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Fueling and refueling is key for hockey endurance.
Skating 30 to 60 seconds at a time may not seem physically demanding until you do it repeatedly during an ice hockey game. Hockey players are arguably some of the fittest athletes as their sport makes sudden demands for speed, power and endurance. Being properly fueled can make all the difference in the third period when it may matter most. The hockey player's diet is all about adequate fuel for the game as well as refueling to maintain energy needs.
Daily Needs and Pregame Fuel
Carbohydrates are the primary and preferred source of fuel for the body and are essential to any athlete. Without adequate carbohydrates stored in the muscle as glycogen, the body is forced to take protein from muscle to burn as fuel. Aiming to have carbohydrate-rich meals that also include lean protein and healthy fat can fuel an athlete on a daily basis as well as prior to a game. A meal like oatmeal and fruit provides needed carbohydrates, while adding milk and nuts provides protein and a healthy source of fat. Eating a meal three to four hours before a game, followed by a light snack of fruit or a sports beverage within one hour of the game, can top off carbohydrates and fluids.
Replacing lost carbohydrates and including protein for muscle repair is essential to recovery, especially when two games are played in a day. Eating or drinking as soon as possible after getting off the ice, preferably within 30 minutes, and having a meal within two hours can make all the difference in performance during the second game or days to follow. Some athletes find that having sports drinks or chocolate milk is better tolerated after a hard game than having solid food. Pair these drinks with fruit, a granola or sports bar, or peanut butter on a bagel to boost carbohydrates and protein. Follow up with a carbohydrate-rich meal like pasta with meat sauce and a piece of fruit, or a turkey and cheese sandwich with milk and an apple.
Despite being on a frozen sheet of ice, hockey players lose a significant amount of fluids through sweating during practices and games. Water is usually adequate for practices and games lasting 60 minutes or less. Beyond 60 minutes, the player may benefit from sports beverages, gels or beans to replace lost carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. These need to be consumed with adequate water to prevent gastric distress. An athlete that is well-hydrated throughout the week, prior to and after skating, will perform and recover best.
Early-morning games or practices may prevent hockey players from having a complete breakfast before hitting the ice. Eating or drinking something is far better than having nothing at all. Stocking portable foods like trail mix, granola or sports bars, applesauce or fruit cups, jerky, bagels, individual cups of peanut butter and even bags of ready-to-eat dry cereal can provide a quick source of carbohydrate. Overall, athletes should strive to have a diet rich in nutritious carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables to provide them with energy; lean proteins like chicken, turkey, beef and fish for muscle repair and growth; and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados or olive oil to provide necessary calories and antioxidants.