Elite athletes fuel their bodies differently.

They know that filling their plates with the right combinations and portions of foods makes a difference – in preventing illness and injury and performing at their peak potential during training and competition.

By following guidelines established by the NCAA and the United States Olympic Center, elite athletes fill their plates based on how hard they are training and competing.

Both organizations developed “performance” or “athlete” plate concepts to determine food decisions and portions, taking into considering the athlete’s training season (easy, moderate, hard).

To get started, you need to understand the three types of training seasons:

Easy Training Season

This might be when you have finished your competition season and no longer have to go to games or practices. You are all on your own and have a chance to relax.

Moderate Training Season

This might be when you are in between seasons but are still working out. You may be casually working out with the team several times a week or working out on your own several times a week to stay in shape.

Hard Training Season

This might be when you are in the midst of pre-season and working out two times a day. Or you may be working out an hour and a half or longer every day and be in the middle of your season. You might also have games in the evenings and even on weekends.


The NCAA developed guidelines for a hard training plate or easy training plate based on the athlete’s season. Here’s how the plate breaks down:

Hard Training Plate

  • ½ whole grains and starches that provide energy for your muscles
  • ¼ protein that helps build and repair muscle
  • ¼ fruits and vegetables that help strengthen and improve your immune system

Easy Training Plate

  • ¼ whole grains and starches
  • ¼ protein to help build and repair muscle
  • ½ fruits and vegetables




The US Olympic Center developed guidelines for a hard, moderate, or easy training plate based on the athlete’s season.

Easy Training Plate

Since you’re not expending as much energy during easy training, you don’t need as many energy foods. Your plate will include protein for the constant building and repairing of tissue as well as fruits and vegetables for keeping your immune system strong.


Moderate Training Plate

As you are expending more energy, the need for foods that produce energy – namely whole grains and starches – increases. Fruits and vegetables would drop slightly while protein would remain the same.


Hard Training Plate

As you get into hard training, the need for whole grains and starches increases even more. Fruits and vegetables would drop again slightly while protein would remain the same.

Note: It may surprise you to see that half of the plate is covered in grains and starches for hard training days. But for an athlete who’s expending a lot of energy, these foods are needed in sufficient quantities to replace fuel and energy stores. Don’t be concerned that eating grains, pasta, rice, and potatoes is going to make you fat. Just be sure to eat according to your energy needs.


Take the extra step to fill your plate based on how hard you’re training. If your competition is simply eating the same foods no matter how hard they are training, you’ll gain the competitive edge!

Tracy Owens

About Tracy Owens

Tracy Owens (MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN) is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She has worked in private practice, providing clinical and sports nutrition for over 20 years. Her two sons and two daughters have played AAU baseball, USSSA baseball, Legion baseball, Challenge, United, Premier, Elite and ECNL soccer at Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), USTA tennis, summer swim teams, and high school football, swimming, baseball and soccer. Two of her children played Division 1 soccer at North Carolina State University.

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