Updated: Oct 21, 2020
As an athlete, it's important to know not only WHAT to eat, but HOW MUCh of it you should be eating! Read below for guidelines on how to build your plate based on your training.
One of the main things I hear when working with athletes is "I just don't know what or how much I should be eating!" If this sounds like a question you have, keep reading! In this post, I'm breaking down the 3 most important components to focus on when it comes to building your plate, as well as how to know how much you should be eating of each one.
Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for your muscles and brain. They are stored in your muscles as glycogen, and this is what your body uses during workouts and races. If you run out of muscle glycogen, you get that “hit the wall” feeling and your performance is negatively impacted.
For athletes, over 50% of your diet should be coming from carbohydrates. If this sound surprising to you, there's a good chance you aren't getting in enough carbs! Eating adequate carbs helps with performance by:
Helping you achieve your body composition goals
Feel more energized throughout the day
Allow you to train harder and get more from your workouts/races
Basically, getting in enough carbs is key for endurance performance, and is one of the many reasons why endurance athletes should not follow a low carb diet. We want to choose high quality sources of carbohydrates, which includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans/legumes to name a few. Here are some great examples of easy carbohydrates to add to your meals and snacks!
Whole grain bread or bagels
Whole wheat pasta
Protein contains amino acids which are the building blocks our bodies use for a number of things. To name just a few, amino acids are used to build muscle, make enzymes, carry nutrients throughout the body, and balance fluids. Focusing on getting adequate protein in your diet will help you:
Build lean muscle mass
Rebuild/repair muscles after a hard workout
See training adaptations more quickly (like getting faster, stronger, etc)
Heal faster from injuries and reduce risk of future injuries occurring
Protein is also a satiating nutrient, meaning it will help you feel more full after a meal and stay full for longer. This makes you less likely to overdo it on foods lower in nutrients later in the day.
Keep in mind, your body can only absorb so much protein at once, so it’s best to spread out your protein throughout the day between meals and snacks. Here are some examples of high quality proteins to incorporate into your diet:
Lean cuts of red meat
Chicken breast or thighs
Fish (like salmon or tuna)
When we say eat the rainbow, we’re not talking about skittles. In general, the American population tends to under-consume fruits and vegetables. Did you know that you’re supposed to have FIVE servings of fruits and vegetables per day?! Most of us don't even come close to this, but with some planning you too can meet your 5 daily servings.
Fruits and veggies are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and getting enough of them in your diet can help reduce inflammation and boost recovery. Each color of fruit and vegetable contains different nutrients, so in order to get the most nutrients in your diet, pick a new color with every meal/snack. Here are some of my favorite fruits and veggies:
If budget is a concern, try picking produce based on what is in season and look for items that are on sale. Keep in mind, you can get the nutrients you need from fresh, frozen, or even canned fruits and veggies!
Now that we know what to focus on, here is a great visual to help you decide how much to eat:
As you click between photos, notice how the amount of food is staying the same, but the portions of carbs, protein, and color on the plate are changing. Your training isn't the same thing every day, so why should you eat the same thing every day?
On lighter training days, fill up more on fruits and veggies, but still be sure to get some high quality carbs and protein on your plate. On your harder training days, you burn up your glycogen stores more quickly, so you need to eat more carbohydrates to replace those and get you ready for your next day of training.
Everyone is Different
Keep in mind that everyone's nutrient needs will be different based on their height, weight, muscle mass, age, gender, training intensity, etc. These are not one size fits all guidelines, so if you feel like you need more personalized help, visit my website to schedule a meeting!