Hockey Nutrition: Consistency counts, no matter the season
I typically begin working with hockey players during what is technically their offseason during the summer, but calls are starting early this year. I’m not really sure why, but I’m game, especially because it allows a longer period of time for more progress to be made in preparation for next season.
Players work hard during their offseason months to sharpen their skills on and off the ice, train and condition, mentally prepare, dial in to their nutrition and optimize their body composition so they are ready to go for the start of next season. All that hard work and then … the season hits.
The season is the time when it’s most important that players fuel their performance and recover properly in order to play a full schedule, often one that allows for very few rest days. Yet, with the added practice time, players tell me that their routines and eating schedules are thrown off. Ice time and game times also vary from early morning to late at night, making it a challenge to figure out timing for fueling and hydration. Oh, and then there is the element of travel. Collegiate or juniors road trips and hours on a bus don’t necessarily promote healthy eating. Add airport food (although it has become easier to find better choices recently) and flight time into the equation, and players land dehydrated due to the recycled air on the plane and hungry due to the meals that they probably missed.
So what’s a player to do? Be consistent. Be methodical and disciplined about maintaining as much consistency as possible. Eat at regular times, even if that means bringing a cooler on a plane or packing your own food to bring to the field or on a team road trip. Resist the Doritos and Gummy Bears that a teammate might be passing around and choose wraps, salads and fruit instead. You’ll feel better and will play better. Try to be consistent about your food choices even when you are ordering out. Doing so will minimize gastrointestinal upset.
Keep in mind that you are traveling to play. You’re not traveling for vacation. Hydrate fully, even if this means drinking extra water earlier in the day before boarding a bus or plane, and then bring an empty water bottle to fill as soon as possible to start rehydrating upon arrival at your destination. A general rule of thumb is to drink 16 ounces of water per hour of flight time. Avoid soda, juice, lemonade and sweetened beverages. Caffeine can be dehydrating, so if you drink coffee or tea, drink an equal amount of water to offset the diuretic effect of the caffeine. During games, use the time on the bench to drink water and eat a snack like raisins, grapes, orange slices or a small banana if you find yourself feeling hungry.
Sleep also is an important factor in mental capabilities and physical energy levels. Players often tell me that sleep is disrupted either by travel schedules, nerves or excitement before game day, or that they are too sore to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Do your best to keep a consistent pre-bed routine and bed time. Sleep is often underrated.
Consistency is so important during the season, but now is the time to establish routines. Eat consistently well. Play consistently well.
Julie Nicoletti is a nationally recognized sports nutritionist specializing in coaching student and pro athletes to optimize performance and minimize the risk of injury through nutrition. As founder of Kinetic Fuel Performance Based Nutrition, Julie combines her professional training as a registered pharmacist with experience as a certified sports nutritionist to customize plans for athletes and teams, enabling them to see transformative results. Learn more at www.kineticfuel.net.
This article originally appeared in the May edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.