Have you started training for your first marathon or half marathon and aren’t sure if you need to make any changes to your food intake? Maybe you haven’t even thought that you might need to make changes.
Many people might start training for a marathon or half marathon without making any changes
to their intake. However, nutrition for runners is much more than just adding some gels or chews to your long run fueling (although that is a good place to start if you haven’t already!).
One tool that is helpful in making sure you are getting adequate nutrition throughout the day is using the Athlete's Plate®. The Athlete's Plate® is a tool that was created by dietitians at the
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and reviewed by the US Olympic Committee’s
sports dietitians. There are three different plates, based on the stage of training or level of
One nice aspect about the Athlete's Plate® is that all three plates have the same components, but just in different proportions. So don’t feel like you need to completely change the foods you eat once your training shifts. You can simply make small changes to the amounts of each component.
1. The Easy Plate:
This plate serves as a foundation for athletes seeking a balanced and nutritious meal. It consists of 50% vegetables and/or fruit, 25% grains, and 25% protein. This composition ensures a diverse range of vitamins, minerals, and fiber from the vegetables, sustained energy from the grains, and essential amino acids from the protein source.
2. The Moderate Plate:
For athletes engaging in moderate training, slight adjustments are made to The Athlete's Plate. The Moderate Plate consists of approximately 37.5% each of grains and vegetables, while the protein portion remains at 25%. This modification allows for a slightly higher intake of grains to provide additional energy for training sessions.
3. The Hard Training Plate:
During intense training periods, athletes require increased energy and nutrient-dense foods to support their demanding workouts. The Hard Training Plate is designed to meet these needs, with approximately 50% of the plate allocated to grains. The vegetable portion decreases to 25%, while the protein portion remains at 25%. This adjustment ensures an ample supply of carbohydrates from grains to fuel the body during rigorous training sessions.
Some important considerations with Athlete's Plate®:
- These are just estimates. DO NOT stress about measuring items to make sure your
plate matches these ratios perfectly.
- Sometimes meals contain all these elements combined (such as a burrito, pizza,
lasagna, etc.). That is completely fine! Think about the different components and what
category they’d fit into to make sure you have adequate amounts of each.
- You might have noticed that fruit moves off of the plate on the moderate and hard
training plates. This is simply to make room for the extra carbs that are needed. You can
still think of fruit as being with the veggies or you can have it on the side or as a snack.
- Don’t forget about snacks! Two quick recommendations for snacks are: 1) follow your
appetite cues for when and how much & 2) don’t go more than 3-4 hours between
You might be wondering how to know when to incorporate each plate. Instead of worrying about the specific training volume of each day, try to think of the training level over the course of the week. Not only is this less stressful, but it also helps to account for the natural fluctuation in appetite that occurs for many people during training. When you are in the off season or running less than 20 miles per week, an easy plate will probably fit your needs. Once you start adding in speedwork or increasing the total mileage, you’ll want to move up to the moderate plate. When you are in the peak weeks of marathon training (or half marathon training, depending on the mileage), you’ll want to make sure you are using the hard plate. If you feel like you might be in- between two plates, you can incorporate both throughout the week! This might look like a moderate plate for lunch and a hard plate for breakfast and dinner.
Have questions/unsure what you should be eating/drinking to optimize your performance?
Reach out to set up a free discovery call to learn more about nutrition counseling. I am in-
network with BCBS and United Healthcare.