A: Just as the game has changed significantly over the years, so too has hockey nutrition. More specifically, the change has come in understanding the benefits of nutrition and how eating properly has helped players separate themselves from other hockey players with similar talent. Proper nutritional habits and recovery have also played a part in extending many hockey careers at the competitive level.
So, on the topic of nutrition, supplements and food trends, I was leery to offer out-of-date advice or incorrect information. Certainly, though, today’s nutritional guidance for hockey players goes way deeper than the old “eat-a-chicken-and-pasta-dinner-three-hours-before-game-time” axiom. Today, proper nutrition is a core element of a successful hockey player’s lifestyle. And the definition of that “proper nutrition” is how a player eats over the course of a year and week-to-week, not just day-by-day and hour-to-hour.
Knowing this, I contacted a good friend at the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) who helped educate me on the appropriate, current and correct information for adolescent athletes looking to enter the high-performance phase of their sport development. If you are serious about proper sports nutrition please download the USADA’s True Sport Nutrition Guide. It’s a great resource that will help answer questions such as:
- Why should I eat breakfast?
- Why is chocolate milk an important recovery drink?
- Why are carbohydrates considered the “master fuel” and how many grams of carbohydrates do I need on a daily basis?”
- What is a good hockey pregame meal?
- What is a healthy regimen to build muscle?
After reading USADA’s materials, it occurred to me that the value of a healthy diet and education on the topic aren’t nice-to-knows, they’re must-knows for today’s competitive athletes. Refueling an active body for success needs to be a top priority if you want high-level success. And while this priority on proper refueling might be relatively new, there’s an age-old saying that still applies:
There are no shortcuts.
There are no “trends” in food. There are no quick fixes with supplements. The only real “trend” is that athletes are now gaining more knowledge so they can eat and train properly to gain an advantage.
Nutrition for a hockey player is extremely important. Aspiring athletes need to be educated on the following types of nutrition and caloric intake:
- Dietary Fat
- Fluids and Hydration
- Vitamins, Minerals and other Supplements
Over the years of coaching and teaching, I’ve found that hockey players have different or specific needs as it applies to their nutritional intake. Diets or caloric plans should not be the same for every player. I’ve worked with players who need to gain weight before the season starts. I’ve worked with players who needed to maintain or keep weight over the course of the season. I’ve worked with players who needed to slim down and trim fat out of their diet. The point is, everyone is unique, but if their goal is to be the best high-performance athlete they can be, proper nutrition will play a large part in helping achieve that goal.
One topic that is especially important to understand is the USADA’s stance on supplements, because it’s a safety issue, not merely a performance issue. Supplement companies create a demand for their products under the false pretense that muscular gains will be quick and easy. In fact, the more outrageous the company’s promise, the more risky that supplement may be to an athlete’s health.
Recently, there has been much discussion over the safety of such supplements. The answers aren’t straightforward. No resource can protect you completely. The reality is that the use of dietary supplements can be risky, and that awareness, caution, education, and common sense must be exercised when considering their use.
For more information on supplements, the USADA has created a three-R 411 program that encourages athletes to REALIZE there are safety issues with supplements, RECOGNIZE risk when they see it and REDUCE their risk to testing positive and experiencing health problems as they participate in hockey.
I encourage athletes and parents to take the next step in their development by educating themselves on the advantages of eating correctly and beginning those healthy habits today. They will change lives for the better and provide an advantage over those hockey players who neglect their nutrition.