8 Steps to Improved Health & Performance 

When you eat better, you can compete better. Take it from Corinna Coffin, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian, Altra Elite Athlete, and fitness enthusiast with a strong passion for helping others lead healthier, happier lives through nutrition and lifestyle practices. Below, she outlines an eight-week approach to help you build habits that will improve and sustain your health and performance. 




Corinna Coffin leaning on the counter in a white-clad kitchen with food in the background

Week #1: Practice Mindful Eating 

In order to identify areas for improvement when it comes to nutrition, we must first increase our awareness of current nutrition habits through careful observation. This “data collection” phase is an important step in understanding our behavior around food so that we can come to address these areas. 

Tips for practicing mindful eating: 

  • Track regular intake in a food diary/notebook or nutrition tracker (e.g., My Fitness Pal). 

  • Make note of meal/snack patterns throughout the day and timing of food intake. 

  • Observe and record hunger cues throughout the day, particularly before and after meals/snacks. 

Week #2: Establish a Consistent Eating Schedule 

How we fuel our bodies directly impacts performance outcomes. We can’t expect to perform well without giving our bodies the proper fuel to carry out the tasks at hand.

Tips for creating a consistent meal schedule: 

  • Aim to eat 5-6 times per day. 

  • Based on your observations from week #1, this may look something like 3 meals + 2-3 snacks per day or perhaps 4 to 5 smaller meals. 

  • Once you decide on a meal/snack pattern that supports your schedule, energy needs and training, work on consistency. Stick to a similar schedule each day.

Week #3: Focus on Fruits & Veggies! 

Aim to get at least 5-7 servings/day of fruits and veggies. One serving is equal to 1 medium whole fruit, 1 cup of fruit (chopped), ¼ cup of dried fruit, 1 cup raw vegetables, ½ cup cooked vegetables, or 2 cups leafy greens. 

Tips for incorporating more fruits & veggies: 

  • Aim for a fruit or vegetable at each meal or snack. 

  • Frozen options can make meal prep easy and time-efficient. 

  • Leafy greens can be added to smoothies for a nutritious start to your day. 

Week #4: Create Balanced Meals 

The term “balanced” is often used to describe the presence of all three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) in order to create a nutritious, satiating meal. When a meal lacks one or more macronutrients, this can lead to premature feelings of hunger and lead to additional snacking throughout the day. 

Tips for creating balanced meals: 

  • 1/4 plate comprised of complex carbs (starchy veggies & whole grains). 

  • 20-30 grams of protein per meal (this looks like a deck of cards of a meat or fish portion, or ~1 to 2 cups of vegetable protein such as soy, beans, tempeh, etc. 

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of healthy fat per meal (can be averaged out throughout the day). 

*Use the hand-eye method as an easy measuring tool. 

*Hand-eye method: 

  • 1 tsp = 1 fingertip
  • 1 tbs = size of thumb
  • 1 cup = 1 whole fist
  • 1 oz = meaty part of thumb
  • 1-2 oz = cupped hand
  • 3 oz = size of palm 

Week #5: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! 

Dehydration increases physiological strain on the body and can decrease performance by increasing body core temperature, cardiovascular strain, and glycogen utilization, as well as altering metabolic and CNS function. To prevent dehydration, aim to consume at least half of your body weight in ounces of water. With increased activity and/or warm environments, increase this amount. Monitor the color of your urine (lemonade color or darker usually signifies dehydration). 

Tips for staying hydrated: 

  • Try to achieve ½ of intake by 2pm so you’re not overloading at the end of the day and using the restroom during the night. 

  • Hydration during training: Don’t need to replace 100% of fluids during a workout, but opt for replacing 150-200% of fluids lost during training after the workout! 

Week #6: Adjust Intake to Support Activity 

Your energy needs vary daily based upon activity level and expenditure for a given day. On a hard training day, you may find yourself hungrier than you would on a lower activity day due to increased energy output. In order to better support our bodies in keeping up with physical demands, we can adjust our intake to reflect activity levels. For this, it may be helpful to look at the Athlete Plate guidelines below: 

Food breakdown for easy training/maintenance
Food breakdown for moderate training
Food breakdown for hard training/race day

Tips for adjusting intake to support activity: 

  • Maintain a consistent protein intake regardless of the type of day. 

  • Fruits and vegetables should always have a presence at meals, but particularly on easy days or with weight management. Fruits and vegetables are considered high-volume, low(er)-calorie foods, meaning they take up a lot of room (volume) in your stomach helping you feel fuller, without driving calories up. 

  • Grains and starches (including starchy veggies) require the most adjustment depending on activity level.

Week #7: Know Your Protein Recommendations 

Protein is well known for its role in repairing and building muscle tissue, particularly in active individuals, but it has other extremely important roles in the body. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, make up all of the enzymes and cell transporters in our body as well as many important hormones. Protein also plays a large role in our immune health. Both endurance and strength-based athletes require more protein than your average sedentary individual. Recommendations for this population range from 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg bodyweight, with little to no increase in muscle protein synthesis beyond 2 g/kg. 

Tips for achieving your daily protein goal: 

  • Aim for 20-30 grams of protein at each meal. 

  • Opt for high protein snacks throughout the day. 

  • Consume both plant and animal-based protein options for variety. 

Week #8: Understand Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates 

Complex carbohydrates are often minimally processed and include plant foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and beans. They usually contain fiber, which slows down the digestion and absorption process by keeping food in the stomach for longer. You don’t want to have a bunch of food sitting in your stomach while you’re training, so you’ll want to avoid consuming large amounts of complex carbs (particularly high-fiber options) in close proximity to physical activity. Instead, these carbohydrate options are beneficial at breakfast and/or anytime throughout the day when you have a few hours to properly digest. Simple carbohydrates contain higher amounts of sugar, little to no fiber, and tend to be more processed (but not always!) than complex carbohydrates and therefore digest and absorb much more quickly. The ability for speedy uptake and energy production by the body makes simple carbs the perfect pre and during training fueling options. 

Examples of complex carbs: 

  • Whole wheat breads/bagels/pastas 

  • Brown rice 

  • Sweet potatoes 

  • Oats 

  • Quinoa 

Examples of simple carbs: 

  • Bananas, mango, pineapple, grapes, oranges etc (high-sugar, lower-fiber fruits) 

  • Honey 

  • Jams & jellies 

  • White rice/breads/pastas 

  • Breakfast cereals 

  • Granola bars 

  • Sports gels/bars/drinks 

  • Juice 

  • Raisins & dried fruit 

Take care of your body with Corinna’s nutrition plan. Take care of your feet with her favorite workout shoes. 




About the Author: 

Corinna Coffin, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian and fitness enthusiast. She received dual degrees in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise from Virginia Tech and is a competitive OCR (obstacle course race) athlete with a second-place finish in the 2014 Spartan Race World Championship. Corinna also has first and second place finishes at the 2017 and 2018 Tough Mudder X Championships and has competed on teams at the 2017 and 2018 CrossFit Regionals and at the 2018 CrossFit Games.  

She is currently a member of the Spartan Pro Team and the Altra Elite Team. Corinna attributes much of her athletic success to her focus on nutrition and healthy lifestyle practices over the past nine years. She recently completed her master's degree in sports nutrition at the University of Utah and currently resides in Salt Lake City.  

For more fitness and nutrition tips, follow Corinna at The RD Athlete on Instagram: @cscoffin13.  



Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance.