats
For the Average Male:
Each day, you’ll need 6-8 servings of each (roughly 2300-3000 calories):
You could break this down however you want to–six to eight small meals each day, or you could have three to four bigger meals–whatever is easier for YOU.
For the Average Female:
In each day, you’ll need 4-6 servings of each (roughly 1500-2100 calories):
Let’s pretend we’re planning four meals per day. Each meal should consist of
- Two palms of protein per meal (meat, eggs, fish, cottage cheese, etc.)
- Two fists of veggies per meal (a wide variety is always best for fiber, vitamin, and mineral quality)
- Two cupped hands of carbs per meal (fruit, grains, etc.)
- Two thumbed-sized portions of fat per meal (nuts, oils, seeds, avocado, higher fat cheeses etc.)
- One palm of protein per meal (meat, eggs, fish, cottage cheese, etc.)
- One fist of veggies per meal (a wide variety is always best for fiber, vitamin, and mineral quality)
- One cupped handful of carbs per meal (fruit, grains, etc.)
- One thumbed-sized portions of fat per meal (nuts, oils, seeds, avocado, higher fat cheeses etc.)
What if you try this method and it feels like too much food?
It’s true–we’re all different. Our activity levels are different. Our metabolisms and ages are different. Our goals are different. You might need to adjust. If you try this hand method and it feels like you’re just eating too much food or you aren’t meeting your goals, men can try eliminating one cupped handful of carbs and/or one thumb of fat from a few meals each day and women can cut down by eliminating 1/2 handful of carbs 1/2 thumb of fats from a few meals each day.
But what if you’re an athlete who needs more food?
Simple. If you’re larger in stature, need extra calories for multiple gym sessions, are trying to gain, or simply still feel hungry, you can easily add to your plate. Men can start by adding one cupped handful of carbs and/or one thumb of fat to each meal each day. Women can add a half of a cupped handful of carbs and/or a half thumb of fat to each meal per day.
Pay close attention to the “and/or” here when it comes to carbs and fats. If the meal is before and/or after your workout, just add the extra carbs. Any other time of day, add the carbs and/or the fat. Essentially, you just don’t want too many fats around your workout–especially after. Fats hinder the protein + carb absorption in the muscles. (For more on that, check out this article HERE.)
Now it’s Time to FOOD PREP!
Yes, food prep can be time consuming, but the good news is that if you’re using the hand method, you can save yourself some time because you aren’t weighing and measuring and adding and subtracting.
If you can plan out a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack or two that consists of these food groups (protein, veggies, carbs, and fats), make them in advance, and stick them in your fridge, you’ll never be out without your meals! You won’t stop for a fast food lunch, and you’re much less likely to snack on junk food or even stop for those ready-made protein shakes that contain ingredients you aren’t familiar with.
Don’t forget–this is all about making food prep work for YOU for the long haul! Healthy eating shouldn’t be stressful and require too much time out of your busy schedule.
But there’s good and bad when it comes to planning your food.
The bad is that at first (and I promise–only at first) it’s a bit time consuming until you get in the swing of it. Figuring out how much food you need to eat, then what food to actually eat, and then making your lists, going shopping, and actually prepping the food does take a bit of time in order to make it a weekly habit. Of course, that’s true of all good things, and if eating healthy was super easy, the world wouldn’t need articles like this one. Habits take a while to form. And it may be even tougher if you’ve got family involved in the process. But the good news is that once you form a habit, it’s harder to break it than make it. So let’s go into this with the mindset of forming a new habit, ok?
The even better news is that once you’ve successfully food prepped a few times, the process gets much easier and less time consuming. And if your family is eating healthy meals too, then you’ve got their help and input to make the process fun and enjoyable. You may even be able to meal prep together! Just think of all the time you get to spend with your spouse and kids–sitting down and planning a menu, letting your kids take ownership of picking out healthy meals–teaching your kids about healthy foods!–and then letting them help with the shopping and/or food prep?
So get started already!
Step one is really just figuring out what exactly you’ll need to eat each day.
(Side note: you don’t have to start out by planning for a whole week. You can always start small: plan for a couple of days, then gradually add more days in when you’re confident with your planning structure; or you could start out by just planning lunches for the week.)
The toughest part of food prep is often WHAT food to prep. Most people see the above hand method and think, “two fists of veggies for breakfast?”
- What about an omelette? A couple eggs (protein) a fist of spinach and a fist of peppers (or a half fist of each), a sprinkle of cheese (the fat) or 1/4 of an avocado, and a side of fruit would make this a perfectly balanced breakfast.
- How about a bowl of cottage cheese with fruit and nuts and then you can take some raw veggies to munch on later as a snack? Just because you need 4-6 servings of veggies a day doesn’t necessarily mean you MUST eat them with each meal. You could have a hellacious salad for lunch that makes up most of these vegetable requirements!
- Back to breakfast–what about a bowl of oatmeal with almonds or walnuts, and a side of eggs/cottage cheese/greek yogurt? Sometimes I mix in greek yogurt into my oatmeal and add a spoonful of almond butter or mixed nuts and I love that breakfast! Again, just save your veggies for a snack later!
- My fave: A couple of eggs, a slice of bacon (that’s your fat), and sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms (my fave breakfast veggie is spinach) , and then add a side of fruit, oats, or diced sweet potatoes?
It’s all doable…you just need to get creative and sit down and really think things out.
- What would you enjoy for breakfast this week?
- What’s a great lunch that you would look forward to eating?
- What would your family enjoy for dinner this week? (If you get bored off left-overs, maybe you can make a healthy dinner one night and the leftovers will be lunches the next couple of days? Same with the next healthy dinner you make?)
- What are some healthy snacks your family wouldn’t mind eating?
- Apple slices with nut butter
- Raw veggies with greek yogurt and dill for dipping
- Mixed nuts, hard boiled eggs, a piece of fruit
- Cottage cheese with nuts and fruit
- Can you think of anything else?
All you need is a plan and a routine to form an amazing, good-for-you habit.
My husband and I like to shop on Sunday after church and I usually get started on food prep when we get home. I don’t always cook “all” the food then–I typically make one or two dishes and then the next day make the rest. I don’t like spending the whole day on one task, so this helps me break things up. It works for us and my husband typically pitches in and makes at least one or two meals for us each week. And as our family expands, we’ll be continuing this process and leading by example! Food prepping, teaching, planning, and making the trips to the grocery store can be a fantastic learning experience. Don’t forget: our kids model our behaviors first and foremost. Whatever you can do to help them–lead the way!
Food prep does NOT have to be time consuming.
Recently, I realized I didn’t have any lunch for the week (due to being out of town the previous weekend) so I looked in my fridge to see what I could make. I threw in a skillet:
- 4 eggs
- a half cup of egg whites
- a can of organic black beans
- two bags of frozen diced sweet potatoes
- some salsa and cheddar cheese.
- If I had spinach, I would have thrown that in there too.
In just 20 minutes, I ended up with a meal that contained healthy sources of protein, fats, carbs, and veggies all in one skillet. All I had to do was divide out the portions into separate tupperware containers (using my whole hand as a guide for my portions since I combined all the food groups into one skillet) and I ended up with lunches for the week.
Because you’re here, you already know the basics (and even if you don’t, I’ve given you the resources to learn); and now you just have to figure out how to implement them better. Be confident that you can do this! The good news is that this isn’t a “diet” of any sorts…it’s just smart healthy planning for a better lifestyle. It doesn’t matter which carbs you choose or what protein sources are your favorite–eat what you love! Just know there’s a time and place for all your favorite foods and learning how to plan so that you can avoid an excess of the “bad stuff” makes life so much easier AND healthier for you and your family.
But what about cookies and ice cream? They fit in my hand too!
Just HAVE to have a slice of pizza or chocolate chip cookie? (or two?) We’re human–just be sensible. Save those treats for after a tough lifting session. And then save all the other “bad stuff” for special occasions. My mother-in-law makes snickerdoodle cookies at Christmas (and only on Christmas) and it makes the holiday extra magical. Make your family occasions even more exciting by saving the treats you love most for moments you can all sit down and really appreciate them.
March is the founder of the Barbell Beauties. Her goal is simple… Empower every woman to grab a barbell and LIFT. She’s been an active CrossFitter for 7 years and credits that sport for turning her into a true athlete.