What to Eat Before a Hockey Game
Hockey is a demanding sport that requires both speed and endurance, so nutrition for hockey players should be focused on providing the right fuel to ensure there's enough energy to get through three periods. This may seem like a simple enough task, but there are actually several factors to consider before you plan the game-day menu. Theories about what constitutes the best pre-game hockey meals abound, but once you understand the important variables involved—what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat—you can create your own hockey-player diet plan.
Understanding Food as Fuel
That the human body converts food to energy is obvious, but not all foods produce the same kinds of energy at the same rates. For instance, sugary foods offer a big burst of energy, but this short-lived effect can be followed by a "crash" that leaves you sluggish and heavy-legged—just what you don't need in the final minutes of a tight game. Proteins, on the other hand, offer a long, slow burn that's great for endurance but doesn't load you up for a crease-to-crease sprint.
That's why most discussions of the best pre-game hockey meal focus on carbohydrates—found in fruits, grains, vegetables and dairy products—which are considered the most efficient sources of energy for athletes. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars that it uses for fuel, and any fuel not needed right away gets stored in your muscles for use later. This combination of immediate and long-term effect will help you perform at a high level for longer. As a bonus, carbohydrates fuel brain function, so you'll stay mentally sharp, as well.
So, you should eat just carbs before a game then, right? Wrong. It's possible to get too much of a good thing, so a better strategy is to eat more balanced meals in which carbohydrates are the main course. The timing of your meal, in relation to face-off, is also an important consideration. Let's look at a scenario in which you have a big game at 7 p.m.
The Hockey Player's Diet
What do hockey players eat for breakfast? Certainly not sugary cereal, such as Cap'n Crunch® or Froot Loops®. Since you're not playing for another 10 to 12 hours, you don't want to load up on energy foods that will have burned out by game time. Focus instead on a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. A good example would be two eggs, a couple pieces of whole-grain toast, and a glass of milk or orange juice. If you're an oatmeal lover, mix in some fruit, nuts, and berries, and add a side of bacon or ham.
A simple turkey sandwich—on whole-grain bread, with cheese, lettuce, and tomato—offers another great mix of protein (turkey), carbohydrates (bread and veggies), and fats (cheese). Your goal is not to load up on any one kind of fuel, but to build from proteins to carbohydrates as the day goes on. Accompany this meal with milk or juice, and make sure you also drink a big glass of water to stay hydrated.
Most experts agree that the pre-game meal should be eaten at least two hours before the game, so your body has time to process the fuel and so you don't feel "stuffed" or bloated at game time. (You can always snack closer to face-off; see below.) It's also important that you don't eat too much, for the same reason. Eat just enough to sate your hunger, and then stop.
The meal itself should be roughly 50 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent proteins, and 25 percent vegetables (non-starch). The most common main course is pasta with meat or fish. In fact, in an article about hockey player diet plans by LAKings.com staff writer Deborah Lew, 15 of the 20 NHL players she surveyed said their pre-game meal consisted of pasta plus protein (chicken, fish, or beef). Add a side salad or some veggies, and you'll be raring to go at game time. Don't forget to drink plenty of water.
If you want a final boost, you can have a snack 30 to 60 minutes before you have to play. Again, stay away from sugary treats that your body will burn up quickly. Instead, focus on quick-digesting foods such as peanut butter, fruits, and nuts. Peanut butter and banana slices on a single piece of whole-grain toast is both delicious and an effective snack.
General Hockey Diet Rules
When game time rolls around, being fueled up is not your only concern. Here are some other diet-related tips that will ensure nothing gets in the way of a great on-ice performance:
- Stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day and during the game.
- Stick to familiar foods on game day. It's tough to focus on the puck if you're nauseated or have to go to the bathroom. Try that new sushi place on a day off.
- Stay away from spicy foods—even ones you love—for the same reasons.
- Avoid foods with lots of fiber, which can cause bloating, intestinal discomfort, or gas.
- Practice eating a specific pre-game meal to see how it makes you feel afterward.
Remember that a hockey-player diet plan isn't just for game days. Planning your meals throughout the week will keep you fueled up for practices, too. You don't have to eat the exact meals described here, but think about how you consume carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and sugars before you play. Through trial and error, you'll learn which meals work best for you. And once you've got yourself firing on all cylinders, you can focus on playing the best game possible.