How to Build an Athletes Plate
Sports nutrition does not have to be complicated. I have helped over a thousand athletes increase their energy levels, meet performance goals, and feel confident on the field by using the athlete plate framework to build an athlete diet perfect for them. In the Performance Plate Method, I show you how to use athletes’ plates to modify your fueling based on your training load. I am excited to share these with you here so you can get started fueling properly!
Why is Nutrition Important for Athletes?
As a competitive athlete, you know the game is incredibly physically demanding. You are expected to train your hardest (often even twice a day), along with games, tournaments, and scrimmages. Many athletes think they can eat “whatever they want” because they are so active.
This is actually the opposite! To succeed, your fueling approach and diet are extremely important! Nutrition can make a good athlete great. It will allow you to get the full benefits from your training.
You train relentlessly on the field and in the gym to compete at the highest level but, what you do off the field can hold you back from meeting your full potential.
The only way to maximize training and games is to give your body the fuel it needs. Implementing a fueling plan is going to ensure that your body has the energy it needs to compete at its full potential on the field.
The Components of Athletes Plates
At Reilly Beatty Sports Nutrition, athletes use athletes’ plates (we call them performance plates) in the Performance Plate Method to fuel properly. Each performance plate is made up of a different ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat depending on the fueling focus for the day. Before we dive into the performance plates, I wanted to walk you through each of the nutrient categories so you understand the components of the plates.
Carbohydrates should make up most of an athlete’s diet. Anywhere from 45-65% of an athlete’s nutrition plan should come from carbohydrates. They are the preferred energy source at high-intensity exercise and for your vital organs. Because of their importance, all Performance Plates include carbohydrates!
Not all carbohydrates are created equal! We can break down carbohydrates into two categories on performance plates; Carbs (Grains & Starches) and Color (Fruit & Vegetables)
Grains and Starches
On your Performance Plate, you will focus on incorporating grains and starches as your main energy source. I categorize these carbohydrates as “Carbs” on the Performance Plates.
Some recommended grains and starches for athletes are
- Whole Grain Bread
- Sourdough Bread
- White/Brown Rice
- Whole Grain Pasta
- Sweet Potatoes
Meals and snacks should contain grains and starches. The amount and type will vary depending on the meals’ fueling focus. We will get more into this below when we dive into building Performance Plates.
Another component of Performance Plates is the “color” category. Color encompasses fruits and vegetables. When fruits and vegetables are broken down for energy by the body, they break down into carbohydrates. This is a common misconception among athletes.
Most foods in the “Color” category are not energy dense like Grains and Starches. Eating just fruits and vegetables alone will not provide enough energy for athletes. When you look at athletes’ plates, the fueling focus of the color category is vitamins and minerals. On a simplistic level, you can think about different fruits and vegetables having different vitamins and minerals.
Here are some recommended fruits and vegetables to incorporate into your Performance Plates
- Romaine Lettuce
- Brussel Sprouts
Protein is the third category on the performance plates. It is essential to building and maintaining muscle. Getting enough high-quality protein throughout the day is a must for athletes!
While protein plays a role in muscle protein synthesis it also functions to support a healthy immune system and provide structure to tendons and ligaments. I recommend aiming for 20-30 grams of protein at every meal and 10-15 grams with every snack.
Recommended Protein Sources
Here are some Sports Dietitian recommended protein sources
- Greek Yogurt
- Chicken Breast/Thighs
- Cheese sticks
- Ground Beef
Last but not least is fats! Fat has many roles in your body. Along with protein, adequate fat consumption helps support a healthy immune system. Fat also helps your body absorb vitamins, support brain function, help with satiety and reduce inflammation. Along with all of these important health functions, fat is important to performance as a long-term fuel source.
Recommended Fat Sources
Here are recommended fats to incorporate into your athlete plates.
- Avocado/avocado oil
- Mixed nuts and seeds
- Olive oil/olives
Fat is an underrated nutrient for athletes and all meals should include it. When you look at the Performance Plates, you might not always see a place for fat on the plate but that does not mean you should avoid it. I recommend adding 1-3 servings of fat to all the Performance Plates depending on the time of your training and your athletic goals.
Using Athletes Plates in the Performance Plate Method
The Performance Plate Method shows you how to fuel based on your training level. I split them out into Practice Day, Rest Day, and Game Day to help guide you on what to eat as it relates to your performance load.
Practice Day Performance Plates are your fueling guideline for your training day fueling. Since a majority of your days are training days, most of your days will follow the Practice Day Performance Plate framework.
The Practice Day Plate follows these guidelines
- ⅓ Protein
- ⅓ Carbs (Grains and Starches)
- ⅓ Color (Fruit and Vegetables)
- 2-3 servings of fat
For all athletes (especially those beginning their journey), I recommend using this plate as your baseline.
The fueling focus on a rest day is vitamin and mineral consumption. Due to fueling focuses on other days, vitamin/mineral intake might be limited and should be a priority on these days. Rest Day Performance Plates are followed on days with minimal training, low-impact training (yoga, pilates, stretching, rehab), or no training. This plate is also used by athletes who are working on weight maintenance.
The Rest Day Plate follows these guidelines
- ¼ Protein
- ¼ Carbs (Grains and Starches)
- ½ Color (Fruit and Vegetables)
- 2-3 servings of fat
On Game Day, your fueling focus is energy availability. Your goal is to provide easily digestible energy that can be used quickly and efficiently by the body. Because this is your fueling focus, your priority nutrient is carbohydrates.
The Game Day Plate follows these guidelines
- ¼ Protein
- ½ Carbs (Grains and Starches)
- ¼ Color (Fruit and Vegetables)
- 1-2 servings of fat
How To Use the Performance Plate Method to Build an Athlete Diet Plan
I recommend using the Performance Plate Method to build 3-4 meals throughout the day. In between meals, you can add snacks following pre and post-workout fueling guidelines.
Here is an example of a fueling timeline that athletes use to fuel properly in the Performance Fueling Club.
This is an example of a fueling timeline using the Performance Plate Method for a 9:00 am training session.
Many athletes believe they can eat whatever they want because of their activity level. That is a myth! What athletes eat is more actually important, not less! Athletes that prioritize nutrition meet their performance goals and achieve the best results.
Meeting your goals with adequate nutrition can be accomplished by using athlete’s plates. The Performance Plate Method uses these athletes plates (aka performance plates) to teach athletes how to fuel properly.
In my sports nutrition coaching program, the Performance Fueling Club, I help athletes meet their goals with the Performance Plate Method and create an individualized athlete diet plan. I am currently accepting new athletes looking to increase their energy levels and performance on the field. Apply today!