Fuelling up for hockey — Why Carbohydrates are a Hockey Player’s Best Friend

Playing great hockey requires planning ahead and not only eating well, but eating enough — something many players don’t think about. Proper sport nutrition involves consistent planning throughout the entire season — not right before a game. Today, however, we will focus on topping up your energy on game day for peak on-ice performance.

The main reason hockey players become tired during a game is because their energy stores become depleted, they become dehydrated, and/or they get a build up of lactic acid. Most players train the same amount, so having a good diet and good nutrition practices can really set you apart from the other players.

When it comes to achieving top performance, carbohydrates are your best friend! They give your muscles energy. Protein and fat are very difficult to break down and are, therefore, not readily accessible for your muscles to use as an energy source. Carbs provide the energy needed for quick sprints, powerful shots, endurance (to last through the third period) and accurate passing. Studies have even shown that players who don’t practise pre-workout nutrition get more penalties!

So what are the best fuels before a workout? You want foods that are easily digested and that won’t bother your stomach. This is the time of the day where fibre consumption is less important because your focus should be on getting lots of energy. High carbohydrate, low protein, and low fat foods are easiest to digest.

Healthy examples of high carbohydrate foods to eat before a game are:

  • Bagel with peanut butter
  • Cereal with milk
  • Fruit with toast
  • Beans/hummus with carrots or pita bread
  • A fruit smoothie
  • A sandwich
  • Cereal bars
  • French toast
  • Homemade muffin and a fruit

It’s important to remember to eat regularly throughout the day. Not eating for several hours and then having a large snack or meal right before the game makes most people feel heavy and, sometimes, even nauseous. Not every player on the team needs the same amount of food or needs the same amount of time to digest their food.

The key is to get familiar with your body and to see what works best for you and your performance. Test out new foods and learn determine how long it takes to digest your food without feeling hungry. Once you’ve got it figured out, stick to it!

Here are some guidelines to help you determine the size of meal that you should eat depending on how much time you have before your exercise. Every athlete will have a different digestive window, but these recommendations are accurate for most athletes:

Time before exercise Size of meal recommended
3 to 4 hours A regular sized meal with lots of carbohydrates and a medium amount of protein and fat. Stick to healthy foods. Anything deep fried or with lots of cheese will be very difficult to digest in four hours. Cover all four food groups.
2 to 2.5 hours A regular sized meal made with mostly carbohydrate based foods (see list above). Consume only small amounts of protein and fat. Cover three to four food groups.
1 to 2 hours Small meal/large snack made with mostly carbohydrate foods. Have very little fibre, protein or fat. Cover two to three food groups.
Under an hour A light snack of carbohydrates. Many players who consume a large meal three to four hours ahead of time will feel hungry again before the game. It is ok to have a snack such as a glass of juice (or diluted juice) and a banana or fruit leather.

Last tip for today:

Never work out on an empty stomach! If you have a practice or a game early in the morning, make sure to eat something with some carbohydrates. Even a glass of juice is better than nothing. If you are rushed for time or don’t feel hungry in the morning, grab a muffin or a cereal bar. Or try making a smoothie! Fluids are often easier for your stomach to tolerate and digest in the morning. Start training your body to be hungry in the morning. Breakfast is incredibly important for performance. If your body has become used to not eating at this time, it usually takes two weeks of eating every morning to start feeling hungry again.

All in all, a complete breakfast and a high consumption of carbohydrates throughout the day is ideal for performance. Good luck!

About The Author

Susannah is a Registered Dietitian with a background in neuroscience. She has a master’s degree from McGill University and specializes in sports nutrition, weight loss and early years’ nutrition..CONTINUE.