September 19, 2013

Hockey Nutrition: Ramp up knowledge to raise the ‘bar’

By Julie Nicoletti

Energy bars, protein bars, bars, bars, bars.

The optimal choice for on-the-go hockey fueling always is real food that you can still recognize. Our philosophy is whole real foods in as close to their natural state as possible as often as possible.

In reality, though, it is not always practical. Bananas, for example, do not travel well and turn brown and mushy when left in a car, locker or cold rink. So it is the convenience and portability of bars that have even the most nutritionally disciplined players hooked.

The good news is that there are plenty of whole food bar options that bring together the best of both worlds: real food in a convenient package that tastes good, stays fresh and still provides good nutrition.

The Peanut Butter Cookie Lara Bar, for example, does just that and with only three ingredients: dates, peanuts and sea salt. That passes our test.

The challenge hockey players face is finding the “right” bars for them. Are they looking for a protein bar or an energy bar? Do they need extra calories or a lower-calorie option? Are there any nut allergies or other dietary considerations? Is the bar a snack or will it take the place of a meal? When will the bar be eaten?

The nutritional profile for a bar consumed as a quick mid-morning snack in between classes could be very different from a bar eaten in the locker room before practice or on the bus close to game time. Timing is extremely important when it comes to maximizing playing performance. The same Peanut Butter Cookie Lara Bar mentioned above would be a great choice in between classes, but because its fat and fiber content slow its digestion, it would not be our first choice right before lifting or skating. This is one of the benefits of having a personalized nutrition plan. Before customized recommendations are made, all of the questions above are answered.

My best advice is to become an educated consumer. Be the hockey player who pays attention to what he puts into his body because he knows that nutrition matters and will affect how he feels and how he plays. Read labels carefully. Stand in the aisle, take your time and be smart about what you choose to put into your body.

Start by looking at the ingredients. Generally, the fewer, the better. Can you pronounce all of them? What are they? Organic brown rice syrup or soy crisps sound healthy enough, but are they? Look at the nutritional label for calories, fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber and sugar.

Calories, protein, fat and fiber tend to vary the greatest amount between brands. Some bars are 110 calories while others are 300 calories and more. Protein bars boast 20-, 30- or 40-plus grams of protein, whereas energy bars often contain fewer than 10 grams. Bars with nuts, nut butter or coconut, like many of the Lara Bars, tend to have higher healthy fat content than a granola-style bar does. High-fiber bars, such as GNU bars, contain 12 grams of fiber, whereas endurance energy bars such as Bonk Breakers have only 2 grams.

Some hockey players have special considerations or factors that are important to them. For a player with food allergies, the allergen statement is a crucial piece of information, and all labels are required to provide one. Some players are gluten free, dairy free, vegan, kosher or make an effort to eat organic foods. That information also is provided on the labels.

Are you familiar with “non-GMO?” GMOs are genetically modified organisms that have been created scientifically by splicing DNA and injecting it into another species. It is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80 percent of packaged products in the average grocery store in the United States. GMOs also raise health and safety concerns.

For hockey players trying to maintain proper nutrition while juggling school, training, practices and games, energy and protein bars might be a suitable option, but — like everything you put in your body — the key is to understand what you’re eating to fuel properly.

Julie Nicoletti is a nationally recognized sports nutritionist who specializes in coaching student and professional athletes to optimize performance and minimize the risk of injury through nutrition. As the founder of Kinetic Fuel Performance Based Nutrition, Julie combines her professional training as a registered pharmacist with her 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.

Twitter: @kineticfuel1

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