Athletes need to make adjustments to their daily intake based on their training schedules. These adjustments may occur daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. It is important to know what to eat on a hard training day compared to an easy training day.

The main game changer is the amount of carbohydrates consumed at meals. Carbohydrates are an athlete’s main source of energy, an athlete’s fuel!

What foods are carbohydrates?

  • Grains: breads/bagels/english muffins/wraps, pastas, rice, quinoa, oats/oatmeal, cereal, pretzels, and crackers
  • Starchy vegetables: white potatoes, sweet potato, corn, and peas
  • Fruit: whole fruit, fruit cups, applesauce, dried fruit, and 100% fruit juice
  • Beans: chickpeas (or hummus), black beans, kidney beans, and lentils
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt
  • Sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, and chocolate syrup
  • Sport electrolyte drinks/gels/gummies

As your training intensity gets harder and workout duration gets longer, you need more carbohydrates to fuel your workouts. Exercise and nutrition work together like PB&J. When an athlete understands their exercise training and how certain foods can enhance specific workouts, the perfect PB&J concoction is created to give them the energy they need to perform at their best.

A great resource created by the United States Olympic Committee and Colorado Sport Nutrition Graduate Program provides athletes with a visual to better understand what they should be eating at meals during easy, moderate, and hard training days. The MyPlates for Athletes can be found and downloaded on Team USA ‘s website.

Note: The whole grain group on these plates will contain not only your grains (pasta, rice, breads), but also your starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas) and beans.

MyPlate for Easy, Moderate, Hard Training Days

Easy MyPlate

Easy training is considered a rest day or taper day for athletes who don’t need to fuel up for competition.

This plate looks similar to the MyPlate nutrition tool created for the general population, as easy training days don’t require a drastic adjustment in nutrition. The easy training plate is also a good representation of what to eat during periods of weight management, which is indicated by the dotted line between the protein and grain groups. You will want to consume a bit more protein (about 1/3 plate) to supplement extra protein for the amount of muscle you may lose during the weight loss period and to create a feeling of fullness at meals. Also, notice no food groups are eliminated for weight loss. You can still lose weight by eating carbohydrates and fat. No way! Oh Yes! Injured athletes will want to consume more protein as well, to prevent losing muscle mass during recovery.

Moderate MyPlate

Moderate training is your average training day with 1-2 workouts per day (one hard workout focusing on endurance or strength and possibly a second easier workout focusing on technical skills).

As training intensity and volume increases, notice your carbohydrates increase too. The grain group increases from 1/4 to 1/3 of the plate and fat increases from 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp per meal to compensate for the extra energy expended. The fruit has been placed on the side of the plate to make more room for the carbohydrate dense grains at meals. Fruit can always a find a place in the day, whether it is a snack between meals and/or a healthy dessert.

Hard MyPlate

Hard training is considered having at least 2 hard workouts whether it is practice and/or competition. Also, this plate can be used for carbohydrate loading periods before competition (1-3 days prior to competition).

Notice that the grain group increased to 1/2 of the plate to help the athlete recover and replenish energy stores faster in order to prepare the body for the next workout. Fats increased to 2 Tbsp to provide more calories in small amounts and to help keep the athlete feeling satisfied between meals  (fats provide 9 calories per gram vs. carbohydrates & proteins provide 4 calories per gram). Even on hard training days, all food groups should be present on the plate to provide other important nutrients to meet your daily nutrient requirements.

The protein portion stays 1/4 your plate from easy to hard training days since your body is only able to utilize more than 30 grams of protein at one time to restore and build your muscle. Eating more protein will make you feel more full and satisfied, but you want to make sure you are eating all your other nutrients first to ensure you are eating a nutrient dense meal with all food groups and of course making room for those very important fueling carbohydrates!

Take Away Points:

  1. Adjust your carbohydrate intake based on the intensity and volume of your training.
  2. All food groups contain nutrients the body needs on a daily basis. Don’t eliminate food groups.

I would love to see your MyPlates!

Share your MyPlate via social media with the hashtag #SimplyNutricising

Moderate Training: My dinner after a hard workout to prepare for a hard morning workout.


Thanks for reading  🙂


Your Dietitian,

The Nutriciser