Fueling the Hockey Player

Brandon Aldan Skating Performance

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By: Brandon Aldan – Bio


As a strength and conditioning coach, one of the hardest areas to change is most athletes’ nutrition. A good diet is essential to fuel maximum performance. A hockey player’s body is like a high performance machine. The type and amount of fuel you put in are extremely important to how you play. Good nutrition can enhance focus, raise energy, expedite recovery and improve overall performance.

Basic Nutrition Requirements

Carbohydrates:  This is the primary source of fuel for hockey.  Complex carbohydrates from whole grains are the preferred source.  Refined sugars should be avoided.  Fruits and vegetables should be eaten daily. To calculate daily carbohydrate needs multiply weight x 3 to 5 = grams carbohydrate.

Good sources: sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, brown rice

Fats:  Fats are necessary for various functions in the body including, energy production and vitamin absorption.  Most fats should be in the form of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat.  These fats can have a positive effect on health.  Saturated fats with the exception of coconut oil should be kept low.  To calculate daily fat needs multiply weight x 0.45 = grams fat per day.

Good sources: Olive oil, avocados (great in guacamole), canola oil, coconut oil or milk, flax seeds, almonds, walnuts

Protein:  Protein is used to build and repair tissues particularly, muscle tissue.  Hockey players require more protein than the average person but, excess protein is stored as body fat.  To calculate protein needs multiply weight x 0.70 = grams fat per day.

Good sources: nonfat milk, chicken, turkey, lean beef, bison, whey powder

Vitamins and minerals:  Vitamins and minerals are essential for many bodily functions such as, energy metabolism and tissue health. Most vitamins and minerals can be obtained through a balanced diet with good variety but, a daily multi-vitamin is recommended to ensure all needs are met.

Water: Considering that our bodies are 60-70% water, this is the most important nutrient. Even slight dehydration can lead to muscle cramps, decreased concentration and impaired neuromuscular performance. Drink 8-10 eight ounce glasses of fluid, preferably water, each day.

Good sources: filtered water, green tea, sports drinks (during heavy exercise)

Total Calories: Intense training requires a large caloric intake to meet metabolic demands.  Most hockey players need between 3,000 and 5,000 calories per day.  One simple way to estimate total calories is to consume 15-16 calories per lb of body weight to maintain current weight, 12-13 to lose body weight and 18-19 to gain body weight.

“Pre” and “Post” Meals

What you eat before you play or train has a major impact on performance and recovery. “Pre” and “post” meals are possibly the most important of the day.

The pre-game or pre-practice meal can dramatically influence play by maximizing energy levels.  It is also best to experiment with different food combinations that suit each particular individual. It’s not advised to make a dramatic change prior to a game. This can have disastrous effects.

The pre-game meal should be eaten 2-4 hours before game time.  Since carbohydrates are the primary fuel for hockey, they should comprise the largest portion of the meal.  There should also be some protein and minimal fat.  The carbohydrates should be slow-digesting with a low glycemic index. Glycemic index refers to how quickly blood glucose rises after eating certain foods. One pre-game meal that suits most people is sweet potatoes and a chicken breast.

Post-game/workout meals are very important to the recovery process. This should consist of a combination of carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for hockey and the body is synthesizing glycogen, the muscular storage form of carbohydrate, at an increased rate so it is important to consume carbohydrates almost immediately following. These carbohydrates should be quick-digesting with a high glycemic index. This is a time when it is alright to have some sugars.

General Nutrition Tips

  • Choose foods with high nutrient density.  Nutrient density means the food provides many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants per calorie. Avoid empty calorie foods like soda, candy, etc. These foods have very low nutrient density. Fruits, vegetables and lean meats have very high nutrient density.
  • Throughout most of the day, select carbohydrates with a low glycemic index or more importantly, a low glycemic load. Breakfast and post-workout are times to choose high glycemic load options.
  • Choose whole foods over processed, refined foods. Nutrients such as, vitamins and minerals are best absorbed from the original food source.
  • Eat a large variety of vegetables and eat vegetables at every meal. Vegetables are great snacks between meals.
  • It can be difficult to eat healthy at school and work so pack your own lunches or snacks. A few extra minutes a day preparing a lunch can make a major impact on your overall diet which will enhance performance.
  • Choose hormone-free, free-range, grass-fed meats. These meats are much healthier and can provide more omega 3 fatty acids which have many health benefits.
  • Choose organic when possible especially for fruits and vegetables. Some fruits and vegetables have more resilient skins and most pesticides can be removed by washing. Consult a chart online to see which ones are most important to buy organically.
  • A handful of nuts make a great snack. Nuts provide healthy fats and provide nutrient-dense calories.
  • Learn to read labels. Look up any substances you’ve never heard of. Avoid artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. These substances are toxic and may be responsible for many health problems. Also avoid hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Fix your diet before adding supplements. Certain supplements such as, creatine and beta alanine have shown to enhance performance but, will not make up for poor nutrition. Correcting nutrient deficiencies will have a much greater impact on performance than any supplement.
  • Most athletes don’t get enough fiber, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids. Add fiber to many meals by using The Fiber 35 Diet Sprinkle Fiber. You can also easily mix this in to shakes. I would recommend taking 5000 IU’s of vitamin D per day in the form of a softgel. You can get additional omega 3 fatty acids by adding flax and chia seeds to many meals or by taking it in softgels.
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. By this point, you are already slightly dehydrated. Drink 8-10 8 ounce glasses of fluids consisting mostly of water throughout the day.
  • Sweating while playing and training requires replacement of electrolytes in addition to fluid. BioSteel High Performance Sports Drink is my choice during training. For games, I add a couple tablespoons of cane sugar. Coconut water is also a great natural electrolyte replacement.
  • Juice is better than soda but, still contains a lot of sugar. Dilute 100% fruit juice with equal parts filtered water.
  • For more information on hydration, check out this blog post, http://www.brandonaldanskating.com/apps/blog/proper-hydration-for-optimal-performance.

The importance of good nutrition for the hockey player cannot be overstated. Hopefully, these tips provide some useful information to get started on the right track. My new book, The Hockey Player’s Cookbook, will have more nutrition information as well as, several healthy recipes. This is planned to be available in mid-January.