Tracking macros is a common way to lose weight, specifically through reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass.
When tracking macros, it is common for people to measure out their food and weigh it precisely.
However, this approach isn’t for everyone.
The thought of weighing all of your ingredients can leave some people feeling discouraged and not everyone has scales, or wants to use them.
The good news is there are other techniques you can use to track macros without using scales.
These include using packaging to estimate weights, using measuring spoons, and scanning foods.
There are also some other options which I’ll expand on.
Whilst some methods are more accurate than others, the main thing is to stay consistent with what approach you use. That way you’ll see progress over time.
From reading this article, you’ll learn:
- How to track macros without a scale
- 5 different approaches to tracking macros without a scale
- The pros and cons of other approaches to tracking macros
How to Track Macros Without a Scale
- Look at a product’s weight on the packaging
- Use measuring spoons
- Scan what you can
- Use your hands
To expand on this further, there are different approaches you can take to track macros without a scale:
1) Look at a Product’s Weights on the Packaging
Knowing the weight of what you’re eating is important for working out the number of calories, as well as the macro content.
Without scales, one way of working out this weight is by using the weight listed on a product’s packaging.
This weight is usually for the entire product, but you can use this to estimate the amount that you’ve used.
For example, if you buy a packet of two chicken breasts that is 350 grams and eat one, then you’ll have eaten around 175 grams of chicken breast.
Packaging can also tell you things like the split of protein, carb, and fat within a product. If these aren’t listed then they can be calculated using the estimated portion size.
The exact weight of a product may vary slightly to what’s listed, and you may use slightly more or less than what you’ve estimated.
However, a slight difference in the calorie content or macros split is unlikely to make much of a difference to your overall progress.
2) Use Measuring Spoons
If you don’t have scales in your kitchen, or wherever you are working out your macros, there are other kitchen essentials you can use.
One option is measuring spoons. These indicate different sizes of ingredients ranging from a full cup to 1/8th cup.
Instead of working out your macros based on grams or ounces, you would simply substitute cups. For example, instead of having 90 grams of broccoli you would have one cup.
Measuring in cups can be easier, particularly if this is what you would usually use to measure ingredients.
Cups are also much easier to transport than scales if you ever need to work out macros whilst outside of the kitchen when traveling or at work.
3) Scan What You Can
This tip will depend on how you’re tracking your macros.
If you’re using an app then one option is to scan the barcode of the product that you’re using.
By using the barcodes, you don’t have to look up the nutritional profile of the product as they’re usually available within the app’s database.
This allows you to easily track what foods you’re eating. However, there can be some downsides to this.
Firstly, it will be time consuming, especially in the beginning, if you’re scanning multiple products each time you have a meal or snack throughout the day.
** This definitely has some upfront work but most apps will save your scanned item so in the future, you’d add it from the database instead of needing to re-scan the items every time.
Secondly, not all foods come with barcodes, and not all barcodes may be registered by the app you’re using.
Therefore, it’s likely that you’ll have some products that this approach won’t work for.
Thirdly, you need an app to do this.
Whilst apps are designed to be easy to use, they’re not for everyone.
They can also charge for features like scanning a barcode, which may be off putting. As always though, I’d recommend using MyFitnessPal (the app I personally use).
It’s free – though has paid premium features – and you can scan barcodes, save common food options and track your daily calories and macros so you can’t wish for much more from a free app.
Related – how to track macros without using an app
4) Use Your Hands
Another option to track macros without scales is to use your hands. Your hands can give a good indication of portion sizes for the main macronutrients.
This is one of the techniques I learned from Precision Nutrition when gaining my nutrition certification from them.
The hand measurement for portion size is something that most people can quickly and easily identify with so it’s something that’s ideal for someone new to counting calories/macros or when trying to learn the habit of portion control.
See also – Do you really need to count macros
There are different ways of doing this, but generally a portion of carbs in cupped hands is roughly 20 to 30 grams.
A portion of protein covering your palm is around 20 to 30 grams.
Your thumb is around 1 tsp or 7 to 15 grams of fat.
Using this approach can also help you to be mindful of what you’re eating, as you’re using your hands to weigh it out.
However, it isn’t as accurate as the other approaches as people’s hand sizes vary significantly and there’s more room for error as a result.
Therefore, if you have very strict macros that you need to track then this wouldn’t be an accurate enough measure to use but for general guidelines, it’s definitely one that’s good to use for estimates.
This is a technique I’d personally use when traveling and buying convenience foods.
5) Estimate by Eye
If you’re out of other options then you may need to simply estimate the portion size of what you’re eating.
I wouldn’t recommend this approach, as estimating by eye leaves a lot of room for error.
You can overestimate or underestimate your portion sizes, which can negatively impact your progress.
This approach should only be used by people who have a lot of experience weighing their ingredients and knowing their own portion sizes.
If you have a lot of experience doing this then you’ll be able to estimate fairly accurately by eye the amount for different ingredients.
It’s definitely one of those methods whereby if you eat a 150g chicken breast everyday, you eventually get a good idea of what it should look like.
The best way to explain this is when you eat out and are faced with a “small” portion of food, you instinctively know whether or not it’s going to be a filling meal and if you’ve received a small, fair, or large portion.
When weighing your food and eating similar meals you eventually learn to measure by eye.
Once you know what a spoon of peanut butter should look like, you can get a relatively accurate estimate by eye.
This is more true for a more experienced person though, if you’re new to counting macros then trying to measure food portions by eye is the last method I’d recommend doing.
Weighing your food is good for staying accountable and portion control, especially when dieting and losing weight.
It is however inconvenient and a massive chore when you need to do it for every meal.
When I’ve pulled out a food scale in the office I’m well aware that this isn’t normal behavior and get a few sideward glances 👀
While it’s the best way to track macros (in my opinion and experience), it’s not the only way. To track macros without a scale you can:
- Check if the product is pre-portioned (or buy pre-weighed food)
- Use measuring spoons and cups
- Scan barcodes into a macro tracking app
- Use your hands for portion control
- Estimate food portions by eye (advanced dieters only)
Using a combination of these steps will definitely help you to keep on top of your macros without a scale.
While mentioning the importance of measuring your macros, you might want to check out our recommendations for what happens if you go over your macros or if you’re tracking macros but still not losing weight.
Some of these issues could come down to how you are weighing your food…
Finally, check out this video if you want to find out more about how people track macros:
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