Hockey players have incredibly high sweat rates. Covered with equipment, they find it difficult to cool down despite playing in a cold ice arena. This makes hydration especially important for maintaining performance through three periods. (See Individualize Your Hydration Schedule.)
Research suggests that sweat loss resulting in body mass loss greater than two percent has a negative effect on athletic performance. We know that avoiding fluids during activity is a bad idea. But does what we drink also make a difference? (Here's one opinion: Pedialyte Is a Good Source of Hydration for Hockey Players.)
Considering what we know about the high sweat rate of hockey players, consuming a sports drink containing carbohydrate, sodium and other electrolytes may be a better choice. Yet, a 2008 study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that many elite and professional ice hockey players choose water over a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution (CES) during on-ice practices.
Why is that? Does it just taste better? Or is it because many coaches only have water available for the players?
A more recent study conducted with elite Ontario Hockey League players found that when players were limited to CES beverages, they did not decrease their fluid intake during practice. Drinking the CES improved sodium balance and gave the players some carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates provide fuel that may help offset fatigue for the later stages of a practice or game, so it's important to have a sports drink on the bench.