The Oxford dictionary defines performance as ‘the act of performing; carrying into execution or action; achievement; accomplishment; representation by action; as, the performance of an undertaking of a duty’. In hockey terms, this means stepping onto the ice and playing to the best of your ability each and every time.
But, how do we know if we are performing to the best of our ability? Well, they say that “success is 90% preparation and only 10% perspiration”, so just because you walk off the ice sweaty doesn’t mean your performance was deemed a success. Instead, you have to look at how you prepared off the ice. To be a successful hockey player requires a serious dedication to the physical training and mental strengthening that is essential for optimal performance. What is also required, in addition to these, is a focus on good nutrition and healthy eating practices.
Nutrition drives performance; and, healthy eating is the base from which we can build a successful hockey player! Let’s imagine you were building a house. The first and most critical part of building a house is laying a solid foundation. Without it, your house would eventually crumble and fall apart. The same goes for your nutrition. If you neglect your nutrition, or choose unhealthy foods, your foundation will be weak and cracks will quickly form in it. But, if you can establish solid healthy eating practices, you will provide yourself with a strong and durable foundation to support a high-level performance.
So, what are the basic healthy eating practices? Well, it’s simple. There are 5 things you should be doing on a daily basis, regardless of the level of hockey you currently play:
1) Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables – Studies show that approximately 60% of people (adults & children) do not consume enough fruits and vegetables1. As you probably know, these foods are essential for good health. But, they are also vital for premium hockey performance. They are full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help the body function at full capacity. It is recommended that adults consume at least 7 servings* of fruits and vegetables per day, from a variety of sources (children should get at least 4 – 5 servings). Including one or two servings with each meal, and snacking on them in-between meals can easily achieve this.
*1 serving = 1 piece of fruit, 1 cup of salad, ½ cup of chopped vegetables
2) Breakfast. Every. Single. Day – They call it the most important meal of the day, and it is absolutely true. Eating a healthy, balanced breakfast provides our body with the fuel and nutrients it needs to power us throughout the day. Breakfast kick starts our metabolism, which helps the body convert food into energy, and also power hockey performance. Once again, however, studies show that approximately 20 - 40% of people (adults & children) do not eat breakfast on a daily basis2. If you are part of this group, start by having something for breakfast, even if it is small, like a piece of fruit or a small yogurt container. Eventually, you should be eating breakfast every single day.
3) Snack, Snack, Snack – After eating a well-balanced breakfast and getting the motor running, you should be following it up with healthy snacks in-between your meals. Ideally, you should be eating every 2 – 3 hours (and no longer than 4 hours). And, this includes an evening snack (if you have an early dinner). Snacks should typically come from fruits or vegetables. You can also include grain products, such as homemade granola bars (see recipe), bread, bagels and crackers; milk products, such as yogurt, cheese, soy or almond milk; and, meat and their alternatives, such as nuts, seeds, peanut butter and hummus.
4) Protein Power – Proteins are the building blocks of the entire body. Every single cell in your body is built from protein. While most people do get enough protein in their diet, often it is from poor sources, or from only a few select foods. In fact, we need different proteins from a wide variety of foods. Meat products, such as chicken, fish and beef are excellent sources of high-quality protein. But, we should also be getting protein from sources such as whole grain products, milk and milk alternatives, and many of the meat alternatives, such as beans, lentils, eggs and nuts. Including variety in your diet will ensure that your body gets every nutrient it needs to be healthy and support performance. Including some protein at every meal and with snacks is a good way to ensure your body gets everything it needs!
5) Get Hydrated – It is well known that dehydration can ruin a performance. Our bodies are 70 – 80% water, but more importantly, our brains are 90% water. If not properly hydrated before hitting the ice, our muscles, organs, ligaments, tendons, and brain all suffer the moment we begin moving. We lose focus, we get cramps, and we fatigue very quickly. It is essential, therefore, to make sure you are properly hydrated before playing hockey. While recommendations do vary, it is good practice to drink at least 1 litre of water before any physical activity, whether that is a game, practice or other training. Review the Hydration for Hockey resource for more information on proper hydration.
As we have discussed, building a better hockey performance begins with building a solid foundation of nutrition practices. Implementing the five tips above will ensure that you have a healthy base to support your performance on the ice. If you have an issue in any of the areas, start to make changes to your eating habits. Once these become part of your regular routine, you can consider making modifications to support enhanced training levels (ie. supplementation, protein regimens, etc).
Remember, powering performance on the ice requires a good performance off of it!
1 Health Canada – Fruit and Vegetable Consumption, 2012 (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11837-eng.htm)
2 Heart & Stroke Foundation – Breakfast Basics, 2010 (http://www.heartandstroke.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=ikIQLcMWJtE&b=4869055&ct=8663213)
Luke Corey, BA(H), BScAHN, RD
Complete Health and Nutrition