If You Want To Train Like An Athlete, You Need To Eat Like One Too. Here’s a Performance Dietitian’s Fool-Proof Method

As a performance dietitian, I work with many clients that don’t like to be extremely structured, but also
love to have some sort of game plan. Introducing: The Training Plates, modified from the USOPC.

Before you scroll to see the plate, let’s review the different components:


This is your body’s main source of energy, whether that’s for your muscles to lift weights, your brain to think, or your digestive system to function.

Some sources include:

  • Whole grains: brown rice, 100% whole wheat pasta, popcorn, quinoa, farro, barley
  • White grains: white rice, white pasta, white bread, couscous
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, beans, lentils


Everyone’s favorite. This contributes to building muscles, hair, and nails. Your body makes some amino acids, and the rest we get through our diet, which is through protein sources. One of the most important amino acids for muscle building is leucine, so when I work with athletes, I like to analyze not only how much protein, but what kind of protein they are consuming.

Some sources include:

  • Energy-dense protein: beef (ideally grass-fed and angus when possible), chicken, pork, salmon (wild-caught when possible), shellfish, eggs, Greek yogurt
  • Nutrient-dense protein: tofu, soybeans, and nut butters, seeds, beans, or lentils when appropriately combined (please see an RD for programming these specific complementary protein sources)
  • Supplements, which should be used for convenience, not to replace all food sources: whey protein isolate or soy protein


As a dietitian, this is one of my favorite parts- your fruits and vegetables. I often get asked, “hey Christina, what’s the best vegetable?” in which my response is “the one you will eat!”. I’m not going to split hairs over whether my client has bananas or apples. Organic or conventional. Canned or frozen. Most American’s are under consuming fruits and vegetables, which have been proven to help fuel the body for health by reducing inflammation, providing fiber for gut and heart health, regulate cell function, energy metabolism, and more. If you think you already get enough color in your diet, I challenge you to try new forms of color, which will help your gut health flourish. I think of these as the little elves in your body that help keep everything run smoothly.

Some sources include:

  • Red: red bell peppers, tomatoes (yes, they are healthy even if Tom Brady swears against them), radish, strawberries, rhubarb, watermelon
  • Orange: oranges (duh), carrots, orange bell peppers, cantaloupe, peaches
  • Yellow: yellow bell peppers, mango, pineapple
  • Green: broccoli, green beans, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, chayote, mustard greens, spinach, green grapes, kiwi, honeydew
  • Purple: beets, purple grapes, blueberries, purple cabbage,
  • White: cauliflower, napa cabbage, pears, banana, mushrooms, onion

Healthy Fat

This helps your body absorb nutrients and provides a long-lasting energy source. It also just makes food taste good.

Some recommended sources include:

  • EVOO, avocado, nuts/seeds, hemp hearts, high-fat meat/dairy (burgers, ground beef, sausages, whole milk, cream cheese)

You may be wondering about food overlaps, which is why the plates are not a hard and fast rule, just a guideline. For example, beans are a carb, a protein, and some may even argue a color because they’re high in protein. Whole milk has carbs (lactose), protein (whey and casein), and fat. Utilize your critical thinking in nutrition and make the appropriate decisions when building your plates.

1. Easy Training Plate

When to use it: rest days, light days, or if you are someone who wants to lose weight

Main fueling focus: Prioritize color, aiming for at least 2 colors per meal to get variety.
The science: This plate allows you to bulk up on color, which typically has more nutrients, more fiber, and is less energy-dense. Since these days don’t have a high energy/work output, we are able to pile in the health-promoting foods, but still have some carbs and some protein.

2. Moderate Training Plate

When to use it: most training days

Main fueling focus: Prioritize balance, thinking of having equal parts carbs, protein, color, with a side of fat or cooking in EVOO. All parts of the plate are crucial on a day-to-day basis.
The science: All parties are involved and important. You’ll see that carbs are higher than on rest days because you are getting your training in, and need the carbs for energy/replenish energy stores. However, you still need color for systemic health.


3. Hard Training Plate

When to use it: race days, at least 2 hard workouts per day, or if you are someone who wants to gain weight

Main fueling focus: Prioritize carbs, aiming for whole grains when possible, especially after training.
The science: By emphasizing carbs, you are ensuring your body gets the energy it needs to perform. We’ve all ran a race or competed in a tournament where we start to feel light-headed or cramp up because we decided to not have breakfast or fuel properly the night before. This plate helps you avoid that. Color is still on the plate, but minimal to avoid any high-fiber gut intolerances especially during a crucial work day.

If you are looking for more individualized recommendations on building training plates, all BuiltBy Strength readers get a complimentary FREE 15 minute consultation with Christina Chu. Click here to
schedule your appointment today!


More about Christina Chu, MS, RDN, LDN:

  • Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN): Commision on Dietetic Registration

  • Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN): Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Registration and Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Licensure

  • Dietetic Internship: Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Needham, MA

  • Master’s of Science: Clinical Nutrition, Boston University

  • Bachelor’s of Science: Nutritional Sciences and Communication, Boston University

  • Certified Spinning Instructor: Spinning®

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