March 4, 2013

Hockey Nutrition: Solid plan starts with simple steps

By Julie Nicoletti

We all do it. Everybody eats. Hockey players at the top of their game have learned that nutrition matters when it comes to reducing the risk of injury, fueling their performance on game day and recovering properly. Knowing how to fuel, hydrate and recover could be the game-changing difference as a player outskates an opponent for the winning goal or makes a decisive save.

Julie Nicoletti is a certified sports nutritionist, registered pharmacist and the co-founder of Kinetic Fuel, a performance-based nutrition company in Massachusetts.

Proper nutrition positively impacts speed, strength, size and stamina. It improves mental concentration as well as the ability to make split-second decisions in a game situation. Nutrition increases energy and improves body composition while decreasing the risk of injury, illness and fatigue. For a high school player hoping to make the team or play in college, for a junior hockey player looking to be recruited or drafted, and for a collegiate player whose goal is to make a solid contribution to a winning season, this proves to be a compelling argument in favor of eating well. Once a player sees and feels the benefits, the recommendations for fueling and recovery are well-received and the changes come willingly.

Over the course of an average day, players make 200 decisions regarding food and fluid intake. However, only about 10 percent of these are conscious choices. The goal is to increase that percentage and to educate players to make the best choices to maximize every training and playing opportunity.

Ideally, this means having a sports nutrition plan to follow. In today’s competitive arena, peak performance requires not only a conditioned and skilled player, but also a well-fueled and well-hydrated one.

Simple steps for success

1. Drink more water and less of everything else.

Adequate hydration provides a competitive edge toward maximizing speed and muscle contractile strength. On the other hand, even the slightest dehydration can cause muscle function to be sacrificed for core temperature regulation.

Drinking water should begin well in advance of a practice or game and a player should drink every time he or she comes off the ice. The cold dry air in a hockey rink is dehydrating, and a player’s sweat rate increases due to equipment and the nature of the game. Dehydration can be a player’s fiercest competitor, resulting in muscle cramps, strains, tears, joint pain, increased recovery times, headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, soreness, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

2. Eat clean, real foods in as close to their natural state as possible beginning with breakfast every day.

Foods should be packaged in shells, skins and peels (eggs, chicken, banana) rather than cardboard boxes (mac ’n’ cheese) and crinkly bags (chips). Players should be able to recognize the ingredients in their food. Eating well affects athletic and academic performance, body composition and overall health and well being.

Real-life example: A talented high school varsity forward (6-foot-1, 151 pounds) was getting pushed around too much on the ice. His primary goal was to gain weight in the form of lean functional muscle. His school day looked like this: Pop Tart or bar in the car on the way to school, cinnamon bun from the cafeteria upon arrival, chicken fingers and fries or pizza for lunch, most days nothing before practice, but sometimes he’d get pretzels or a bar from the vending machine. He embraced a program to eat better foods. During his follow-up visit, when I told him how excited I was to see that he had made meaningful changes, gained weight and stayed lean, he surprised me by saying, “Yeah, and I don’t fall asleep in class anymore either.”

3. Plan ahead.

Whether  you have a game after school or are traveling to an away game or tournament, pack a cooler of the right foods and fluids to fuel both your body and brain for the day. Remembering this is as important as remembering your skates and stick. Waiting for the team bus to stop at a fast-food restaurant or hoping that there’s something in a vending machine puts your performance at risk. Being a good teammate means that you are prepared to play to the best of your ability at every outing. Lead by example.

Camps, off-ice training, multiple teams and more travel than ever before have become part of the landscape for today’s hockey players. That’s why now is the time to fuel like an athlete.

Nutrition matters, so eat to compete.

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.

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @kineticfuel1, @jules4fitness

Email: feedback@hockeyjournal.com