Nutrition Plan for a Hockey Player: Before, During and After a Game

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Many hockey players are not clear on what foods are best suited for supplying them with the energy sources needed before, during and after a game. This lack of knowledge often results in the use of foods used as a “quick fix,” or a “pick me up,” which can actually do more harm than good.

When and What to Eat

What foods are eaten, as well as when, can make a difference in performance of both strength and stamina. It’s important that meals and snacks be eaten, and eaten on time, in order to give the body time to digest and process the food for needed energy.

One of the most important aspects of a nutrition plan for a hockey player is ensuring that two-thirds of the diet comes from complex carbohydrates (carbs). This is important because carbs are a major source of energy, especially for an athlete. If the proper amount of carbs is not consumed, energy levels will be lacking, as will performance. Some of the best sources of complex carbs include pasta, potatoes, whole wheat crackers, and whole wheat breads and grains.

The easiest way to ensure the proper amount of carbs are consumed at each meal is to fill the plate two-thirds full with carbs, and the remaining third with lean proteins and a small amount of fats (such as oil, dressings, butter, etc.). This level of carbs in the diet should be maintained for practices, games and workouts – both seasonal and off-season. In addition, it’s recommended to eat five to six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals to keep the metabolism active, as well as decrease the possibility of spikes and dips in the body’s insulin production.

Before the Game

When following a nutrition plan, it’s suggested the athlete eat a meal of two-thirds carbohydrates and one-third lean protein approximately three to four hours before a game (or practice). In addition to using the complex carbs mention previously, some lean protein options include chicken, turkey, tofu, tuna, peanut butter or extra lean cuts of various red meats.

If time is an issue and sitting down for a meal is not an option, eating snacks of the same types of foods one to two hours prior is an acceptable alternative. However, this should be done only when necessary, and not routinely.

In addition, larger quantities of foods high in fiber should be avoided or extremely limited for the pre-game meal. Consuming high fiber foods can result in bloating, gas or other intestinal issues both before and during a game (or practice).

Pre-Game Fuel Up

Just as hockey players get pumped up with chants, cheers or music, they should also pump up their bodies with a pre-game fuel up. Approximately 15-20 minutes before taking the ice, drink – don’t chug – a full cup or bottle of water. Once the game has started, try to replace fluids by drinking a full cup or bottle of water every 15 to 20 minutes of playing time. Don’t replace water with sports drinks, as they have added sugar and sodium. Plain water is what is needed.

In addition to water, eat a small, light snack before a game, as well. Some options could include fruit, power gels or power bars. Avoid eating candy bars, or drinking sodas or energy drinks as a quick fix or pick me up. The simple sugars in these foods will tell your body to produce more insulin, resulting in a low blood sugar at game time. The effects of energy drinks usually last a mere 30 minutes to an hour. The average hockey game, including penalties, time outs and time between periods is 65 to 75 minutes.

After the Game

Nutrition plans must include a post-game recovery. This recovery includes both fuel and fluids. Fluids consumed during the recovery period should be limited to water, as both soda and alcohol (for older players) can contribute to further dehydration. While these beverages are fine later for celebrations, refrain from using them for post-game thirst.

After a game (or practice) it’s necessary to eat a snack in order to help the muscles, and the rest of the body recover as well. This should be done within an hour or two from game’s end. While there’s no need for portions that are as large as those from the pre-game meal, the combination of carbs and proteins will again be of great use. Again, peanut butter, turkey, tuna or tofu are options for proteins while any variety of whole wheat crackers or breads make a good choice for a carb option.

One vital aspect in nutrition plans for a hockey player is to never skip a meal. Skipping meals tells the body to slow the metabolism. This changes how the body uses fuel for energy and can affect performance.

With proper nutrition, a hockey player can stay hydrated, maintain energy throughout games and practices, achieve proper recovery after activity and keep the body healthy for a long, active life.

References: Keeping Canucks in Top Shape.