Athlete Plate — How to Build a Performance Plate

Are you struggling to understand what and how much to eat at meals as an athlete or fitness enthusiast?  Or are you a parent wondering what your young athlete needs on their plate?

The performance plate method gives you the tools to adjust your food intake to match your energy and nutrient needs. It provides you with the right balance of nutrients to support your performance and recovery needs.

Hey, I’m Jenn, a Registered Dietitian who has a passion for helping individuals fuel, think, and move towards the best versions of themselves without sacrificing their relationship with food. If you want practical, evidence-based nutrition advice to improve your performance and wellness — Learn how I can help

In this blog, I will help you understand why fueling for performance is important, what a performance plate is, the components of a performance plate, and how to build a plate based on your training load. 

Importance of fueling for performance

Athletes require more energy than the average individual. They often think that they can eat “whatever they want” because they are so active. However, that mindset has them lacking a strong nutrition foundation and not able to fuel their full potential. 

Building a strong optimal food intake foundation can set them apart from athletes who don’t have that foundation. 

That is why I use the performance plate method to help clients build a strong nutrition foundation.

What are performance plates?

 Performance plates are different plates with various amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and “color” based on training intensity. They create balanced meals to ensure athletes get enough energy and recover properly to optimize performance. 

They were developed by the University of Colorado Sports Nutrition Graduate Program in collaboration with the US Olympic Committee’s (USOC) Food and Nutrition Services to provide athletes with visuals to help with fueling. 

Components of a performance plate

Carbohydrates, protein, and color (fruits and vegetables) are the 3 main components of the plates. 

You might be wondering, where is fat? Fat is not one of the main components of the plates. They come along for the ride though when we cook with oils and add salad dressing or foods like avocados, nuts, and seeds.   


When you think of carbohydrates I want you to think of ENERGY.

Why?… They are the most efficient form of energy.  Our brains and muscles prefer carbohydrates as their fuel source, especially during exercise. 

Performance dietitians recommended carbohydrate sources:

  • Bread 
  • Pasta
  • Bagels
  • Crackers
  • Tortillas 
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Waffles
  • Potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Pancakes
  • Cereal

**Preferably whole-grain sources**


Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Throughout the different levels of intensity of training days, protein stays consistent taking up 25% of the plates. 

I recommend 20-40 grams of protein per meal and 10–20 grams of protein per snack every 3-4 hours. 

Performance dietitians recommended protein sources:

  • Chicken 
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Pork Loin
  • Lean ground beef
  • Steak
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Tofu
  • Cheese Sticks
  • Milk
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Cottage Cheese


Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables to boost your vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels. These essential nutrients, especially antioxidants, help fight inflammation to support your body’s recovery.

Performance dietitians recommended color sources:

  • Tomatoes 
  • Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini 
  • Broccoli 
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Romaine Lettuce 
  • Spinach 
  • Squash
  • Green Beans
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries 
  • Red Raspberries 
  • Blackberries 
  • Bananas
  • Grapefruit
  • Peaches
  • Dates
  • Watermelon 
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Honeydew


Fat was deemed evil for the longest time. However, it is an important part of our diet. Fat helps reduce inflammation, regulates hormones, and helps our body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). 

Performance dietitians recommended fat sources:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Avocado and avocado oil 
  • Nuts and nut butter (Walnut, almond, peanut, etc…)
  • Seeds (chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, etc…) 
  • Olive oil and olives

Rest Day Performance Plate

The rest day plate is made for off days, light days (walks, yoga, pilates), and rehabbing. Since our energy needs are lower we do not need quite as many carbohydrates these days. 

Instead, we focus on adding color and eating functional fats to provide fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory benefits. 

Rest Day Athlete Plate Breakdown:

Carbohydrates: 25%

Protein: 25%

Color: 50%

Fat: 2-3 Servings

Athlete Plate — Rest Day

Practice Day Performance Plate

The practice day performance plate is to help you fuel your training and practice. This plate will be your go-to plate most days. 

We need more energy to get us through typical training days but not quite as much as on game day or hard days (camp or two a day) so you will add more carbs that rest day to your plate. 

Practice Day Athlete Plate Breakdown:

Carbohydrates: 35%

Protein: 25%

Color: 40%

Fat: 2-3 Servings

Athlete Plate — Practice Day

Game Day Performance Plate

The game day plate is for days you require a lot of energy and intensity. Think game day, camp, or two a day.  We will focus on energy availability on game days. You will load up on carbs to fuel your muscles and brain quickly and efficiently. 

TIP: On game days stick to foods you are familiar with and won’t cause any distress on your gastrointestinal system.  

Game Day Athlete Plate Breakdown:

Carbohydrates: 50%

Protein: 25%

Color: 25%

Fat: 1-2 Servings’

Athlete Plate - Game day


 The performance plate method gives you the tools to adjust your food intake to match your energy and nutrient needs. It provides you with the right balance of nutrients to support your performance and recovery needs.

Now when you go into different training loads, you will have an understanding of how to build your plate to perform at your best. 

The next step is to figure out if your food intake is optimal to meet your performance needs. That is where I can help. Schedule your FREE discovery call today.

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Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Website | + posts

Jenn Schmidt is a licensed and board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Minnesota. Her specialty is in performance nutrition and wellness, which focuses on helping individuals fuel, think, and move towards their best selves without compromising their relationship with food. Jenn is passionate about all things food-related and enjoys making complex science easy to understand for her clients and readers.

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