What is just as important as your training regimen for the day? You guessed it - FOOD! This applies to everyone, from recreational exercisers to the highest performing elite-level athletes. Building your plate with adequate amounts of wholesome foods that are energy-packed will help fuel your body to train harder and recover better. These components include carbohydrates, protein, healthy sources of fats, fruits and vegetables and fluids.
Provide the main fuel source for the body’s energy needs. They are best utilized for high-intensity training sessions. Examples include 100% whole wheat breads, oatmeal, beans, rice, pasta and potatoes.
Assists with muscle repair and building, plays a role in metabolism and hormone function. Examples include eggs, chicken, turkey, sirloin and lean ground beef, fish, cheese and tofu.
Helps with fullness and plays a role in immune function. Fats are best consumed for low-intensity, longer duration exercise. Examples include nuts, nut butters, seeds, olives, avocados and oils.
Fruits and Vegetables
These offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and have antioxidant properties. Examples include Berries, apples, oranges, bananas, melon, pineapple, grapes, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, romaine lettuce, green beans, carrots and tomatoes.
Drinking the proper amount of fluid prevents us from becoming dehydrated which can negatively impact performance and cause early fatigue. Examples include water, milk (dairy & non-dairy) and 100% fruit juice.
It’s important to remember that your calorie and nutrient needs change depending on the intensity of your training. Your performance plate will look different in-season versus off-season. Similarly, there will be differences in your plates on hard training days versus lighter training days.
A lighter training day or rest day can include ½ a plate with mostly vegetables and some fruits, about ¼ of the meal can be whole grains and roughly ¼ of the meal lean proteins. It may be beneficial to increase the fat servings for satiety purposes and ensure appropriate calorie needs are met since carbohydrate portions may be lower on these days. This plate is ideal for lower volume training in the off-season or when an athlete may be trying to lose weight.
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During pre-season and in-season, the athlete’s training volume and intensity may be higher. During these days, athletes should aim to make a plate that consists of roughly ¼ - ⅓ of a meal with vegetables and some fruits, roughly ¼ of the plate or meal to be lean proteins and ⅓ - ½ of the meal to be whole grains. Lower or higher portions of each component are dependent on the intensity of training for the day.
Make sure to look at how the composition and quantity of your plate changes based on your performance needs. Planning ahead is important to ensure the body is receiving adequate amounts of each macronutrient to support training efforts.
Here is an example of performance plates based on level of intensity and individual goals from Trifecta’s blog:
Protein needs will generally be the same for each plate. A standard serving size of protein is 4-6 oz but is widely varied based on individual needs. Research shows that evenly distributing high-quality protein throughout the day can help maximize muscle protein synthesis and muscle recovery following exercise.
Not only are portions of macronutrients going to vary based on training days, but also by individual. A 230 lb. male is going to require different portions than a 130 lb. female, as caloric needs are different in addition to goals, training loads and intensities.
Check out sportsrd.org’s great resource on building a performance-enhancing plate:
Questions on building a performance-enhancing plate to cater to your individual training regimen and needs? Contact a Sports Dietitian for guidance.