It’s true that what we eat has an impact on who we are, how we feel, our overall health and day-to-day life. It’s also true that who we are, how we feel and our day-to-day life have a significant impact on what we choose to eat.
A proper nutritional program is just as important to an elite athlete’s success as is a training regimen. Think of your body as a car and food and drink as the fuel. Elite athletes are like finely tuned cars that require high quality fuel to achieve optimal performance. Putting low quality fuel into your body can lead to compromised health and decreased performance.
With that said, what should today’s hockey player be eating? Here are some easy answers to a complicated question.
Get Your Day Off On
The Right Skate:
We’re all told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is especially true for young athletes. Eating the right foods, first thing, will give you energy for hockey practice, school and a fun, full and busy day.
For many people, breakfast is hard to fit in. Why?
• Not enough time
• Not hungry
• Not sure what to eat
Here are some simple tips for how to eat right, right away.
Pick one food from each of these categories:
Fruit: Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries), bananas, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, peaches/plums, kiwi, mangoes, melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon)
Protein: Yogurt, eggs, cheese, natural peanut or almond butter, turkey or vegetarian sausage or bacon
Whole grain: Whole grain frozen waffles, hot cereal (oatmeal), any cold cereal with at least three grams of fiber (like Kashi Heart to Heart or Raisin Bran), whole grain English muffin or toast, whole wheat bagel
Fluid: Water, skim or 1 percent milk or vitamin-enriched soy milk
Pre-game Meals: What, When And
Why To Eat Before A Game or Practice
WHAT: Pre-game meals are key for improved athletic performance both physically and mentally. Here are some easy options and ideas for how to schedule this important meal for maximum effectiveness.
The pre-game meal should consist of a protein-rich food, whole grains or fruit and fluids (water).
Examples include: ½ cup trail mix and a piece of fruit or yogurt (6-8 ounce); pizza bagel or pizza English muffin (whole grain bagel or English muffin, topped with tomato sauce and cheese); pasta (half whole grain) with tomato sauce (or olive oil/butter) and either cheese, frozen shrimp, chicken, 95 percent lean meat (organic when possible), beans or Morning Star Farms frozen Meal-Starters vegetarian protein crumbles; and chopped fruit cup topped with yogurt (add granola or sunflower seeds for crunch and more nutrients).
WHEN: Eat your pre-game meal one to two hours before the game – two hours for a more hearty meal choice, one hour for more of a snack or mini-meal size portion. Be careful not to eat too much, aim for half of the amount you would usually eat at dinner. “Practice” your pre-game meal prior to a longer hockey practice. That way you can figure out how your body digests certain foods before you really need to know for the big game.
WHY: Research has shown that having a pre-game meal or snack with protein and whole grains help promote:
• Clear thinking during competition or being “on your mental game”
• Faster body reaction times
• Improved athleticism
• Better coordination
Protein and whole grains are the best choices because they are digested more slowly, allowing the energy from the food to last longer. High sugar foods, including juice or white flour breads, burn off quickly making them poor choices for a pre-game meal. You’ll get an energy burst that will then crash when you need it most: during your game.
Between Period Nutrition: Choose small amounts of foods that are primarily easy-to-digest carbohydrates. You want quick energy here that will get into your system with little work.
• Bananas, apples, pears, orange slices
• 4-8 oz. Gatorade or other sports drink without caffeine
• Graham or animal crackers or pretzels
Post-game Meals: Eating Your Way To Recovery
Choose high carbohydrate, easy-to-digest foods or fluids right after your game or intense practice. See Between Period Nutrition ideas. Drink 8-16 ounces of a sports drink without caffeine to help replace fluids, carbohydrates and electrolytes burned in muscle during exercise.
Within one to two hours of your game, eat a healthy, hearty meal. Be sure to include foods from all the key categories you learned about for breakfast (carbohydrate – like pasta, baked white or sweet potato, brown or wild rice, protein – like fish, white meat chicken or turkey, lean red meat, beans, tofu, edamame, beans, vegetables and fluids).
Foods that are less processed are best because they are naturally anti-inflammatory. After a game or practice you want to help decrease inflammation, swelling and overall resistance in your body that naturally occurs from intense physical exertion. In general, natural foods that are minimally processed are best and considered anti-inflammatory. Specifically, fruits, vegetables, nuts, nut butters, whole grains and beans (hummus, etc.).
Within this group, things like avocado, pineapple, papaya, pomegranate, melon (cantaloupe, watermelon), ginger, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and fish (wild salmon or canned salmon instead of tuna) are the most potent anti-inflammatories.
Fried foods, processed meats (hot dogs, bologna), packaged snack foods (chips, etc.), red meat, vegetable/soybean/corn oil are all pro-inflammatory or more likely to add inflammation in the body.
Drinking lots of water is important to help reduce inflammation.
Over time, including healthy food in your everyday diet gets easier and becomes a wonderful habit. You or your athlete may benefit from meeting with a registered dietitian who specializes in nutrition for young athletes to help make an individualized eating plan. Making small, healthful changes gradually is truly the recipe for success.
Stacy is the nutritionist for Reboot with Joe. She is also a Senior Clinical Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Athlete Eating Guidelines
A proper eating program is just as important to an elite athlete’s success as is a training program. Think of your body as a car and food and drink as the fuel. Elite athletes are like finely tuned cars that require high quality fuel to achieve optimal performance. Putting low quality fuel into your body can lead to compromised health and decreased performance.
Focus on the following nutrition principles year-round:
Stay hydrated. Your body is more than 50 percent water and your muscles depend on water to function properly. A dehydrated body cannot train or compete at its peak. Drink enough so that your urine color is like pale lemonade to clear, and so that you are urinating frequently throughout the day.
Fuel up before training. Focus on eating lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and whole grains to ensure that your body is prepared for training. Try not to go into a training session with an empty fuel tank. Eat a meal three to four hours or a snack one to two hours before exercising.
Boost your immune system. Choose foods that are high in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables to help keep your immune system healthy and reduce the amount of free radicals that your body builds up during high intensity training. Choose more colorful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, asparagus and sweet potatoes.
Limit fats. Saturated and trans fats can cause inflammation, which is the exact opposite of what elite athletes need. Stay away from foods that are processed or higher-fat meats and choose non-inflammatory unsaturated fats such as olives, avocados, nuts, seeds and salmon.
Eat to recover. Choose carbohydrate rich foods with some protein within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing a training session to help your body recover faster. Whole grains, including bread, pasta, rice and potatoes, fruits and lowfat milk and yogurt are good choices after workouts.
Energy products. Energy bars, gels and drinks do have their place in an elite athlete’s eating program; however, be sure to not abuse these types of products as they can deter body weight goals and can replace more beneficial calories from whole foods. Limit these to before, during and immediately after practice depending on your sport needs.
(Information provided by the United States Olympic Committee Performance Services)