Athletes and active individuals often vary the intensity of their workouts on a daily or weekly basis. For example, an athlete may perform three higher intense workouts and three lower intense workouts in a week. This strategy is utilized to optimize performance and recovery. Athletes should view their eating plan in a similar fashion. Higher intensity days require more fuel (food) while lower intensity days require less fuel. Reducing the amount of certain types of fuel (food) on for lower intensity days can help minimize unwanted gains in body fat. On the other hand, increasing fuel for higher intensity training allows you to push through and recovery from these tough workouts. The following tips can help you start optimizing your training and recovery.

Building a Performance Plate (High Intensity Training Days)

*Fill a quarter of your plate with ~4 oz. (size of a deck of cards) of lean protein. Select loin, tenderloin or round cuts of beef and pork. Additionally, skinless chicken, turkey, eggs, non-breaded fish and wild game are lean sources of protein. Reduce unhealthy saturated fat, by trimming white fat off meats and removing skin on poultry. Limit fried and breaded meat.

*Aim for another quarter of your plate to be fruits and vegetables. By consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetable, this will help replenish the body’s antioxidants. Antioxidants play an important role is boosting the immune system and may speed-up recovery from exercise. Fruits and vegetables are also a great source of carbohydrate, which is the foundation of a quality sports diet.

*Fill half your plate with quality carbohydrates (pasta, rice, breads, potatoes, beans, etc…). Strive for most of your carbohydrates to be whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat breads and oatmeal. Whole grains offer higher amounts vitamins, minerals and fiber. Carbohydrates are one of the most important fuel sources in a sports diet.

*Include small amounts of healthy fats and oils with meals. Healthy fats include: fish, nuts, seeds, peanut butter olives, olive oil, canola oil, avocados and oil-based salad dressing. A serving of butter or oil is equivalent to 1 tsp.

Building a Performance Plate (Low Intensity Training Days)

*Continue to fill a quarter of your plate with ~4 oz. (size of a deck of cards) of lean protein.

*Fill the majority of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Use fruit as snacks or to replace sweets after meals.

*Reduce quality carbohydrates (whole grain pasta, brown rice, breads, sweet potatoes, beans, etc…) to a quarter of your plate. Less carbohydrate is typically needed for lower intensity training.

*Continue to incorporate small amounts of healthy fats and oils with meals (olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish, avocado, etc…).

*Limit unwanted calories from sugary beverages (Soda, juice drinks, energy drinks, cappuccino, sports drinks, etc…). Focus on calorie free beverages such as water, unsweetened tea, carbonated water or water infused with fruit or cucumber slices.

Performance Plate Snacks

Snack 1

  • 1 whole grain granola bar
  • 1 string cheese
  • 1 medium banana

Snack 2

  • 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup sliced peaches
  • 1/4 cup almonds

Snack 3

  • 1.5 cups whole grain cereal
  • 8 oz. low-fat milk
  • 1 cup strawberries

Performance Plate Meals

Meal 1

  • 3-4 oz. chicken breast or fish
  • 1 medium baked potato
  • 1 side salad (lettuce, tomato, carrots)
  • 1 medium apple
  • 8 oz. low-fat milk

Meal 2

  • 1 medium bowl of chili
  • 1 whole grain roll
  • 1 cup grapes
  • 1 cup carrot sticks with light dip
  • 8 oz. low-fat milk or soy milk

Meal 3

  • Whole wheat turkey wrap
  • 3-4 slice low-sodium deli turkey
  • 1 slice Swiss or mozzarella cheese
  • Lettuce, tomato, pickles
  • 1 fruit cup in juice or water
  • 8 oz. low-fat milk


Please contact Lee Hyrkas, RD, CD, Performance Nutrition Specialist if you have questions regarding sports nutrition or if you would like to develop of personalized nutrition plan. (920) 430-4756 or