Humans evolved on a varied and seasonal diet, and with no processed foods. The human species didn’t evolve to where they are now across millions of years because of diet coke. They started out as microorganisms in the ocean, which eventually evolved into walking, breathing, intelligent and physically capable creatures.

They did this from having an abundance of nutrients available to survive the harsh and deadly climates and environments around them as history went on. Below are an overview of these nutrients – macronutrients, specifically – and some basic science on what they do, how they help us, and where to get them from.

The text above is what we call “the big picture”. It is the thing that most people lose sight of when pursuing “better” nutrition and health. Keeping this big picture in perspective, we’re going to talk about a concept called the “ideal plate”. It is ideal, not perfect, because there is no such thing as perfect when it comes to nutrition. There are no good or bad foods, just better or worse relative to your goals. Therefore, the Ideal Plate.

If you’re reading this, likely you’ve learned about macronutrients and their importance. If not, read this previous entry in our Macronutrient Series, on “PRO/CHO/FAT – THE WHAT AND WHY BEHIND MACRONUTRIENTS”.


The ideal plate will reinforce whole foods, a balance of nutrients, and a healthier metabolism. If every time we eat, we take in a fully balanced meal instead of just a single source of nutrients, we have a better chance at avoiding excess consumption.

Imagine a meal where you only have pizza or pasta or crackers or some other processed CHO to eat (this is typical). It’ll take a lot of that one thing to make you feel satisfied or full, and diversifying your consumption across several healthy and whole sources will allow you to take in an abundance of nutrients rather than just purely an abundance of calories.

Less calories and more nutrients from whole sources means a healthier and faster metabolism, less excess stored energy (body fat) and a leaner, healthier you.


The ideal plate is the product of many nutrition coaching meetings (click here to learn more about our Nutrition Coaching Program) where people were eating too much, not able to figure out why they were eating as much as they were, how to eat less or eat “better” foods, etc. So often, people would say “I know what to do, I just have to do it!”

Structure helps with this. Structure gives you a quick and easy point to reference on whether or not you “checked the box”. The ideal plate structure stays about the same, with a lean protein source, a veggie, a fruit OR starch, and a fat source. Is it wrong to have a fruit AND a starch in the same meal? Of course not. But, we’ve found that mitigating the excess amount of CHO (carbohydrates) that people eat is helpful for performance gains, weight loss, and body recomposition.


The Ideal Plate takes into consideration quality of food, balance of macronutrients and micronutrients, variety of foods, as well as portion control/quantity. The Ideal Plate changes slightly depending on the person and their needs, but the relative concepts stay the same. Usually, the Ideal Plate can be one of two general plates:


Both plates get a lean protein source, per usual. Both plates get a healthy fat source, per usual. Both plates get vegetables to ensure an abundance of micronutrients (more on that later). Both plates get a dense carbohydrate, but this will vary between either fruit or starch. Fruit will carry micronutrients, fiber and antioxidants. Starch will carry glucose, which is very important for athletes and energy balance.

For more on each of these parts of the ideal plate, read our previous entries in the Macronutrient Series:

What Should I Eat For Protein?

What Are Healthy Fats?

What Carbs Should I Eat?

Back to vegetables…Ensuring that you’re taking in an abundance of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients) through vegetables and fruits is important for many reasons. Primarily, micronutrients allow our body to run effectively and efficiently. Also, supplementing a micronutrient will not have the same effect as eating it from a whole food (but not always).


Great question!

It depends.

I know, always such an unsatisfying answer. But, it’s true. First, in our Nutrition Coaching Program, we teach our clients to eat until they’re satisfied. There is no such thing as the clean plate club, because eating for pride is dumb. So if you load up an ideal plate, eat what you can until you’re satisfied. Not a “10/10 bursting at the seams” full, but probably about a 6-7/10. Of course, there are levels to this, and we’ll write a future blog post on “the hand method”, which is a weighing and measuring protocol we prescribe to the majority of our nutrition clients to portion their meals, only once they’ve built the intuition to detect fullness and hunger appropriately.

*** Here is one pro tip I’ll give you, because we’ve seen this get a little hairy: aim for at least a fistful of veggies in each meal, specifically the ideal plate. Often I’ll see people “add vegetables” to a meal by putting literally a single floret of broccoli or cauliflower on their pasta. Which, yes, is better, but missing the point a little. A fistful of veggies. That’ll do your body some good!


You can try measuring your daily success of your nutrition by “units of ideal plates”. Meaning, if you eat four times per day, and only one of those times was an ideal plate, and the other three were a bucket of popcorn, a half tub of ice cream, and a pizza, you can focus on improving your other 3 meals to fitting the ideal plate structure. My advice, start with the next meal. If lunch is your one and only ideal plate, then try to make your dinners fit the ideal plate structure. Then, go after that midnight snack or mid afternoon snack, then breakfast. There’s really no bad place to start!

Nick Gifford (CF-L3)
Nick Gifford (CF-L3)Author
Nick Gifford, Head Coach and Owner of Gifford Fitness, CrossFit Red Lion and Gifford Barbell has coached over 3000 athletes since 2012. He has worked with athletes from all walks and stages of life, focusing on health and wellness, balance, and pursuing excellence.