The Atheletic Rider: Get a HANDle on Portion Control

Personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld demonstrates a practical approach to counting calories.

Top photo: Flickr/Ninety Eight Six/Creative Commons License

From Leah:

Perhaps THE most frequently asked question I get as a rider fitness professional is not even a fitness question at all! The biggest “fitness” question on almost every rider’s mind is actually a nutrition question.  “How many calories do I need” or “how much do I need to eat to (lose weight, gain weight, have energy, etc) are the questions that weigh down more people from starting a fitness program than the actual weight itself.

There are actually two approaches that are commonly used, and each approach has its positives and negatives:

You can count calories or you can give yourself a hand.

The calorie counting approach first involves determining how many calories a person needs (based on current weight, goals and activity level), then requires weighing portions for each meal and snack to make sure the total calories consumed for each day is within a few calories of that calculated number. Many people then use an app like My Fitness Pal to track the calories consumed for each meal and each day.The upside to the calories counting approach is that weighing is precise, leaving little room for error. The downside to counting calories is that calorie determinations for an individual (both for the calories needed and calories burned) can be as much as 25% off base for any individual, leaving a lot of room for error. The second downside to counting calories is that it can be inconvenient to rely on a scale just to eat!

A second approach to determining how much food a person needs can be used anywhere, is considered more accurate and doesn’t require anything more than an empty hand. Dr John Berardi, founder of Precision Nutrition, offers a simple approach to determine each person’s portion requirements by referring to that person’s hand. The beauty of this approach is that person’s hand size usually increases as his or her overall size increases, allowing the larger person a greater portion and more calories.

Here is how it works:

  • Your PALM determines your PROTEIN portions.
  • Your FIST determines your VEGGIE portions.
  • Your CUPPED HAND determines your CARB portions.
  • Your THUMB determines your FAT portions.

The number of hands is different for men and women. As a starting place, men get two of each portion per meal and women get one hand. The guidelines assume a person will eat four meals a day. If you prefer to eat five to six meals day, you will want to divide your portion sizes accordingly.

Are you more of a visual learner? No problem! Precision Nutrition has provided a hand-y PDF file showing the portion size (with photos) for both men and women. Just click on the links below. You can download and print each PDF for easy reference.

Portion Control for Women

Portion Control for Men

Remember that guidelines such as calculating calories or hand portion as just a starting place.You are in individual and may need to adjust if the recommended starting place is not giving the results that you want.

Would you like a more hands on approach? Then check out The Athletic Rider Clean and Lean in 14 Challenge. It is a free challenge offered monthly that focuses on reducing and eliminating processed foods, reading food labels and portion control.

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the virtual posture assessment offered by The Athletic Rider.


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