By Scott Lowe - MyHockeyRankings.com
It seems like no matter what the circumstances are, figuring out what – and how much – you should be eating is of utmost importance.
If you aren’t able to be very active right now, it’s critical to eat a certain way to make sure you don’t add the Quarantine 15 to your waistline. If you are working out and trying to lose weight, you need to take an entirely different approach. And if you’re a hockey player fueling your body to train, compete and recover – yep you guessed it – you also have different nutritional needs.
While it can be pretty straightforward as far as the types and amounts of foods a hockey player – or any athlete – should be consuming to ensure proper energy levels and muscle recovery, developing and maintaining the optimal diet always seems more difficult than it should be.
The most obvious obstacle that makes it hard for young hockey players to eat right is temptation. Of course, that is an issue we all have to deal with every day.
There are so many foods many of us enjoy that simply don’t have a place on anyone’s healthy nutritional plan. Making it even more difficult to resist temptation is that there likely are people in your family or others in your life who may not be as concerned about what they eat as you are, which means those tempting foods are probably easily accessible and pretty much in your face at all times.
Another challenge for young athletes trying to eat right is having the time, ingredients, patience and know-how to prepare the proper foods in ways that make them appealing – i.e. so they don’t suck. And if you don’t have those luxuries at your disposal, you better have someone in your life who is willing and able to prepare the foods you should be eating the way you like them.
Once again, with others in your household who might not share similar nutritional goals, it isn’t always easy or practical to have multiple meals prepared at the same time if a family is sitting down to eat together. Mom and dad may be working 50 hours a week with little or no time to exercise – or cook – and are likely not going to be interested in the high-carbohydrate, high-protein diet their young athlete wants and needs.
They probably can do without the extra calories, too.
Even if you can find the right meal plan for what you are trying to accomplish nutritionally, the recipes often make things extremely complicated and frequently require at a minimum 25 to 30 minutes to prepare properly. Your trainer is telling you to eat lean meats like chicken, turkey, roast beef and ham, and other than slapping those items between a couple slices of whole-wheat bread, the methods of preparation required often can be so complicated and time-consuming that many people – not just young athletes – give up and revert to their old habits.
It also takes time to figure out what types of meals you like or want to try over a given period of time and then to check all the recipes so that you can create a shopping list to make sure you purchase the ingredients you need – and enough of them – the next time you go to the grocery store. And it seems like no matter how much you plan or how hard you try, when it comes time to actually put a meal together and cook, an ingredient that you need to prepare a dish just right is missing.
In the hockey world we often stress keeping things simple on and off the ice, but this nutritional conundrum sounds like it’s anything but that. Don’t worry, though, it doesn’t have to be that way.
This article isn’t intended to make young players feel like it’s impossible to eat right. The goal is to simplify things enough so that almost anyone can find a nutrition plan that meets their needs, provides options they like and realistically can be followed.
So instead of getting really technical and talking too much about your body’s physiological responses to various types of foods, the rest of this article will cover simple concepts relating to the types of foods that are best for active hockey players who are either in the process of training or striving to compete at their optimal level.
Nutrition often is the missing ingredient – pun intended – that can help a young player take his or her game to the next level. Fueling your body properly allows you to perform at your peak potential, whether you are training or competing, and can help you recover efficiently and effectively so that you can match or surpass that peak level of performance the next time you work out or play.
By eating properly and putting in the hard work on and off the ice, it is possible to achieve physical gains and see improved performance levels that previously may have seemed unreachable. To do this, it is important to understand exactly what a hockey player’s body needs before, during and after games to ensure proper fueling and recovery.
For hockey players, unless you are trying to lose weight, it is essential to consume a large amount of carbohydrates in combination with proteins and healthy fats. The body uses protein to build and repair muscles and tissues as well as to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. It is an important building block of bones, muscles and cartilage.
It is important to consume a variety of proteins that are easily digested and absorbed by your body. The best – and often the most accessible – sources of protein are lean meats and dairy products.
Carbohydrates represent your body’s main fuel source. Natural fruits and grains are easy carbohydrates to purchase, store and eat, while pasta is one of the more popular forms of carbohydrates and long has been a staple of pre-competition meals along with grilled chicken, green vegetables, salad and bread (preferably whole wheat or multi-grain).
During or just before intense physical activity or competition it is important to ingest fast-digesting carbohydrates or simple carbs to help fuel the muscles throughout the process. They are metabolized quickly and deliver a quick spike in energy.
Slower-digesting carbs, or complex carbohydrates, are preferred after and in-between strenuous activity to assist in fueling the recovery process.
Examples of simple carbohydrates are table sugar, corn syrup and honey, while naturally occurring simple sugars can be found in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk products. Chocolate milk has long been utilized as a recovery drink by elite-level athletes.
Complex carbohydrates include starch and fiber. Fiber is found in plants, nuts, grain cereals, fruits and vegetables. Rice, whole grain wheat and corn are examples of starches. Because they take longer to break down, these foods provide a more controlled release of energy throughout the day instead of a quick spike followed by a subsequent plateau or drop.
The goal is to fill up on complex carbs that are dense in nutrients throughout the day and reserve simple carbs for immediately before, during and after intense physical activity.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap for contributing to weight gain, but they are essential fuel necessary for an athlete’s body to perform at peak levels. The bottom line is that no matter what foods you consume, if you take in more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.
Healthy fats also are a key component of any athlete’s diet and are essential to live. Our body does not manufacture fat, so we have to get it through our diet.
Monounsaturated fats are the best of the healthy fats, providing energy, fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. While fats should always be consumed in moderation, athletes can benefit from consuming the monounsaturated fats found in foods such as fish, nuts, canola, extra virgin olive oils and avocados. Nuts are a great snack food and healthy source of energy and nutrients.
Keeping the nutritional needs of hockey players in mind, here is a potential grocery list for the next time you go shopping to ensure that you have a good balance of foods you need and will enjoy that can be consumed in various forms without requiring too much effort to prepare.
Please don’t think that you have to buy all of this. The hope is that there is enough variety here to provide many healthy and easy options for young players looking to eat healthy with the goal of improving performance and recovery.
Low-fat cottage cheese
Greek yogurt – plain and add natural fruit to taste
Lean roast beef
Lean ground beef (92-96% fat free)
Oatmeal – instant is fine (easier is better)
Sweet potatoes – can add cinnamon, salt, pepper
Oat bran cereal
Rice – instant is fine (easier is better), but any kind of rice works
Cream of wheat
Multigrain hot cereal
Potatoes – red or baked
Whole grain or multi-grain sandwich breads – bagels, pita, English muffins
Soft corn tortillas or low-fat flour tortillas
Low-fat, low-sodium crackers
Oven-baked tortilla chips
Green or red peppers
Extra virgin olive oil – use for cooking
Avocadoes – add to smoothie or make guacamole with lime juice, onion and tomato
Raw nuts – peanuts, almonds, almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, cashews, macadamia nuts
Seeds – chia, hemp, sunflower
Peanut Butter – all natural
There is a really good video
produced by HockeyTraining.com
that covers a lot of what you will find in this article and also provides some great ideas such as the ones below for snacks and meals:
Chop up peppers, onions, tomatoes, mix with 3-4 eggs scrambled and serve with 3-4 slices of turkey bacon and a bowl of oatmeal.
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raw nuts
½ coup oats
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1 teaspoon hemp seeds
1 tablespoon all natural peanut butter
½ cup blueberries
¼ cup raisins
pinch of cinnamon
Mix, stir it up and eat; this will provide fuel for your day!