Hockey is a fast-paced, anaerobic activity that requires a great deal of energy. Hockey players need to ensure their nutrition is sound, that they’re eating enough to fuel grueling on-ice and off-ice workouts and that they are eating the right types of macronutrients to maintain muscle over a long season. Even amateur hockey players need to pay close attention to diet if they want to have explosive power and speed on the ice.
The foods you eat can be broken down into three main categories: carbohydrates, protein and fat. All athletes should eat a balanced diet with a healthy mix of these macronutrients. For a hockey player, an important decision is deciding on the best ratio for optimal performance in an anaerobic, short-duration sport.
No matter what sport you’re participating in, it's critical to take in enough carbohydrates. Carbs are the body’s energy source, providing the glycogen used during activity. If an athlete doesn’t eat enough carbs, the body will use fat and muscle mass for energy, which isn’t ideal. Carbs should be at least 45 percent to 60 percent of a hockey player’s daily calorie intake, according to National Strength and Conditioning Association nutrition guidelines 1.
The American Dietetic Association has recommended 5 to 7 g of carbohydrate per kg, or 2.2 lb, of body weight per day. A endurance athlete would consume as much as 12 g per day per 2.2 lb., and a serious hockey player would want to be at a high level, based on age, body weight and activity level. A careful analysis by a dietitian would ensure that a player was eating enough calories and enough carbs each day to maximize and maintain energy.
Pre-Game and Post-Game Meals
Before a tough workout, a hockey player should eat a meal rich in complex carbohydrates to make sure he has the glycogen stores to get through his workout. Multigrain breads, vegetables, beans and rice all work well. Plan for at least two hours to digest the food.
Ensure maximum hydration. A pint of fluid two hours before activity provides the hydration you need for a game or workout, but also allows time for a bathroom stop before you get out on the ice.
After a workout or game, you have an optimal “window” of 30 minutes to 90 minutes in which to most effectively replenish protein you used during intense exercise, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture President's Council on Fitness. Sports dietitians recommend that athletes make sure that their post-game meal is rich in protein, fairly low in fat so it’s easy to digest and contains some easily digested carbs to replenish glycogen. Foods to consider include smoothies, sandwiches and cereal. This is the time when sugary bars and even chewy candy work well to raise blood glucose levels quickly.
Intense training, particularly resistance or strength training, increases an athlete’s protein needs. A general recommendation for most people, according to the Harvard School of Public Health website, is at least .8 g of protein per kg of body weight. A hockey player could need as much as 1.7 g per kg, according to the American College of Sports Medicine 2009 nutrition guidelines.
For a serious athlete, it is important to replenish protein stores at every meal, but particularly after an intense workout. While regular food works fine, it can take longer to digest. Some hockey players may prefer a protein drink. A protein shake or drink is easy to digest, and you can consume it quickly during the “window." It also allows you to carefully achieve an optimal balance between protein and carbs after a workout.
Every athlete needs a sufficient amount of fat in the diet--not just for optimal health and vitamin absorption, but also to make sure she is able to consume enough calories to meet daily energy needs. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that 20 percent to 35 percent of daily calories come from fat sources, with no more than 10 percent from saturated fat.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Essentials of Training; Roger W. Earle and Thomas R. Baechle, eds.; 2004
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