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Cross Training For Runners

The Complete Beginners Guide To Serving Size

6 Mins read

If serving size is a confusing topic for you, then you have come to the right place.

In today’s article, I’m delving into some of the ins and outs of serving and portions, today I’m sharing with you this ultimate guide to portion sizes.

By wrapping your head around serving sizes and how much food you need every day, you’ll be one step closer to eating much healthier.

I‘ve also provided you below with plenty of examples of what represents one serving of common foods by comparing serving size against different everyday objects to keep in mind as a visual reminder.

Portion Size Vs. Serving Size

Choosing the right foods with the right amounts means consuming portions that are proper serving sizes.

But that’s no excuse to confuse the terms portion and serving. Although these are usually used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing.

So, what’s the difference?

Portion size is how much food you choose to eat in one sitting, whether in a restaurant, from a package, or in your own kitchen. So, it could be a large amount or a small amount.

Examples include a plate of chicken breast or a handful of nuts.

Portion size is 100 percent within your control. Just keep in mind that many foods may come as a single portion but actually contain multiple servings.

On the other hand, a serving is how much food and drinks recommendation for one sitting.

Servings are found listed on a food nutrition facts label. These are what the USDA uses in the healthy eating guidelines and daily intake recommendations based on the average amount a person should consume in a single sitting.

Good examples of an average serving include a bowl of cereal, a slice of bread, a medium-sized potato or banana, etc.

Measuring serving size might seem complicated, but it’s not rocket science.

Below you’ll find practical examples of what represents one serving of common foods and drinks.

The Ultimate Guide For Serving Size


A typical carbohydrate serving is roughly 15 grams. Keep in mind that the grams refer to the amount of carbs in the serving, not the tangible weight of the food.

The Exact Breakdown

Carbs are a powerful source of energy and must be included in any runner’s diet.  In fact, they should make 50 to 65 percent of your total calorie intake.

How Much

Specific needs vary depending on your training intensity, energy needs, gender, age, etc.

For example, if you require 2,400 calories daily, 1200 to 1400 of your calories should come from carbohydrates.


Vegetables are a major source of healthy carbohydrates.

One serving of raw leafy veggies should be roughly the size of a small fist or a baseball. This might be a lot smaller than most people think.

In general, a serving of vegetables equals:

  • Half a cup of raw or cooked vegetables
  • ½ cup of vegetable juice.
  • ½ cup (or 4 ounces) of vegetable juice.
  • One cup of raw, leafy greens.
  • Half a cup (125mL) of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit or vegetable.
  • Half a cup of cut-up vegetables
  • One cup (250 mL) of leafy raw vegetables.


Another major source of healthy carbohydrates is fruits.

One medium piece of fresh fruit is roughly the size of a small fist or baseball.

low carb vegetables

Healthy lifestyle for women diet with sport equipment, sneakers, measuring tape, vegetable fresh, green apples and bottle of water on blue wooden. Healthy Concept

In general, one serving of fruits is the equivalent of:

  • One piece of medium-sized fruit.
  • Half a cup cut-up fruit
  • Half a cup of fruit juice.
  • Half a cup (125mL) of canned fruit
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruits.

Recommended Intake

Three to four servings a day


Grains are the small, hard and edible seeds that grow on grass-like plants called cereals and are harvested for human or animal consumption.

And by far, cereal grains are the world’s single biggest source of food energy.

One serving of grains is equal to:

  • One slice of bread – the size of a CD case
  • One ounce of uncooked rice or pasta.
  • 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, rice, or cereal—the size of a computer mouse.
  • Half a cup of cooked pasta, rice, or cereal.
  • One ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
  • Half a cup of popped popcorn.


It’s no longer a myth that proteins are the building blocks for the production and growth of muscle, bone, skin, and hair, performing a host of vital functions in the body.

Common sources of protein, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, are typically measured in ounces.

How much?

Again, protein needs vary from one person to the next, depending on activity level, health, fitness goals, etc.

However, as a runner, shoot for 0.5 to 0.7 g of protein for every pound of body weight per day. This is plenty to keep your body in great shape.

Keep in mind that one serving of cooked meat—roughly three ounces—is the equivalent of a bar of soap.

The Exact Breakdown

Typically, 20 to 25 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from protein-rich foods and drinks.

A runner consuming a 2000-calorie diet per day should aim for at least 400 to 500 calories coming from protein a day. This is equal to 100 to 120 grams.

To make the most out of, consume 30 to 35 grams of protein on every meal, depending, of course, on your schedule, eating menu, and personal preferences.

To do that, you’d need to consume one of the following:

  • Five eggs whites
  • 100 to 120 grams of meat or fish
  • One serving protein powder
  • 250 grams of firm tofu
  • Two hundred grams of cottage cheese.

For more on the importance of protein for runners, check my full guide here.

Meat and Fish

A major source of protein is meat and fish.

As a general rule, the go-to serving size for any variety of meat or fish is 3 ounces.

Instead of relying on the scale to figure out portion size, the best visual indicator of this amount is about the size of the palm of your hand or the size of a computer mouse.

Just keep in mind that a 3-ounce serving of meat is equal to roughly 21 grams of protein.

In general, one serving is the equivalent of:

  • One ounce of cooked meat, fish, or poultry.
  • One egg (or two egg whites)
  • 3 ounces. Of cooked poultry or meat.
  • 3 ounces. Of cooked fish or seafood.


Another major source of protein is dairy. This refers to a group of foods made from the milk products of animals, primarily cows, sheep,  and goats, or produced in the mammary glands.

In general, a cup of fat-free milk or yogurt is roughly the size of six stacked dice or a baseball. Low fat or low sugar milk is not necessary but shoot for plain pure milk and dairy products.

One serving stands for:

  • ½ cup of ice cream
  • One cup of milk
  • One cup of yogurt
  • 1/2 ounces of natural cheese.

Nuts & Seeds, Beans, and Legumes

The rest of your protein intake should come from legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds.

In general, one serving equals to :

  • ¼ cup of cooked tofu or beans.
  • One tablespoon of peanut butter.
  • ½ ounce of seeds or nuts.
  • 14 shelled walnut halves
  • 24 shelled almonds
  • 16 cashews
  • 28 peanuts
  • 45 pistachios
  • 80 pumpkin seeds.

Recommended Intake

Five to six servings per week. Eat in moderation if you have gout issues.

Dietary Fats

Dietary fats are the third pillar of a well-balanced and healthy diet. The good fats—typically in liquid form or derived from plants or nuts—play a major role in all bodily functions, such as metabolism, cell functioning, etc.

One teaspoon roughly equals a single serving of fats and oils.

One visual cue to keep in mind when consuming butter is the size of your thumb. That’s roughly the equivalent of two tablespoons.

The exact breakdown

Aim for as much as 15 to 25 percent of your daily calorie intake coming from healthy sources of dietary fats.

As with everything else, these recommendations are not written in stone. So feel free to re-adjust according to your fitness level, personal needs, and exercise intensity. Make sure you’re consuming the right kinds of fats—the monounsaturated fats and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats—you don’t need to worry bout the rest.

For example, if you’re having 2400 calories per day, roughly 500 should be dietary fats. That translates to 60 to 65 grams of fat.

The only exception is if you’re on a keto diet. That’s a different story for another day. Find the complete guide to ketogenic eating here.

One serving of healthy fats equals to:

  • Eight olives
  • One tablespoon of olive, sunflower, sesame, canola, or peanut oil.
  • One tablespoon of salad dressing
  • One tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise
  • ¼ of a medium avocado
  • One tablespoon of peanut butter
  • ½ ounce of nuts or seeds
  • Two tablespoons of flaxseeds
  • Three ounces of fatty fish—such as tuna, salmon, or mackerel. Great source of omega-3 fats.

Balanced Eating Demystified

To eat a balanced diet, opt for healthy sources from these six different groups.

The main food categories include vegetables, lean protein, fruits, whole grains and starches, fats and oils, and dairy products.

Eating healthy and minimally proceeds items from each food group is crucial for ensuring a well-rounded, nutritious, and healthy diet.

Your Main Meals – The Ideal Plate

As a rule of thumb, your main meals should be:

  • They should make ½ of your plate. Or the equivalent of two palms of veggies with each meal.
  • 1/4 of your plate should be high-quality, complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, potato, quinoa, etc. Shoot for two to three cupped hands of carb-dense foods with most meals.
  • It should make up the remaining ¼ of your plate. High-quality sources include lean meat, poultry, eggs, and legumes. That may translate to two palms of protein-dense foods with each meal.

In other words, fill one-fourth of your plate with carbohydrates, one-fourth with lean protein, and the remaining half with vegetables.


There you have it!

Now you know the basics about serving size for healthy eating, then today’s post should get you started on the right foot. The rest is up to you.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

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