August 1, 2013

Hockey nutrition: Sports drinks help fuel performance

By Julie Nicoletti

Dehydration can be a player’s fiercest opponent, yet proper hydration can be a hockey player’s secret weapon to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.

This makes perfect sense because 76 percent of muscles, 74 percent of the brain and 83 percent of blood are water. Performance diminishes with dehydration.

At 1 percent dehydrated, a player is thirsty, speed and strength begin to decline, and it becomes more difficult to regulate the body’s core temperature. At 4 percent dehydrated, a player’s performance is decreased by 20-30 percent, and at 6 percent dehydrated, a player may experience weakness, headache, fatigue, irritability, cramping, chills and blurred vision.

The best way to guard against dehydration is to drink fluids well in advance of a practice or game and to rehydrate at every break in play.

While water is crucial and the recommended drink for athletes, sports drinks are beneficial after 60 minutes or more of practice or game time, especially when sweating. When a player sweats, it’s not only water that is lost; sodium is lost as well. That affects the balance of other electrolytes: potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. Sports drinks help replenish lost fluids and restore electrolyte balance.

There are plenty of brands and different versions from which to choose. Some may be more appropriate than others for certain athletes or in different scenarios, but consider the following information to help you choose.

nAvailability: Some teams have contracts with a certain brand and that may be what is provided, or a coach or parent may decide what is provided in the dugout or on the team bus.

nTaste and tolerability: Too much sugar or a carbohydrate concentration that is too high may result in diarrhea, nausea or cramping. Diluting the sports drink with an equal amount of water or alternating between water and the sports drink may solve this issue.

nEffect on performance: The goal of using a sports drink is to enhance performance, not to hinder it. If a sports drink makes a player feel sick to his stomach, sluggish or wired, then water would be a better choice.

One 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade Thirst Quencher Lemon Lime and one 20-ounce bottle of Powerade Lemon Lime contain similar amounts of calories, sodium, sugar, potassium and carbohydrates, whereas the Gatorade G2 Series contains the same amount of potassium and sodium with less sugar and fewer calories.

Carbonation is made bubbly by infusing carbon dioxide gas into a beverage. Considering that our bodies work hard to eliminate CO2 as a byproduct of our breathing in oxygen, why would we want to tax our body’s further by drinking it? Our recommendation is to drink noncarbonated water and sports drinks before, during and after any athletic exertion.

Energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster are carbonated beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants, including guarana and ginseng. The effects of energy drinks are often detrimental to performance. The stimulants increase heart rate and blood pressure in an athlete who already is doing that on the ice. Caffeine is a known diuretic, which can increase the risk of dehydration. Side effects include nervousness, restlessness, irritability, muscle tremor, headache, GI (gastrointestinal) distress and increased heart rate. The bottom line: Energy drinks should not be consumed.

Hockey players who want to play and feel their best should drink plenty of water before a practice or game. When a player is actively sweating and has been playing for 60 minutes or more, it is appropriate to have a sports drink such as Gatorade or Powerade.

Hydrating adequately and properly most definitely impacts a player’s performance.

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

Twitter: @kineticfuel1 | @jules4fitness