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Performance Plates - How to Build an Athlete's Plate

What should an athlete eat? What should my plates look like? How much food does an athlete need? Performance plates are one of my favorite ways to teach athletes how to fuel. When I work with athletes individually, I can give them amounts of different foods to include with meals but when speaking with teams, or answering questions on social media, performance plates do the trick.

What is a performance plate?

Performance plates are a tool developed by the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) dietitians to show athletes how to fuel based on the training they did that day. Performance plates focus on three components:

  1. Protein - Athletes need protein to build and repair their muscles.

  2. Carbohydrates - Athletes need carbohydrates for ENERGY. Your muscles and brain prefer to use carbohydrates as energy.

  3. Color - Color means fruits and vegetables. Athletes need color for vitamins and minerals and fiber.

Additional components to performance plates are fats and hydration. Athletes need fats for hormone regulation, energy and nutrient absorption.

How to Build a Performance Plate

Build performance plates based upon your training for the day. There are 3 different performance plates to choose from. You will notice as intensity increases, carbohydrates increase. An athlete needs more carbs when training more because the athlete is using MORE ENERGY so needs to replace energy lost with carbohydrates.

Easy Day Plate

Athletes, use an easy day plate when you have a really easy workout less than 45 minutes, an off day or when you are in a break from training. With this plate, only 1/4 of your plate is carbohydrates and half of your plate is COLOR. Easy days are a great way to get in more fruits and vegetables while still making sure to eat carbohydrates and protein.

With how much teen athletes train, many of them do not use the easy day plate very often.

Moderate Day Plate

The moderate day plate is used for most typical training days. When an athlete trains for 1-2 hours/day, not a tough workout but a "typical" workout. Notice that protein stays the same on all of these plates but the carbohydrate section increased and the color section decreased. An athlete needs an additional serving of healthy fats on moderate days too - add some avocado to your plate. Adding a cup of milk is a great way to get in some extra carbs, fats (unless nonfat) and protein along with many vitamins and minerals.

Hard Day Plate

The hard day plate - use this plate on hard workout days, game days, days with multiple workouts or tournament days. Hard day plates are HIGH in CARBS because athletes are using so much energy.

With the amount of training teen athletes complete, many athletes I work with will switch back and forth between hard day plates and moderate day plates and maybe have one off day with an easy day plate or 2.

How to use Performance Plates to Fuel

Performance plates are a great tool to use to make sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs. At all meals make sure you are eating all 3 components of the plate, all athletes need protein, carbs and color with ALL meals.

Often, I have athletes make a list of carbohydrate foods, protein foods, color foods and fat foods that they LIKE and will eat. When athletes don't know what to eat, they can refer back to their lists. What I LOVE about performance plates is how easy they are - you don't have to make any fancy foods, it can be as simple as looking in your fridge and pulling out foods that fit into each category.

A good place to start when it comes to using performance plates daily, is to look at your meals NOW and see if you are missing a component. I often find athletes are missing out on protein with breakfast, color with lunch and typically are hitting all 3 components at dinner.

Hydration is another component to fueling like an athlete! You can read more about hydration here.

Even pizza can be turned into a performance plate - pizza has carbs, fat and protein on it, add a side salad or some fruit for COLOR and have a glass of milk for additional protein/carbs and vitamins and minerals. Performance plates can help balance out foods like pizza and make them more athlete friendly.

Want help figuring out what your individual nutrient needs are or how to build plates? Book a session with me here.

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