Recreational hockey players who jump back into the sport as adults often do so for two key reasons: fitness and camaraderie.
Adult leagues certainly offer their share of both. The challenge, though, can be reaping the benefits of that increased exercise and not packing the calories back on during the post-game outings that help round out the experience for many players.
Here, then, are some nutrition tips to maximize your pre-game, in-game and post-game experience.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to consume a 300 to 400-calorie snack or small meal about 90 to 120 minutes before game time, says sports nutritionist Rebecca Mohning.
“That way you have good energy and don’t end up getting hungry or have a drop in energy,” Mohning says. “That should be a combo of protein and carbohydrates: Ideally a peanut butter sandwich or a turkey sandwich. Or a protein bar and a banana. Maybe some Greek yogurt and nuts or fruit.”
Heavier meals laden with grease or red meat will sit in your stomach and “be hard to digest the whole time you are playing the game,” Mohning says.
Right before game time, “you want something that’s more of a liquid meal,” says Pearle Nerenberg, who played college hockey at Cornell and is now the chair of the Hockey Nutrition Network. That means something like a protein shake, but that doesn’t mean beer (we’ll get to that in a minute).
What you put in your body leading up to a game might not weigh heavily on your mind, but consider this advice about your liquid intake:
“Hockey is one of those sports when you might not realize how much you are sweating,” Mohning says. On a daily basis, she says a good hydration rule of thumb is to intake as much water, in ounces, as half your body weight, in pounds. So, if you are 200 pounds, you’ll need about 100 ounces. “It takes about three days to catch up if you get dehydrated.”
Mohning and Nerenberg both advise against sports drinks, believing water is the best way to stay hydrated without pouring in unnecessary calories. Mohning adds that limited amounts of a caffeinated beverage like iced tea can actually serve positive purposes.
“Two hundred milligrams of caffeine—the amount in two, 16-ounce glasses of iced tea—is what is considered safe daily,” she says. “That amount of caffeine does not take out more fluid than what you ingest so it is not considered a diuretic. And [caffeine] prior to exercise has been shown to boost performance.”
OK, we’re finally getting to the good stuff. And luckily, most nutrition experts say you can enjoy a beer or two. But there are smart ways to go about your post-game fun.
Nerenberg notes that having a quick and healthy snack while still at the rink can help prevent eating too much later on at the post-game watering hole. Something as simple as a Greek yogurt, carrot sticks, or a banana can go a long way, she says.
“So when you get in front of those chicken wings later, it’s not like you can eat 500. After five, you might feel pretty full,” Nerenberg says.
That’s important because cravings are inevitable.
“One of the challenges of going out to eat is there is typically a lot of fat in those meals,” Mohning says.
Fries, burgers, sausages, milkshakes: these are all high-fat items that people tend to crave when they are hungry, especially after an intense activity like playing hockey.
“But really what [the body] really wants is lean protein—chicken, fish, salmon…and a fair amount of carbs like pasta or rice.”
Likewise with beer, what you do in addition to having a cold one or two is important. “If you know you are going to have a beer, as a rule have an equal amount of water,” Nerenberg says. “It will help you rehydrate better.”
Mohning also preaches the gospel of water after the game. “Right away after you leave the ice, you should be pounding down the fluids,” she says. “By the time you get to a restaurant and have a beer hopefully the hydration is restored by then.”
In other words, if you plan ahead, enjoying that celebratory beer and brat after today’s game doesn’t have to come at the expense of your performance at the next one.