By: Mary Howley Ryan, HNN hockey dietitian
After playing 12 years of adult recreational level hockey, the most challenging games nutritionally are tournament weekends. Playing 3-5 games in 48 hours (or less) means both fueling and recovery nutrition compete for time and attention with sleep, rest, socializing while watching other teams play, and for many adults - a post-game adult beverage ritual.
Additional challenges with adult hockey players, especially women, include trepidation about eating too many carbohydrates. Hockey uses a lot of muscle glycogen for the all-out anaerobic bursts on the ice, as well as liver glycogen to fuel your brain in the many split-second decisions throughout the game. To fully replenish depleted glycogen stores we may need up to 24 hours and if you start out with less-than-full stores you may feel sluggish before you think you should.
Similar story for fully re-hydrating – even if you drink water or a sports drink on the bench, depending on your individual sweat rate and the amount of time you spend on the ice, you could be down anywhere from 16-32 ounces after a game. While chugging a bunch of water in the locker room can help bring down your core temperature, you only absorb 30 ml of fluid per minute so much of that post-game chug is lost in the restroom soon afterwards.
The good news is that if you go into the first game of the weekend well-hydrated and fueled, then pay attention to eating and drinking throughout the weekend, you can support your on-ice performance and feel better Monday morning.
The most common question players ask me is “what should I eat before a game?” Turns out, there is no magic meal that works for everyone and there are many factors to consider such as what you ate (and drank) the 24 hours leading up to the game – are your glycogen stores topped off? Are you sufficiently hydrated? If these two things are true the next question is: what can your body digest between your pre-game meal and when the puck drops?
I’ve watched players scarf down a big hunk of steak less than two hours before a game with no apparent ill effects, while others (like me) need a good 3-4 hours for a meal that is high in protein, fat or fiber, or some combo of these three. So a bowl of chili, meat lover’s pizza, and Fettucine Alfredo are not the best pre-game choices for most people, but a chicken quesadilla, veggie pizza and salad, and lighter pasta tossed in olive oil with chicken and veggies are better choices. Other players prefer to have two smaller meals so maybe a sandwich four hours ahead and bowl of cereal closer to game time.
Here are some general nutrition tips for tournament weekends:
During tournament weekends when games are close together or the schedule is such that re- hydrating and replenishing glycogen stores is difficult, then a sports drink that contains both carbohydrate and electrolytes is helpful. Some players keep a bottle of plain water and a smaller bottle of sports drink so they have the sports drink if they want it but aren't forced to drink it if they prefer plain water. I recommend playing around with this in practice or non-tournament situations to see what works for you.
Mary Howley Ryan, MS, RDN, CEDRD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Beyond Broccoli Nutrition Counseling and Education in Jackson, Wyoming, USA. She plays women’s and co-ed and loves playing in tournaments!