A high performance meal is one that is filling and enjoyable while also providing an array of nutrients to fuel your performance, be it at the gym, on a run or even in the office for a big presentation.
Regardless of your personal goals, building a balanced and tasty meal does not need to be complex.
If you find yourself wondering “is this a good meal?” run it through the balanced meal checklist below to learn and reflect on the parts which make up your meal and the role they are playing in your health.
This allows for a range of different combinations to factor in likes and dislikes, allergies or intolerances.
The aim is to build meals that support:
- Consistent energy levels
- Optimal mood
- Overall health
The following four food components can be a useful checklist as essential components for building a high performance plate:
1. Does your meal contain protein? (1/4 to 1/3 of the plate)
Protein has several functional and structural roles in the body, including muscle growth and recovery from physical activity. Protein is also the most filling food component, supporting portion control of meals due to earlier satiety.
Examples: Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, beans, yoghurt, cheese, milk, nuts and seeds.
2. Have you included fibrous carbohydrate? (1/4 to 1/3 of the plate)
Carbohydrates are one of the body’s essential fuel sources, especially during higher intensity physical activity. Including fibrous carbohydrates in each meal can help to maintain consistent energy levels while the fibre also supports good gut health. Whole foods like grainy bread and rolled oats are more nutritious than refined options as they are higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Examples: Grainy bread, potato, sweet potato, soba noodles, quinoa, rolled oats, wholemeal pasta, lentils, chickpeas and beans.
3. Is there plenty of colour? (1/3 to 1/2 of the plate)
Colour refers to fruit or vegetables and a meal is not complete without at least one them. Fruit and vegetables are nutrient powerhouses as they are rich in a variety of essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre for supporting good gut health. Different coloured fruit and vegetables provide different nutrients, meaning the more colourful your meal is the most nutritionally diverse it is – eat the rainbow!
Examples: Banana, apple, berries, kiwi, mandarin, spinach, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, tomato, cucumber, onion.
4. Does the dish have healthy fat? (1-2 tablespoons)
Some healthy fat will be part of the meal or cooking process so there’s no need to add. Healthy fats play several roles in the body including vitamin absorption, hormone production and organ protection. There are different types of dietary fat, but unsaturated fat is the type that is correlated with better health outcomes.
Examples: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon and egg yolks.
The four parts of the balanced meal checklist above could come together in meals such as:
- Rolled oats cooked with cow’s milk and served with Greek yoghurt, berries and seeds
- Tofu and vegetable stir-fry cooked using extra virgin olive oil and served with brown rice
- Cheese and salad sandwich with avocado and grainy bread
- Scrambled eggs on grainy toast with baby spinach, tomato and mushrooms sautéed in extra virgin olive oil
- Spaghetti bolognaise with extra lean beef mince, wholemeal pasta and tomato, mushrooms, capsicum, onion, carrot and zucchini included in the sauce
- Grilled chicken breast with steamed broccoli and potato mash
For more examples of balanced meals, read this article on 38 balanced meal ideas for athletes.
Note: Appropriate portions and ratios of each meal component will depend on individual goals and needs.