Have you ever wondered what your favorite pro athletes eat during practices to perform at their best? If you want to become an elite athlete, you have to eat like one. Better nutrition equals better training, and that leads to a better athlete.
My role as a registered sports dietitian is to help players understand the nutrition choices they need to make and why they should make them. So what do I feed athletes of this caliber? Last summer, I met this challenge when I participated in an elite camp run by Jeremy Hoy of Finish First Sports Performance. Hoy organized the camp as a way for local hockey players to experience pro-style all-inclusive practices, from on-ice drills and speed skating to off-ice strength and conditioning. Since the players were training like pros, Hoy wanted them to be fueling like them as well. So he reached out to me to provide food and to offer helpful nutritional advice, similar to what a professional hockey player would receive on a daily basis. (See also Meal Guidelines for Peak Performance in Hockey.)
Before the athletes arrived, I wanted them to learn the importance of eating a healthy breakfast. Daily nutrition and hydration are just as important as what you consume directly before, during and after practice sessions. No one's performance ever suffered because they ate a good breakfast. However, the same cannot be said about those who chose to skip their morning meal.
Once the athletes arrived at the camp, their on-ice training would begin. So it was crucial for them to arrive with fuel-filled muscles. With high intensity on-ice training lasting almost two hours, the players exited the ice to a homemade smoothie containing the exact nutritional proportions of protein and carbohydrate they needed.
Although professional hockey athletes have personal team dietitians on hand, it's important to understand that not all smoothies are created equal. When making nutritional choices for multiple-practice days, a number of factors must be considered. The players that day had only 45 minutes before they started their off-ice training. My selection provided enough carbohydrate to fuel their upcoming activity, a moderate amount of protein to support muscles and no fat, which would have slowed absorption.
The intensity and duration of the players' on-ice and off-ice training called for more than just water; they needed carbohydrates as a continuous fuel source and electrolytes to replace the sodium and potassium lost in sweat. So the athletes were provided with sports drinks.
When the camp was over, the players were encouraged to start the recovery process immediately with a post-workout snack while still at the gym. A variety of recovery foods were provided to them, including chocolate milk, granola bars, fruit and nut bars, raisins and trail mix. Then players were encouraged to go home to a healthy meal within one to two hours and get plenty of sleep so that they could recover for the next day.