Q: I am a 42 yr old player fairly new to the game. I am in good shape but want to improve my energy level on the ice. I would appreciate some feedback in regards to pregame meals. How long prior togame time should I EAT? Proteins,carbs,fats: how much of each? Supplements? I play at least twice a week, I workout 4/5 days a week, but find I am not satisfied with my energy. I start out strong but feel low on fuel halfway thru. I maintain a fairly high protein diet. Where should my glycogen level be at game time? Thanks, hope you can help.
A: Now, let me begin by saying that conditioning for hockey is its own creature. I?ve spent countless summers myself and known countless players who spend many, many hours running, lifting weights, and riding the bike, but the only true way to have legs on the ice is to spend more hours playing. Don?t get me wrong, the gym and off-ice conditioning are necessary to improve and grow as a player, but nothing gets you in game shape like on-ice training and practice. Being new to the game, I can sympathize with your position. I?m always perplexed when I try swimming. I?d be working out 5 times per week, playing hockey 5-7 times per week, but when it came to swimming lengths, I would die. I didn?t have swimming stamina.
With all this said though, there are a lot of steps that you can take to ensure that your body has enough energy to burn while you?re playing. And with your active lifestyle, there are necessary evils when it comes to diet and nutrition. Below, I will try and touch on many of the aspects surrounding sports nutrition and on the topics you mentioned in your submission.
At the higher competitive levels, most players sit down for their pregame meal between noon and 1pm for a 7-8pm start. This generally gives a 5-7 hour window between their meal and game time. Some players, depending upon their habits, will also have a snack in the late afternoon. This snack is usually pretty small, such as an apple, and is used to take away any lingering hunger pangs. Now for the average minor hockey player or old timer, it isn?t always easy to tailor your day around a hockey game and its preparation. If your game is in the early evening, you should really try to have a well thought out lunch, perhaps an afternoon snack, and then save dinner until after the game. But if you are playing late at night, a decent meal (but not too heavy) at dinner should prepare you well for your game. The general rule of thumb for eating before athletics is at least 2-3 hours before the game or event.
The next questions is what to eat for your pregame meal? But, before I get into carbs, protein, and fats, I want to stress the importance of proper hydration. Given your active lifestyle with 4-5 workouts plus 2 games per week, keeping you body well hydrated is your first step to better performance on the ice. The average person should drink 8 glasses (2L) of water a day. If you throw in an hour at the gym plus another hour on the ice, your need for water is compounded. Depending on how much you sweat, you should adjust your water intake accordingly. The general view is for every pound you lose sweating, you need to replace it with a ? liter of water. If you ever find yourself feeling dizzy or abnormally hot, you aren?t getting enough water. Be sure to drink plenty of water before and after competing. If you are working out and playing hockey on the same day, re-hydrating yourself after the gym is essential. To ensure that you are getting enough water, carry a water bottle in the gym and make sure you have one on the bench. Water is the most important aspect of the athlete?s diet so don?t believe the myth that it causes cramps.
After ensuring proper hydration, your next step is to make sure your body has enough energy stored for competition. The main source of energy for exercise comes from carbohydrates (or carbs). Carbs should form the basis of your daily intake and should make up about 60% of your daily calories. Carbs are found in breads, fruits and vegetables. In the traditional view, carbs were categorized as simple or complex and this would determine what carb sources were the best for athletic performance. Now, however, carb sources are sorted by their ability to add glucose to your bloodstream. High glycemic foods add glucose to the blood quickly and are best for after or during a sport. In contrast, low glycemic foods help maintain blood sugar levels over the long term. For the pregame meal, it is best to stick to low-moderate glycemic foods. Some examples of each type of food are the following.
High Glycemic - Gatorade, Corn Flakes, Bagels, White Bread
Moderate - Rice, Orange Juice, Bananas
Low - Low-fat yogurt, Milk, Apples
With regards to glycogen, your body stores both muscle and liver glycogen for energy. The average male will have nearly 1800 calories stored as glycogen. For simple exercise like walking, your body will use fats for energy, but for higher-level sports like hockey, your body needs carbohydrates - energy from the glycogen stored in your body. If your glycogen stores are emptied, you will ?hit the wall? and your ability to focus will fall off. For you, Mark, eating carbs is even more essential because you are exercising regularly. If you are not restoring your glycogen levels between workouts, you will run out of energy. Keep in mind as well, if you eat too many carbohydrates, the extra calories will be stored as fat.
You mentioned in your submission that you maintain ?a fairly high protein diet?. Protein is essential for repairing muscles and is a necessary part of every athletes diet. However, protein should not be the focus of your diet. Carbohydrates are the foundation of any sports diet accompanied by proper amounts of protein and fats. Generally speaking, only 0.6 grams of protein are needed per pound of body weight. As well, protein rich foods tend to be high in fat and having too much fat before a game will hinder your performance.
You stated that you are having trouble keeping your energy level up. With your workout schedule, it is important to eat a high carb breakfast and lunch. If you workout in the morning, you may want to eat breakfast after but try having a glass of milk before hand. As with hydration, it is important when exercising regularly to replenish your energy stores after. Keeping your glycogen level high and your body hydrated will prepare you the best for your heavy schedule.
As well, here are some quick points that may help you with your energy problem.
Every athlete needs rest. This statement is true for both sleep and rest days. If you find yourself burning the candle at both ends, try to give yourself more sleep. As well, rest days should be a part of your routine. If you exercise hard every day, you may not be giving your body time to replenish.
When choosing a pregame (lots of carbs) meal, eat things that your body and you enjoy. Choosing foods that are hard to digest or that you are not familiar with may hinder your performance. They can also make you uncomfortable.
Every athlete is different. Some athletes actually prefer to eat close to game time or not at all before an early game. Sometimes preference is the best choice (as long as you are getting the proper fuels to your body and you are getting them in time). If you find yourself flying out on the ice one day and not the next, keep a meal diary. Sometimes, it is a matter of finding out which foods your body reacts well to. If you find a meal that works, stick with it.
A well balanced diet will do more than a pregame meal. Although eating well before a game is essential, your overall performance will improve the most with a well balanced diet. Eating well throughout the week will help you perform during your Friday night game and will ensure that you are always restoring your glycogen levels.
As for supplements, I would suggest changing your diet before moving to supplements. Supplements will provide you with the necessary vitamins, but they won?t give you energy or some other essential minerals found in foods. Any pills should not be a replacement for food. A meal replacement shake is good if you are in a crunch, but they don?t do anything more than an easy breakfast or lunch can. Generally speaking, supplements and replacements are more expensive than they are beneficial.
If you still find yourself lagging during a game, try having a sports drink midway through. Not only will it help you re-hydrate, but also it will give you a little extra sugar for energy. As well, hockey is both an aerobic and anaerobic sport. Short shifts (40 seconds) are the standard in competitive hockey. Getting rest between shifts will help you recover for the bursts of speed you?ll need next time you shift up.
We hope this has helped you answer some of your questions. If you have any more concerns, don?t hesitate to email us again. We would also like to recommend to you, Nancy Clark?s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. It is one of the top retail books on sports nutrition and is a staple in our library. You can learn more about it by going to the Must Read Books section on the main page of our site. As well, you may want to look at this site from the University of Illinois: Sports & Nutrition. Both of these resources give solid input with regards to your concerns.