Real Food for Real People

POV: You’re walking into your local supplement store on a sunny Saturday afternoon. (If you’re in the Boston area, you may be shocked that it’s still this nice outside in November). Your plan is to find a post-workout protein powder for when you’re on the go. When you walk in, you ask the employee for a protein recommendation, but in addition, without asking about your current nutrition habits, he/she proceeds to reel you in on the pre-workout, the BCAAs, the muscle builders, the testosterone boosters, etc., that are a MUST to be the best athlete you can be.




This is an example of the anti-performance pyramid. Take a look at the pyramid and tilt your phone/computer left and right. What do we think? Stable? Or about ready to topple over?


This pyramid shows that it’s unsustainable to have supplements be the base of your nutrition.  While there is absolutely a time and a place for supplementation, please remember that supplements cannot fix poor nutrition habits! In other words, you can’t eat the bare minimum or live solely off of protein and expect supplements to act as a bandaid. When we put all of our focus and energy into supplements, we often neglect what’s really important – good, foundational nutrition, that can set us up for success.


Now we have the performance pyramid, where our attention is on a food first mentality. Regardless of if you are a professional athlete, a recreational athlete, or someone working out to improve their overall health, this pyramid is for you! In this pyramid, we have basic nutrition as the foundation, followed by sport-specific nutrition, and then supplementation.



Let’s break these down.

Basic nutrition includes:

1. Adequate caloric intake:

That 1200 calorie meal plan is not sufficient to support your training, let alone your life! Everyone is different, and everyone has different energy needs. Eating balanced meals and snacks every 3-4 hours can ensure that you have enough energy throughout the day. Additionally, working with a Registered Dietitian can help you determine exactly what adequate caloric intake looks like for you!

2. Balanced meals:

Including all the food groups (grains, proteins, fruits, veggies, dairy) can ensure that your body is getting all the essential nutrients it needs to help you perform at your best. If you are only eating chicken, broccoli, and rice on the daily, you are only getting the nutrients that come from chicken, broccoli, and rice. Let’s eat the rainbow and vary our meals! MyPlate is a great resource for this.


Sport-specific nutrition includes:

1. Nutrient timing:

Pre-Workout Nutrition: The number one question is how much time do you have before you train?

30-60 minutes? Let’s focus on simple carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit, toast, or sports drink.

Got more time? Let’s add in some complex carbohydrates and protein to help keep you fueled for your workout. Some examples are PB&J with yogurt and fruit or oatmeal with fruit and nuts.

Intra-Workout Nutrition: How long are you training for?

Not necessary for exercise lasting less than 30 minutes. Focus on fluid to stay hydrated!

For 1+ hours of endurance training or intermittent high-intensity activity, 30-60g of simple carbohydrates each hour will help keep you fueled. Sports drinks, sports gels, fig bars, and bananas are a few examples.

Post-Workout Nutrition: 

Aim for 15-25g high-quality protein with 45-75g of carbohydrates within 45 minutes post-workout for optimal recovery. Some examples include chocolate milk, avocado toast with eggs, or veggie stir fry with rice and grilled chicken. Research shows that consuming an excessive amount of protein does not equal excessive gains. Instead, a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio can enhance muscle protein synthesis and start refueling you for your next training session.

2. Performance plate:

Training intensity may differ on a daily basis, therefore nutrition can vary with it! My favorite resource for this is The University of Colorado, Colorado Springs Athlete’s Plate, which really breaks down plates based on training intensity. You can print out each plate and hang them up on the fridge to help determine portions without all the stress.

And finally, supplements:

As mentioned earlier, there is 100% a time and a place for supplements. Once we’ve addressed basic nutrition and sport-specific nutrition, adding in some safe and evidence-based supplements can take your athletic performance to the next level. Be sure to do your research and talk to your doctor or a Registered Dietitian before taking a supplement.

Now, let’s get big and strong people!


  1. Learn how to eat healthy with MyPlate. MyPlate. Accessed November 1, 2022.
  2. Karpinski C, Rosenbloom CA. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals, 6th Edition. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2017.
  3. The Athlete’s Plate. University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Accessed November 1, 2022.

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