Science Behind Portion Size

Certain foods can definitely help you perform better. But do you know how much of them should you eat to benefit? Here’s how to spend your calories wisely with this guide to proven portion size.


Proven portion: 1 large fillet/150g

Why eat it: To fight inflammation

Kcal: 236

Carbs: 0g

Protein: 25g

Fat: 15g

Omega-3 fats from oily fish are well-known to reduce inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory hormones. Researchers at Harokopio University in Athens discovered that adults consuming more than 300g of fish per week (2-3 portions) had on average 33% lower levels of inflammatory signs. But it’s not just long-term benefits to be gained — in a newer study from Azad University, male participants who took a daily supplement of 3g of omega-3 while participating in an eight-week resistance training program had less inflammation and cellular damage than those in a control group. Enjoy the benefits with a serving of salmon — one large fillet contains about three grams of omega-3.

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Proven portion: 475ml

Why drink it: To supercharge post-ride recovery

Kcal: 330

Carbs: 52g

Protein: 18g

Fat: 5g

Seen in the hands of some of the best athletes in the world, a bottle of chocolate milk is the perfect recovery drink, boasting the ideal 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein recommended for recovery, as well as more sodium than an equivalent volume of sports drink. Studies comparing chocolate milk to a classic sports drink suggest the sugars are better absorbed, while the protein in milk is a combination of both fast and slow-release proteins, meaning amino acids are drip-fed to the recovering muscle over a longer period of time. In a 2010 study from the University of Texas, trained cyclists given chocolate milk directly after a cycling session for 1.5 hours at 70% of VO2 max went on to perform better in a subsequent 40km time trial than the riders given a carbohydrate-only drink containing the same amount of calories.

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cherry juiceCHERRY JUICE

Proven portion: 30ml concentrated juice

Why drink it: To maintain muscle strength

Kcal: 236

Carbs: 0g

Protein: 25g

Fat: 15g

Antioxidants in tart cherries function as warriors against the oxidative damage and inflammation that comes as a consequence of a tough training session, which contributes to faster recovery for your muscles. In a study from the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Vermont, college students drinking 330ml of tart cherry juice twice a day, during a period of eccentric exercise program, experienced less pain and maintained around 20% more muscle strength than those drinking a placebo. Unfortunately, the same benefits can’t be enjoyed by eating sweet cherries, therefore you should get the recommended dose from 30ml of the concentrate juice — almost 3.000 tart cherries go into each bottle. Mix the juice into a yoghurt or post-exercise smoothie for an easy way to speed-up recovery.

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Proven portion: 2 tbsp an hour

Why eat it: To fuel long rides or training sessions

Kcal: 128

Carbs: 35g

Protein: 0.2g

Fat: 0g

If you’re trying to consume more real food to fuel your training, honey could be just the ticket. This nectar high in carbohydrate is a combination of two sugars — fructose and glucose. In the last few years, the use of multiple sugars has been discovered to improve carbohydrate oxidation, making honey a great alternative to gels. Experts from the University of Memphis discovered that the combination honey and water was as effective as dextrose gels for improving performance in a group of riders performing 40km time trials. A tablespoon of honey contains about 65 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrate; this means that 2-3 tablespoons an hour will meet the 30-60 grams dose required to help you push through fatigue.

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Proven portion: 200mg (1.5 tbsp)

Why eat it: To dial down muscle soreness

Kcal: 44

Carbs: 9g

Protein: 1g

Fat: 0g

Turmeric may be found in your kitchen cupboard, but there’s good evidence suggesting that this bright yellow spice should also be a part of your medicine cabinet due to its effective anti-inflammatory properties. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, a substance that decreases the presence of two enzymes connected to the body’s inflammatory response. In a 2014 study from the University of Barcelona, physically active men randomized to get a daily dose of 200mg of curcumin 48 hours before a downhill running test, were found to experience less pain and muscle damage than a control group. A tablespoon of curcumin contains around 136mg of the active ingredient, so try adding to stews, curries, smoothies and rice salads, or for an easier way to dose, think about buying curcumin supplements — up to 1,000mg daily is considered safe.

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Proven portion: 25g/one scoop

Why eat it: To support muscle growth

Kcal: 115

Carbs: 2g

Protein: 24g

Fat: 1g

Although protein doesn’t necessarily play a role in acute recovery, it’s essential in helping the body develop new muscle tissue, particularly when combined with a strength-training program. Research shows that if protein is consumed close to an exercise session, muscle protein synthesis is increased to a greater degree than with exercise alone. According to experts in protein metabolism at McMaster University, Ontario, whey protein is more effective than casein or soy at encouraging new muscle synthesis at both rest and post exercise, due to its fast digestion and speedy delivery to the muscle. Beside fast transit, whey’s second secret weapon is a high level of leucine, a branch chain amino acid that functions as a stimulant for new muscle growth. Supercharging your portion size isn’t necessary though — studies suggest that 20-25 grams of whey protein suffice to trigger the maximal response.

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Proven portion: 75g/one medium half

Why eat it: To boost vitamin absorption

Kcal: 120

Carbs: 6g

Protein: 2g

Fat: 11g

Don’t fear the fats in avocado — they’re predominantly monounsaturated, the kind that have been associated to better heart health and beneficial cholesterol levels. But these aren’t their only benefits — add a few pieces of avocado to your salad and you’ll improve your body’s absorption of fat-soluble antioxidants, which assist repair exercise-induced oxidative damage. In a recent study, participants consuming salad with 75 grams of avocado, which is about half a medium fruit, absorbed 13 times more carotenes and four times more lutein than when enjoying the salad without avocado. In addition, avocados contain more potassium than a banana, therefore can help to restore fluid balance after a long endurance exercise. Chop over salad, or add a quarter to a green smoothie.

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tomato juiceTOMATO JUICE

Proven portion: 150ml

Why drink it: To reduce muscle damage

Kcal: 36

Carbs: 7g

Protein: 2g

Fat: 0g

Due to the actions of the potent antioxidant lycopene, diets high in tomato have been proven to reduce the risk of prostate cancer by about 20%, but there’s another benefit of drinking a glass of tomato juice — it boosts muscle recovery. Swedish scientists discovered that post-workout oxidative damage was suppressed when participants drank a daily dose of 150ml of tomato juice for five weeks. In 2013, Greek researchers carried out similar tests to find out how tomato juice fared against a sugary drink for recovery, discovering lower muscle damage in the athletes drinking tomato juice. As well as ticking off one of your five-a-day, the sodium in tomato juice also helps your physique suck up more fluid than plain water, which can help replenish lost fluids after a long training session.

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Proven portion: One banana per 30 mins

Why eat them: To delay fatigue

Kcal: 110

Carbs: 29g

Protein: 1g

Fat: 0g

The real-food alternative to an energy gel, bananas are high in carbohydrate and come conveniently packaged in the perfect portion size. Granted, a group of scientists didn’t develop them, but studies suggest they can be as effective as a commercially researched sports drink when it comes to delaying fatigue. In a 2012 study, Memphis University researchers pitted the fruit against Gatorade in riders performing a 75km time trial and discovered that cycling performance was similar between conditions when carbohydrate intake was matched. For a 70kg man, this means eating about one banana every half an hour. On longer cycling sessions this may not be feasible, but for shorter rides or as a pre-exercise glycogen top-up, the banana is the ideal choice.

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beetroot juiceBEETROOT JUICE

Proven portion: 70ml concentrated shot

Why drink it: To boost oxygen delivery

Kcal: 71

Carbs: 17g

Protein: 2.5g

Fat: 0g

Drink a shot of beetroot juice before exercise to benefit from improved blood flow and a performance boost. According to experts of Applied Physiology at Exeter University, the nitrates in beetroot juice dilate blood vessels, improving the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles, which can increase tolerance to training and reduce oxygen cost. In a study of runners, time to exhaustion was delayed by about 15% following four to six days of nitrate supplementation. Research suggests that beetroot juice is a great source of nitrate, which works as efficiently as a synthetic source for boosting performance. The amount of nitrate needed for benefit is contained in about four whole beetroots, 500ml of normal beetroot juice, or 70ml of a concentrated sport juice. Because the juice tastes earthy, a shot is a good option.


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Written by Camille Bennett

Camille Bennett is our nutrition expert interested in fitness diet and doesn’t run out of delicious ideas for healthy and nutritional meals.


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