How to count macros without a scale

There are multiple ways to count macros without a scale. Some methods include using the Hand Fist Model, visual cues, reading food labels, measuring cups and spoons, and using the MyPlate method. 

Understanding Macros

Macros, short for macronutrients, are the calorie-containing nutrients that make up the bulk of a person’s diet. The three significant macros are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. 

Foods that provide a significant amount of a given macro tend to be categorized as protein, fat, or carbohydrate. See the examples below. 

  • Protein: Poultry, beef, fish, tofu, legumes. 
  • Fats: Cooking oils, avocado, peanut butter, butter, cheese. 
  • Carbohydrates: Rice, pasta, fruit, bread.  

How to count macros without a scale

Counting your macros is a strategy for logging and tracking your dietary intake. When practicing this strategy, most will use a food tracking application and tools like a scale to record accurately. 

But what happens when you don’t have a food scale to measure your food? 

I always get this question from my clients, especially when traveling or eating out at a restaurant. It would be strange to see someone with a food scale at Texas Road House on the table next to you. 

You can still count your macros without a food scale in several ways. We will walk through five techniques you can use next time you track without a scale. 

The Hand Fist Model 

The Hand and Fist Model is a portion control technique that uses the size of your palm, fist, cupped hand, and thumb to visually represent a standard portion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. 

Palmabout the same size as a 3oz serving of protein 
Fist about one cup serving
Cupped handabout 1/2 cup serving
Thumpabout one tablespoon
Thump nailabout one tsp

Limitations: Although the Hand and Fist Model is useful for estimating portion sizes, some ingredients and cooking techniques may make it difficult to evaluate a serving size accurately.

Are you new to counting macros check out this guide: Counting Macros For Beginners

Visual Cues 

Like the Hand and Fist Model, you can employ visual cues of portion sizes resembling common household items. This approach to estimating portion sizes proves valuable as it offers a wider range of serving size options.

Some common visual cues include: 

Golf Ball2 tbsp 
Baseball1 cup 
CD caseSlice of bread 
Computer mouseMedium potato 
Deck of cards3oz serving of protein 

Limitations: The variation in size and shape of the food makes it challenging to compare serving sizes with a visual cue. This tactic requires you to make a judgment based on an unfamiliar object.

Reading Food Labels

Use the nutrition facts label to count macros without a scale. It shows the serving size and number of servings per container.

  • Servings per container: Divided that food up into individual servings
  • Serving size -> Use a measuring cup to distribute each serving. 

Limitations: Not all products are required to include nutrition facts labels.

Measuring cups

Measuring cups and spoons is a helpful way to measure portions and count macros without a scale. 

The nutrition facts label displays the serving size, often measured using measuring cups and spoons. 

Additionally, there are similarities between the serving sizes of each macronutrient. For instance, a 4-ounce serving of turkey, chicken, and beef equals approximately ½ cup. 

Utilizing a food tracking application, you can log the number of servings you consume, recording the information as you eat throughout the day.

Guide for using measuring ups to count macros.

Protein1/2 cupChicken, Beef, Turkey, Tofu 
Fats1 tbspOlive oil, Cooking oil Butter 
1/4 cupShredded cheese, Almonds, Peanut butter 
Carbohydrates 1/2 cupRice 
1 cup Fruit, Pasta 


Limitations: The chopping and preparation of these foods can affect their volume measurements. For example, in a chopped vs. ground chicken breast, the chopped will fill much more space than the ground chicken. 

MyPlate 

The last method for counting macros without a scale is using MyPlate. MyPlate Is the USDA dietary recommendation and includes the five food groups: vegetables, fruit, lean protein, grains, and dairy.    

Using the MyPlate method allows you to count your macros and helps you get in a variety of essential nutrients. 

Knowing that different food groups will fit into one or more of the macronutrient categories is important. Here is a list of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and the associated food groups. 

  • Protein: Animal protein, legumes, and dairy. 
  • Fats: Cooking oils and dairy 
  • Carbohydrates: Fruit, grains, legumes 

Limitations: Basing your serving size on plate dimensions leaves room for inaccuracies when tracking macros. Plus, the variability in plate size might pose a challenge.

Online Resources and Apps

Counting and tracking your macros without a food scale is possible, especially with all of the information, applications, and technology we have today. 

Food tracking applications

There are several food tracking apps available on the market today. Each has their own signature features. 

I have personally loved the Cronometer Food Tracking Application. With its easy-to-use interface and quality data, I can use Cronometer to dial in my eating habits. 

There are several others on the market. Here are a few options: 

Conclusion

There are several ways that you can count your macros without a scale. We outlined 5 different methods for tracking macros without the use of a food scale. 

As a dietitian, I recommend you discover what works best for you and stick to a dependable system for monitoring your macros.

Most clients often use a food scale to count macros due to its reliable measurement and results. Learning how to use a food scale to count macros takes some time. 

I would love to hear about your strategies for counting macros. Email me at contact@noahsnutrition.com

Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.