November 17


Understanding Portions | Managing your food intake to match activity level

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When it comes to managing your weight, or body composition for that matter, energy balance is key. We must match our food intake with our energy expenditure and adjust depending on our goals.


Activity patterns and training schedules fluctuate. At certain points, we might not do as much structured training. Or we may go through periods where we train at lower intensities. Likewise, there may be points where we simply do less.

That is, we move around much less than normal.

Think of what we tend to get up to of an evening in the winter, as opposed to the summer. Or if our jobs change, or we're off on annual leave. Our physical activity levels may drop.

As a result, our body requires less energy than when we are in proper 'training mode.'

For the more athletic among us, it's still important to eat nutritious and balanced meals which meet our current energy requirements.

However, it may simply be the case that we don't quite need as much sometimes.

Adjusting portion sizes to suit activity levels

At times when we're less active, it doesn't mean we should switch to eating as little as possible. Instead, we just have to adjust our patterns, and our meals, to maintain a nutritious and consistent intake. With fewer calories or kilojoules.

Additionally, during the off season or a break from training, it can be tempting to forget about your diet completely.

Avoid this.

Instead, as you fill your plate, look at reducing portion sizes. Vary the different components of your meal as necessary.

Furthermore, you can even swap a few ingredients here and there.

In doing so, not only can you end up with a lower calorie option, you may even end up with a more nutritious meal.

Keeping an eye on portion sizes

It often surprises people just how much that extra mouthful makes to their daily energy intake. That extra spoonful, additional slice or the leftovers scooped out the bottom of the jar. Yes peanut butter, I'm talking to you.

Even all our meals are nutritionally balanced and healthy, our portions could quite simply be too big. Therefore, we're supplying more energy in the form of calories and kilojoules than our body needs.

Now, counting calories isn't always a good idea. There are cases where it can result in an unhealthy relationship with food.

However, monitoring the calories in the foods you eat can help you understand food, and your portions, a little better.

To demonstrate exactly what I mean, I've provided some examples below.

We'll look at how much the energy content can vary depending on what we put on our plate. Likewise, we'll look at how simple adjustments and small changes really can add up.

Meet Greg, a 35-year old FIFO worker

Greg's a 35-year old FIFO worker who's taking a little bit of a break from his training.

He's recently started a new role which isn't quite as physical as the one he had previously. There's a bit more computer and admin work and much less manual handling and physical activity.

He's still learning the ropes and the demands his new job entails. Consequently, he wants to take a break from the gym for a bit so he can focus his energy on his job.

Greg's in pretty good shape already. However, he's worried about losing his hard-earned gains from his devotion over the last 18 months. Likewise, he's worried about 'becoming fat' (his words) with his family's history of obesity and heart disease.

Let's look at ways we can tweak Greg's diet in the interim, while he isn't hitting the gym as much.

Options discussed may or may not be available at some FIFO mine sites and offshore facilities. However, the structure and ideas apply wherever.

I've given options that can be adapted to suit Greg's schedule both at work and while he's at home on R&R.

Case Study: adjusting Greg's portion sizes of meals and snacks throughout his day

Firstly, let's look at breakfast. Often touted as the most important meal of the day.

Normal Hot Breakfat

Pretty standard among the FIFO crew - a hot breakfast to shake off the cobwebs before catching the bus.

  • 3 fried eggs
  • 2 thick slices of wholegrain toast
  • 2 rashers grilled bacon
  • ½ an avocado

761 kcal

3185 kJ

Reducing calorie content of the hot breakfast with smaller portion sizes

We can save 190 calories at breakfast time just by cutting back a little on what Greg puts on his plate.

  • 2 fried eggs
  • 2 thick slices of wholegrain toast
  • 1 rasher grilled bacon
  • ¼ an avocado

571 kcal

2389 kJ

Swapping some ingredients to improve the nutrition quality of the hot breakfast

By switching out some components, we drop the energy intake even further, yet boost the fibre content up to 11.4g

  • 2 fried eggs
  • 1 thick slice of wholegrain toast
  • ½ cup baked beans
  • ½ a grilled tomato

472 kcal

1977 kJ

Morning snack - standard day: yoghurt, fruit & some nuts

Once morning smoko comes around, it's time to see what was packed from crib

Regular Smoko or Crib

A convenient selection of easily-transportable snacks.

  • 175g tub berry low-fat yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp almonds
  • 1 banana

370 kcal

1549 kJ

Let's reduce the calories in Greg's morning snack with smaller portions

We can still stick to what's available, just eating less and managing portion control.

  • 175g tub berry low-fat yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp almonds
  • ½ a banana

262 kcal

1096 kJ

Now, let's switch some ingredients to make the morning snack even healthier

Again, just a couple of swaps and we boost the nutrient profile.

  • 170g tub plain natural yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp almonds
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 6 strawberries

198 kcal

828 kJ

For lunch, a chicken sandwich

Cooked chicken breast is a versatile and handy protein-source. Using it in a sandwich makes for a convenient and nutritious lunch.

Regular Chicken & Cheese Sandwich

Greg's normal choice is a nutritionally balanced meal. As such, it offers a pretty good range of minerals and nutrients.

  • 70g roast chicken, with skin on
  • 2 slices Tasty cheese, regular fat
  • 2 slices Soy & Linseed bread
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 tsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tomato
  • ½ carrot, grated

596 kcal

2495 kJ

Reducing the energy intake with smaller portions

However, with a few adjustments we can lower the calorie content.

  • 50g roast chicken, without skin
  • 1 slice Tasty cheese, regular fat
  • 1 tsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tomato
  • ½ carrot, grated
  • ½ cup baby spinach

442 kcal

1851 kJ

Let's make some swaps to the chicken sandwich for an added nutrient boost

Saving 193 calories compared with the original lunch option. Plus we're getting additional fibre once again too.

  • 50g grilled chicken breast
  • 4 Vita Weats
  • 2 slices Tasty cheese, reduced fat
  • ¼ avocado
  • 1 tomato
  • ½ carrot, grated
  • ½ cup baby spinach

403 kcal

1685 kJ

Afternoon Snack

Cheese & nibbles to see Greg through the rest of his afternoon.

Regular Afternoon Snack

Again, a fairly healthy and nutritionally balanced snack to start off with.

  • 40g Cheddar cheese

  • 2 tbsp shop-bought hummus
  • 8 Jatz crackers

330 kcal

1380 kJ

Becomes a lower-calorie snack option with just a couple of minor changes

Less cheese and just 2 less crackers significantly reduces the fat content and calories.

  • 20g Cheddar cheese

  • 2 tbsp shop-bought hummus
  • 6 Jatz crackers

235 kcal

981 kJ

An even healthier afternoon snack, by swapping some bits & pieces would be

Switching the Cheddar out for Cottage cheese significantly reduces the amount of saturated fat.

  • 2 tbsp cottage cheese
  • 2 tbsp shop-bought hummus
  • 2 carrots, sliced

236 kcal

989 kJ

Dinner - pasta bolognese with cheese

Pasta bolognese is a fairly stock standard meal option both on site and at home. Let's look at ways to improve.

Regular pasta bolognese dinner

Meat sauce, pasta and grated cheese - what's not to love?

  • 1 ½ cups tomato & beef bolognese-type sauce
  • 1 ½ cups cooked pasta twists
  • ½ cup Tasty grated cheese

1133 kcal

4739 kJ

A similar dinner, with smaller portions and therefore reduced calories

Reducing calories doesn't need to be about denying yourself foods. We just need to be smart with how much we're eating.

  • 1 cup tomato & beef bolognese-type sauce
  • 1 cup cooked pasta twists
  • ½ cup Tasty grated cheese

923 kcal

3864 kJ

Let's make that pasta bolognese even healthier, shall we?

Wholemeal carbohydrate options provide a whole range of health benefits.

  • 1 cup tomato & beef bolognese-type sauce
  • ½ cup cooked wholemeal pasta
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 pouch of microwave-steamed green vegetables

672 kcal

2811 kJ


Yes, even when we're looking at dropping calories, dessert is still an option. Remember, it's not about giving our favourite foods up altogether.

Regular Dessert

One of the highest traffic areas in a FIFO dining room? The way to the ice cream fridge.

  • 2 scoops Cookies & Cream ice cream

319 kcal

1333 kJ

Eating less ice cream means fewer calories - simple!

Have just the one scoop instead of your normal two. Work on really savouring and enjoying each mouthful.

  • 1 scoop Cookies & Cream ice cream

159 kcal

667 kJ

Or, for a healthier and more nutritious dessert, with even fewer calories

Again, we're boosting that all important fibre-content, as well as additional protein and micronutrients.

  • 1 scoop frozen yoghurt
  • ½ cup fresh raspberries

119 kcal

498 kJ

Calorie and kilojoule comparison meal by meal

Notice Greg can save 820 calories (3431 kilojoules) just by switching to smaller portions. We keep his diet nutritionally balanced and with a range of protein and nutrient sources. As a result, even though he's eating less, we can manage his appetite and hunger.

Furthermore, if Greg wants to improve his nutrition even more, he can make a few adjustments to his food choices. Consequently he'd save an additional 495 calories, or 2071 kilojoules.

  • Regular day

  • reduced portions

  • food swaps

Regular Day
  • Breakfast: 761 kcal | 3185 kJ
  • Mid-morning Snack: 370 kcal | 1549 kJ
  • Lunch: 596 kcal | 2495 kJ
  • Afternoon Snack: 330 kcal | 1380 kJ
  • Dinner: 1133 kcal | 4739 kJ
  • Dessert: 319 kcal | 1333 kJ
3,434 kcal
14,370 kJ

Calorie comparison side-by-side:



Smaller Portions

Food Swaps


761 kcal

571 kcal

472 kcal

Morning Snack

370 kcal

262 kcal

198 kcal


596 kcal

442 kcal

403 kcal

Afternoon Snack

330 kcal

235 kcal

236 kcal


1133 kcal

923 kcal

672 kcal


319 kcal

159 kcal

119 kcal


3434 kcal

2614 kcal

2119 kcal



820 kcal

1315 kcal


Matching our energy intake to our activity levels is vital for managing body composition. Additionally, it helps us maintain a healthy weight.

During periods of reduced physical activity, we need to reduce our calorie intake.

We can do this while still eating the same foods as before, just eating less of them.

What's more, we can improve our diet further with some adjustments and food swaps to keep our nutrient intake high.

Paul Stokes Perth Personal Trainer Sports Nutritionist Group Fitness Instructor Massage Therapist

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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