Hockey season is back in full swing! Now that your kids have survived tryouts and evaluations, it might be a good time to make sure their nutrition is on track. How an athlete chooses to fuel his or her body can make the difference between being a good athlete and being a great one. Likewise, if everyone in a team environment invests in nutrition, the group as a whole will be able to compete at a much higher level. Ron Maughan, a professor of sport and exercise nutrition, explains it perfectly: “A great diet cannot make an average athlete elite, but a poor diet can make an elite athlete average.”
Energy to fuel your body comes from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is then stored in the liver and in the muscles as glycogen. Glycogen forms an energy reserve that is needed during heavy workouts and competition.
Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates can be sourced from more than just breads and pasta. They can actually be found in all four food groups:
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables have different amounts of carbohydrates, but all will aid in helping to fuel your body for strenuous workouts. Almost all athletes fail to eat enough of this food group.
- Grain products: Whole-grain foods — such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa and whole-grain breads — are a great source of complex carbohydrates, which enable the body to store energy longer than simple carbohydrate foods, such as white bread and white rice. However, simple carbohydrates are not necessarily a bad choice within an hour before physical activity, because they break down very quickly and will provide a quick boost of glucose just when you need it!
- Milk and alternatives: The lactose in milk and yogurt is a sugar and is therefore a carbohydrate. Every food in this group, including soy milk (which doesn’t have lactose but is sweetened in other ways), will be a good source of carbohydrates.
- Meats and alternatives: Legumes (for example, chick peas, lentils and kidney beans) are an excellent athlete “super food” and can easily (and quite unnoticeably) be added to salads, soups, chili, burritos, wraps and more.
Pre-game Nutrition Tips for Hockey Players
Having enough energy to fuel your game is key, but managing nutrition for sport also involves understanding your particular body’s needs. Every athlete is different. Some hockey players need at least four hours to digest a meal, while others can play great having eaten just two hours before game time. It is therefore important to experiment and find out what works for you.
√ Three to four hours before game time
If you’re eating a full meal before a workout, cover all four food groups. Most people require three to four hours to digest a full meal.
√ Two hours before game time
If you only have two hours before a workout, eat a smaller meal but cover at least three food groups.
√ One hour before game time
If you like to have a light snack one hour before game time, it’s important that your snack consist of one carbohydrate food and one protein food. Here are some examples:
- a hard-boiled egg with carrot sticks
- hummus with sliced vegetables
- yogurt and berries (add some cereal for a bonus!)
- a fruit and yogurt smoothie
- crackers with peanut butter
- half a sandwich and fruit
Game Time Nutrition Tips
Hydration is key during physical activity. Be sure to take small, frequent sips throughout your game. After every shift, you should be reaching for your water bottle right away. If you are even slightly dehydrated, your skill and mental performance will decrease considerably by the third period. If your game is longer than an hour, consider using a sports drink or a small snack to help refuel your muscles.
Post-game Nutrition Tips
Post-game recovery nutrition is just as important as proper pre-game nutrition planning. What you eat after a strenuous game plays a huge part in how long it takes for your body to recover from the activity. If you have a second workout the same day (for example, a practice for another sport, or if you are competing in a tournament), start refueling your body within 15 to 20 minutes of the end of the game. Even if you do not have a second workout scheduled, be sure to refuel your body within an hour after a game.
Here are some basic guidelines for refueling:
- Always eat a combination of one protein source and one carbohydrate source. In addition to the examples listed above, a chocolate milk or a smoothie provides a great protein/carbohydrate combination, while providing hydration at the same time!
- Continue to hydrate throughout the day with plenty of water.
- The perfect time to refuel (whether through a liquid or solid food source) is 15-20 minutes after the game. Tip: a Magic Bullet is a great tool for an athlete!
Practicing pre-game, game time and post-game nutrition every day will help keep you in top form. Remember how important carbohydrates are so you can keep performing at your peak throughout the season!By Susannah Juteau, MSc, RD — Consultant, Peak Performance