By: Sylvie Tetrault (Functional Sports Nutritionist)
If you listen to or attend a Gary Roberts Nutrition seminar or head over to our website, you’ll notice three letters – F, T, and R. These are the first letters in the three words that make up our philosophy for performance both on and off the ice. Like a 3-legged stool, all three are needed for success.
What do these letters represent?
Although Gary and the players we work with are known for their hard training in the gym and on the ice, we believe that Fuel is what separates our program and why many of the players we work with have consistent success.
When we talk about Fuel, we’re, of course, referring to nutrition. The old days of fried foods, french fries, and a few cold beverages post-game are long gone. If you want optimal performance when you step on the ice, it’s time to look at what you’re eating.
We often have parents ask us when they should start thinking about young player’s nutrition. It’s never too early to start eating the right way. We don’t want food to be restrictive for anyone – especially young players – but we do want them to understand how to make good choices and what it means to eat for performance. With that said, let’s dive in!
Whether it’s a hockey game, hockey practice, a dryland session, or a recovery day, nutrition matters! You need to eat the right foods if you want to perform your best, decrease muscle soreness, and be ready to go for the next game.
Today’s article is going to share nutrition tips and principles that you can use on game days to feel your best. We’ll also share a series of game-day nutrition examples – things our pro players actually eat – to help you with meal ideas.
Because we’re focusing on game-day nutrition, we’ll lean toward hockey performance instead of recovery. In a future article, you’ll be able to learn all about recovery day nutrition and how to perform night after night.
Whether you play in the NHL, minor hockey, or a beer league, understanding the impact of nutrition on your game performance is key!
Nutrition Hierarchy – Build the Base
Before we dive into pre-game nutrition, the optimal carb-to-fat-to-protein ratio, blood glucose levels, and what the glycemic index actually is, we need to lay a foundation. Success with nutrition – whether that’s improving your body composition, gaining muscle mass, or increasing your gas tank – is all about simple actions done consistently well. Sort of like hockey.
That starts with our Nutrition Performance Hierarchy
We won’t spend too much time on this today, but it’s important to understand that performance nutrition and supplementation are at the top of the pyramid. You only get to those aspects of nutrition after you’ve solidified the basics.
Remember: You can’t have performance without health!
Macronutrients are an essential part of every athlete’s diet, and this is no less true for hockey players. They form the fundamental building blocks of nutrition, providing the energy necessary for peak performance on the ice. The three main macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats – each offer specific benefits to the hockey player. Understanding how to properly balance these macronutrients in your diet can greatly enhance your game, improve recovery, and support overall health and wellness.
Gone are the days of just carbs for a pre-game meal. Proteins are vital macronutrients for athletes, especially those in physically demanding sports like hockey. They consist of amino acids, the building blocks for tissues, muscles, and enzymes. Consuming adequate protein helps repair and build muscle after strenuous workouts, supports immune function, and can also serve as an energy source when carbohydrate availability is low.
Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for hockey players and help to prevent fatigue. They get stored as muscle glycogen in muscles and the liver, providing energy for high-intensity activities during games and practices. They also maintain blood glucose levels and replenish glycogen stores post-exercise. Consuming carbs before a game can help maximize performance, while post-game carbs help kick-start recovery and muscle repair.
Game Day Carbohydrate Considerations:
- Limit fiber leading up to the game if you have a sensitive gut on game day
- Prioritize starchy energy-producing carbohydrates (oats, sweet potato, potato, fruit, rice, etc.)
- Cook your (green) vegetables – they are easier to digest than raw vegetables.
Fats are a concentrated source of energy, providing more than twice the energy per gram as proteins and carbs. While they’re not the primary energy source during high-intensity activities like hockey, they do fuel low-intensity activities and can be a source of energy during long-duration exercise. In addition, fats are needed for the absorption of certain vitamins and the production of hormones. Make sure you consume lots of healthy fats – like omega 3 fatty acids – but be careful close to game time as intaking a high fat meal can cause digestive issues.
Just as macronutrients are vital for overall health and performance, so too are micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that the body needs in small amounts, but are crucial for healthy development, disease prevention, and wellbeing. Unlike macronutrients, micronutrients do not provide energy, but they play important roles in the body’s ability to use the energy provided by macronutrients.
Vitamins are organic compounds that are needed in small quantities to sustain life. Some vitamins, like Vitamin D, E, A and K are fat-soluble, and others like B-complex vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble. Vitamins like B6, B12, and Folate are crucial for energy production and can directly impact athletic performance. Vitamin D and Calcium are essential for bone health. Antioxidant vitamins like Vitamin C and E protect cells from damage.
Minerals are inorganic elements also needed in small amounts for various functions in the body. Some of the key minerals for athletes include Calcium for bone health, Iron for oxygen transport, Zinc for immune function and wound healing, and Electrolytes (like Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium) for maintaining fluid balance. Iron deficiency, in particular, can impair athletic performance.
While it’s best to get these micronutrients from a varied and balanced diet, supplementation might be necessary in some cases, always under professional supervision. Remember, balance and timing of micronutrient intake can influence exercise performance, training adaptations, and recovery.
Now that we’ve taken care of some of the fundamental aspects of nutrition, let’s get into the game-day nutrition.
When we talk about pre-game meals it’s often food related but it’s equally important that you stay hydrated. Be sure your water intake the day prior to a game is adequate.
A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces every day as a minimum (ex. if an athlete weighs 175 lbs, they should drink a minimum of 87.5oz or 2.6 L per day). Sweat rates are highly individual so pay attention to your own and adjust accordingly. Weighing yourself pre adn post practice is a great option for quickly checking how much your sweating.
Game Day Considerations
Performing on the ice is not as basic as eating one good pre-game meal. Instead, you need to think about the whole day and how it builds into an optimal performance.
One of the more common problems we see is not what our hockey players eat but instead what they don’t eat.
YOU NEED TO FUEL YOUR BODY!
Under-eating can lead to various problems for hockey players. When the body doesn’t receive enough food, it resorts to using alternative and suboptimal fuel sources. First, it burns through fat stores, and then, it begins to break down lean muscle mass for energy.
This decrease in lean muscle mass can negatively affect a player’s strength and speed on the ice. Players often feel fatigued, and their overall energy levels drop substantially. In the worst-case scenario, undernourishment can lead to injuries or illness, forcing players to take time off the ice.
If you’re unsure how many calories you should be consuming in a day, we recommend using the Mifflin St. Jeor Calculator to find your (Basal Metabolic Rate) BMR and then multiplying that rate by your activity level in the chart below.
You can use the Mifflin St. Jeor Calculator found here.
A good example is a 16-year-old hockey player who weighs 135 lbs and stands at 5’6 (66 in). After inputting his stats into the Mifflin-St. Jeor calculator, his BMR* is 1596 calories. After multiplying his BMR by his activity level of 1.725, his total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)** becomes 2754 calories.
This means that this hockey player is burning 2754 calories daily and would need to eat this many calories in order to sustain his body weight.
Game days come with additional stress and activity. We, therefore, recommend increasing calories by an additional 300 on game day.
Of course, what you eat during the day, or as part of your pre-game meal needs to be balanced against how you feel on the ice. You want sustained energy without feeling full or bloated come game time. With that in mind, it’s sometimes better to eat a bit more in the days prior or after the big game, rather then just on game day. At the end of the day, you have to go out and perform. Be your own detective and see what
Sample Day of Eating:
Performance Plates – Game Day
- 30% of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables. Aim for 2-3 colours (asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, grilled peppers, mushrooms, etc.)
- 25% of your plate should be quality protein (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, eggs, low-fat Greek yogurt, etc.)
- 40% starchy carbohydrates (potato, sweet potato, rice, quinoa, oats, fruit, etc.) 5 % 1-2 tbsp. fat (EVOO, nuts/seeds, avocado/oil, organic butter, etc.)
The below diagrams provide visual examples of what your plate should look like; in other words, it shows the proportion of each macronutrient on your plate. This does not show the proportion of calories!
Pre-Game Meal Diagram
We’ve shared a couple of sample meals that our pro players actually eat. They understand that nutrition is the key to having enough energy to play hard all three periods, and they take it seriously! Of course, the schedule might vary with school, work, pre-game skate or not, but lots of inspiration.
Evening Hockey Game
Sample Day 1
1L water + 1/2 lemon (juiced) and sea salt
3-4 egg scramble (peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach etc.), 2-3 homemade chicken sausages, 1⁄2 avocado, with 2 slices high fiber bread (sourdough or sprouted) + superfood smoothie.
Homemade muffins OR
Protein yogurt bowl with Peanut Butter or Nut Butter
8oz. Roasted chicken thighs,
1-2 cups sweet potato mash or GF pasta Cooked Swiss chard or spinach, extra virgin olive oil.
1 cup oatmeal with peanut butter, berries, banana, and maple syrup or honey
Simple smoothie (1.5 scoop protein, 1 cup berries, 1 cup spinach, 1 banana, 1 tbsp. peanut or nut butter, 1 cup nut or seed milk)
+ 1 scoop electrolytes + beet juice
Electrolytes (try to drink this throughout the game)
High Glycemic foods (honey, banana, watermelon)
Post-Game – Immediately After
Protein Shake + electrolytes if required (see hydration section)
8-10 oz salmon with wild or basmati rice, grilled asparagus, and a large salad
+ 4-6 oz tart cherry juice before bed
Sample Day 2
1 L of water (or water with squeezed 1/2 lemon and sea salt ***optional to add greens powder)
3 over easy eggs, avocado smash, whole grain toast and banana with blended greens
Protein Muffins OR Protein Balls
Roasted chicken thighs, sweet potato mash or GF pasta, cooked Swiss chard or spinach, and a large salad.
Beet smoothie bowl topped with fruit, nuts, chia seeds, and hemp hearts
Electrolytes (try to drink this throughout the game)
High Glycemic foods (honey, banana slices, watermelon)
Post-Game – Immediately After
Hemp-crusted wild salmon with quinoa, grilled asparagus, and a large salad.
Although we’ve been talking about what to eat before a hockey game in this article, much of the information applies to eating for a training session. You need to properly fuel your body for each and every day.
Fueling your body as an elite hockey player isn’t an easy task, but it can give you an edge over your competition and significantly improve your game. We hope this article has helped you learn what to eat before a game, but if you’re still unsure please reach out!
We want nutrition to be your secret weapon that helps you become an unstoppable force on the ice.