By: Dana Filatova, Hockey Dietitian
The culmination of the hockey season is upon us. Its playoffs time! Exciting and stressful at the same time, it puts a lot of physical and emotional demands on hockey players. Not only there is a stressful demand of performance - scoring and playing a good game, there is also worry about the behind-the-scenes busy work – what foods to eat? How much water to drink? Does anything need to be different from the regular season?
The key components of optimal, elite performance can be summarized with “P” and “C” constituents. Lets say the physical demands consist of “P” words (planning, preparation, and persistence/perseverance) and cognitive (emotional/mental) demands consist of “C” words (control, composure, concentration, commitment, confidence, and consistency).
The three “P”s of physical performance are:
Cognitive means mental, it is your thought and reasoning process, it is how you perceive things around you (stress of playoffs included). According to Wayne Halliwell, Sports Psychologist and the author of Preparing Professional Hockey Players for Playoff Performance , the five “C”s of elite cognitive performance include:
As you can see these can all relate to the aforementioned planning, preparation and perseverance. When you are in control, you are prepared and ready – you are composed (together), you stay focused (concentrated) on what it is you are doing and you are fully committed to it. This in turn boosts your confidence level and creates consistent results.
To put the “P”s and the “C”s concepts together, think of it as an acronym FUEL. You will be fueling your mental and physical performance with good Food; Unwinding in order to give the body time to rest and recoup from the events of the day (game/practice/travel, etc.). Well-fed and well-rested body is in Emotional balance; and of course we cannot ignore the importance of hydrating with the appropriate Liquids.
FFeed Your Body & Mind
The importance of proper nourishment (food) cannot be emphasized enough, especially during the times when your body’s physical and mental demands are escalated. There is a lot that goes into feeding your body the right types of foods and food combinations. You may refer to The Nutrition Edge for Hockey Performance book  and speak to your sports dietitian to figure out your individual dietary needs. There is a list of some universal tips, which should be incorporated for the optimal on- and off-ice performance:
1. Do not experiment with new food (and beverage) items on game day. Leave this to the days when you have practice or a day off. There is no need to have an upset stomach or indigestion during the game.
2. Eat real, whole, unprocessed food most of the time– if the food came from nature (fish, meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, fruits and vegetables, some dairy) - it is real; if it came wrapped in plastic or in a plastic or cardboard box - it is processed, and its intake should be minimized.
3. Eat slowly and mindfully. Check-in, be aware of what and how you are eating. Chew your food well – your stomach does not have teeth, help it out for a better and easier digestion.
4. Eat balanced meals. The hockey player’s plate  is an excellent visual tool to help you understand how much starch, protein, and vegetables you need with each meal.
5. Have snacks with protein and carbohydrates (this can be a protein smoothie – 1 scoop of plant-based protein powder, 1 banana and a cup of almond milk) OR a cup of chocolate milk after the game or practice make a quick and easy snack as well (if you are dairy sensitive, get a plant-based chocolate powder and mix with a cup of almond milk). See resource: "How To Guide to Protein Smoothies"
6. Time your meals and snacks well. Do not eat too much too close to the game or practice. Allow at least 2-4 hours of downtime after a bigger meal for digestion. A lighter meal needs around 90 minutes to 2 hours to leave the stomach.
UUnwind – Relaxation, Sleep & Power Naps
Replenish your energy stores by ensuring the right amount of sleep. You should be getting at least eight (8) hours per night.
Power naps are just that – powerful and recharging! Recharge your batteries with a 20-40 minute nap prior or post game/practice. Your body will thank you!
EEmotional & Mental Strength and Balance
1. Emphasize positive thinking – avoid negative thoughts and do not let the opposing team’s maneuvers distract you from your tasks.
2. Try visualization techniques – visualize holing that trophy and winning!
3. Keep your confidence levels up. You are on this team for a reason and making playoffs took tremendous efforts and teamwork (“all for one and one for all” attitude will keep your team united and strong!)
4. If appropriate, work with a sports psychologist to guide and support you through these challenging and demanding times.
Keep it simple.
Hydrate throughout the day.
Homemade Electrolyte Drink
To summarize, the right preparation and planning will allow for superb performance and give you the edge over the opposing players who leave their physical and mental needs neglected and their nourishment up to a chance.
Happy Fueling & Happy Winning!
Note: Every player’s bodily demands and needs are very unique. For proper, individualized nutritional plan speak to your Sports Dietitian.