What is an Athlete’s Training Plate?
An athlete’s training plate is a way to differentiate how an athlete eats after different intensities of workouts and training. Why is this so important? When the intensities change, so do an athlete’s needs, not only for their performance at that moment, but also for the recovery from it. Being able to adjust an athlete’s food intake based on training will also help them to adjust their bodyweight towards their goal at the same time. Now the athlete is improving not only their performance, but also working toward their body composition and weight.
Let’s look at each part of the plate and why it is so important to have all of them:
Protein – As we talked about back in our macros article, this is incredibly important for the role of building lean body mass, improving body composition, having appropriate amino acid levels in the body and improved metabolic, hormonal and acid-base balance in the blood.
As we look at each plate, we see that this is the one macro nutrient that stays the same across all 3 training intensity options. The reason for this is the importance of it for athletes. All of the positives have been proven in the literature time and again.
Keeping this at a consistent amount will allow the athlete to maintain lean body mass and improve performance. The protein sources can be plant or animal based and the goal is to have it be as lean as possible for each serving due to the use of performance fat that is also a part of the training plate.
Grains – This portion of the plate is the one that will fluctuate the most and specifically work in an inverse relationship with vegetables. This relationship of give and take is used to help adjust not only the total number of calories, but also the number of carbohydrates, which is what the body uses as its main fuel source.
On lower intensity training days these are not as necessary. This adjustment of that macronutrient will allow for easier changes over days, weeks, months and beyond to adjust total calories for weight adjustments and manipulate body composition. The grains will also help with, and can be increased for, people who want to gain weight.
Vegetables – These are incredibly important for athletes to help with recovery. That’s why they play such a huge role in the athlete’s training plate. No matter what intensity a person trains at, it is important for them to get the micronutrients from these veggies that they provide. As discussed with the grains section, the reason they are slightly lower on the highest intensity day is that the grains will are most important for the athlete to replenish their muscle and liver glycogen stores. This will help with being ready the fastest for another high intensity workout as quickly as possible and total recovery. Even on those days it is incredibly important to still make sure that ¼ of the plate is still set aside for dense vegetables.
Fats – the high-performance fats are there, specifically in oil form in these pictures because it is so easy to add to cooking or over the foods already on the training plate. The serving will only change slightly, with the fat increasing slightly as the caloric needs of moderate and high intensity workouts require it. Olive, avocado and other oils are incredibly easy to use and highly recommended.
These high-performance fats will allow for the athlete to have a lot of the important general health requirements, specifically cell signaling, tissue health, immunity, hormone balance and production and the absorption of Vitamins, A & D.
Flavors – Most athletes know to salt their foods for help with their hydration and some other performance benefits. What most DON’T know, is how many of the other herbs and spices also have health benefits. Ones like curcumin, which has been shown to help with inflammation, anti-cancer properties, and antioxidants, have huge benefits with minimal need besides cooking or flavoring with them.
Other examples include Spirulina, which is a mixture of algae species and is often put on top of specific prepackaged foods. It has been shown to lower triglycerides (fats) and have other health benefits. Cinnamon has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and can help with preventing diabetes. Basil has been shown to help with fighting infections and boosting immunities. These are all great examples of why seasonings and flavorings can also play a vital role in an athlete’s plate.
Drink – We speak about this quite often here at PP, but hydration is an easy way for an athlete to make sure they are taking care of a huge component of their health and performance with minimal effort. Making sure that a person has the right level of hydration can lead to huge improvements in performance just by getting back to a normal level. Drinking water and other hydrating beverages with meals is an easy and practical way for them to make sure this happens.
Please go check out the 2nd part of this article, where we break down How to Build an Athlete's Training Plate and some of the foods and best practices we recommend as you are putting it together.