I make it a point to try to attend games to watch athletes with whom I work play. Thinking back to the last two hockey tournaments I attended, I’m hard-pressed to find enough healthy options to fuel a player’s performance on the ice.
The first rink had a vending machine in the foyer (you can guess what the choices were) and a table set up inside with bagels and cream cheese, doughnuts, hot chocolate and coffee. The second rink had a little café set up inside, but the only options were bagels, muffins and breakfast sandwiches. To eat well over the course of the weekend, players and their parents would have needed to leave the rink to find a grocery store or healthier option restaurants.
When it comes to nutrition, there is only one way to guarantee that a player will have the fuel and fluids necessary to maximize performance: Bring your own. Planning, packing and bringing a cooler will ensure that a player has access to what he needs when he needs it.
So what should a player bring to a game or tournament?
Let’s start with hydration. Although hydrating should begin long before you prepare to play, bring plenty of water for games. A player can drink up to two cups of water up to 15 minutes before the beginning of a game. In addition to water, bring a sports drink such as Gatorade. In most cases, the 12-ounce size is enough to replenish electrolytes and give a boost of energy from carbohydrates.
When it comes to food as fuel, nutrient timing plays a key role. When a player eats is just as important as what he eats. Certain foods, such as peanut butter or almond butter, are best eaten at least 1½ to two hours before playing, whereas fruit such as watermelon, grapes, pineapple or bananas may be eaten much closer to game time. This is because nut butters are healthy fats and are more slowly digested, whereas fruit is a carbohydrate and can be used as a quicker source of energy. The key is to fuel your body with fresh, real foods that you can still recognize.
Think the day all the way through before you leave home with your cooler. Will you be playing through a meal? If so, pack it and bring it with you rather than relying on concession stands, fast food or takeout. If you’ll only have time for a snack between games but need something a bit more substantial than fruit, consider a Greek yogurt or yogurt parfait, muesli, protein pancakes, carrots and hummus or a breakfast wrap for any time of day.
A collegiate hockey player recently called me. He will be assistant captain this coming season and wants to lead on and off the ice. His issue: consistency. You might think that at that level he already would know the benefits of fueling his body, but he really didn’t. Once we changed his nutrition choices and timing, he found his energy in the last minutes of the third period were as good as in the first minutes of the first period. His play became much more consistent.
When playing in tournaments or games, remember to bring as much food as you’ll need with you.
Eat well. Play like a champion.
Julie Nicoletti is a certified sports nutritionist, registered pharmacist and the co-founder of Kinetic Fuel, a performance-based nutrition company in Massachusetts. At Kinetic Fuel, Nicoletti and Jules Hindman have worked with hundreds of high school, collegiate and professional athletes and teams to optimize performance through nutrition. Learn more at kineticfuel.net.