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Fueling for Performance

We know that the macronutrients — carbohydrates, fats and proteins—are vital nutrients required to fuel our everyday lives. However, athletes and those participating in rigorous exercise or intense training schedules have nutrition needs that can look a little different.

Carbohydrates are the main source of quick energy. Carbs are easy for our bodies to break down and use for energy, and our muscles actually store chains of carbohydrates packaged as glycogen. During longer bouts of exercise, our muscles utilize those glycogen stores/carbs for fuel.

Protein is vital for muscle repair and for gaining and maintaining lean muscle mass. Fats are important to consume for a slower digested form of energy. Fats also help regulate our hormones that help optimize sleep and overall function.

Understanding how to fuel well is vital for performance. This is where the “performance plates” come in. We’ve created three simple plates to help you understand how to best fuel your body to support your training.

The “Easy” Performance Plate

The easy performance plate meal structure would be appropriate for rest days, days where you go for a walk, do yoga, or participate in other low-intensity exercise. The nutrition focus on these training days is on getting more vitamins and minerals from fruits and veggies because we don’t have to focus as much on those energy dense carbohydrates.

The macronutrient analysis for this plate look like this:

  • ¼ of plate is protein
  • ¼ of plate is carbohydrates
  • ½ of plate is color (fruits and veggies)
  • Plus additional healthy fats

The “Moderate” Performance Plate

The moderate performance plate would be appropriate for a practice day, where training or practice lasts for one to two hours. The goal is to increase the carbohydrate portion of your plate to help fuel the longer exercise, and get in a little more protein to help repair muscles.

This plate is the go-to plate, as it will likely be utilized for most days. The breakdown of macronutrients for this plate are:

  • ⅓ protein
  • ⅓ carbohydrates
  • ⅓ color (fruits and vegetables)
  • Plus additional healthy fats

The “Hard” Performance Plate

Finally, we have the hard performance plate. Creating meals that resemble this plate is ideal for game days or two-a-day type trainings—the most intense workout days. The focus with this plate is on getting lots of carbs to fuel that long workout, game or training.

The breakdown of macronutrients for this plate include:

  • ¼ protein
  • ½ carbohydrates
  • ¼ color (fruits and vegetables)
  • Plus additional healthy fats

Just because athletes’ needs somewhat shift during different training days, does not mean it has to be complicated. Keep it simple and happy fueling!

By Shaylee Menage, Avera Sports dietetic intern

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