The Best Breakfast for Hockey Players
Breakfast has always had a funny relationship with our society. Even as far back as the Middle Ages, there has been discussion on the necessity of breakfast. Albeit more from a religious perspective than a nutritious one.
But in more recent years, newspapers and magazines have debated its value back and forth as there have been trendy and controversial articles in the New York Times discussing its merit ‘Is Breakfast Overrated?’.
In addition, over the last few years, the benefits of dietary practices such as intermittent fasting have gained popularity and press from longevity experts, adding to the confusion.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that your ideal diet is based on a variety of factors: genetics, goals, energy demands, internal health. Nutrition requires you to act as a detective, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
But, for the overwhelming majority of hockey players – especially younger players – you should not be skipping breakfast.
Read it twice.
You can’t afford not to eat breakfast.
The opposite is true. You should double down on your prep and look to make your breakfast one of your best meals of the day.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to do just that.
Breakfast, as a word, is fairly self-explanatory. It means to ‘break the fast.’ When you sleep, you are fasting, and depending on how long you are asleep for – a topic for another time – it can be 10 to 12 hours since your last meal. So if nearly half a day, every day, is spent fasting, you need to actively work to fuel your body the rest of the time properly.
The amount of food you must eat each day is dictated by your total output. You’ve probably noticed that on days you train hard, you feel hungry for several hours afterward, regardless of how much you eat.
As a hockey player, that total energy expenditure is increased significantly due to the demands of the sport. Hockey is a series of high-intensity sprints, and the caloric demands match that.
It’s challenging to get exact numbers, but experts have estimated that the average NHL player burns between 1800 – 2500 calories per game, that’s in addition to all the other calories they’ve burned through the day.
D. Nurse regulary plays 25+ minutes a night. That’s a lot of fuel.
What Happens if I Don’t Eat Enough?
If you don’t consume enough food during the day, your body will look for alternative and suboptimal fuel sources. First, it will look to utilize your adipose stores -fat stores – and following that, break down your lean muscle mass to use for energy.
Even as a young player between practice, training, school or work, and playing games, the total number of calories burned can be much higher than you might anticipate. Anecdotally, one of the primary issues we see with hockey player nutrition is chronically undereating, often without realizing it.
A decrease in lean muscle mass is a considerable problem for hockey players as it negatively affects your strength and speed on the ice.
Overall energy levels drop substantially, and your conditioning will take a nosedive. It becomes harder and harder to keep up with the play, and the stress of pushing your body that hard day after day begins to take a toll.
Players often end up sick or injured and are forced to take time off the ice. It can be very frustrating as most of these problems can be avoided through more fuel. It’s unrealistic to think your body will be able to compete to its maximum potential if it’s undernourished.
With that brief biology lesson out of the way, on to breakfast.
Ensuring that your body has the necessary food to function starts with breakfast, but not all breakfasts are created equal!
As delicious as it might be, sugar cereal is not going to provide you with the nutrients and long-lasting energy you need to dominate on the ice. It will also do very little to provide satiety, and you’ll likely be starving again in an hour.
The specific macronutrient breakdown will vary based on how close you’re eating to a training session or game, but we aim to hit some general guidelines with each breakfast.
Our target – provided we don’t have to hop on the ice or into the gym immediately after eating – is between 700-1000 calories. That might seem like a lot, but you will burn that same amount in a hard 60-minute practice, add on a training session before or after the ice, and you’re running a deficit.
We talk about protein…a lot. That’s because it’s such an essential macronutrient as a hockey player.
Protein is made up of a series of amino acids. These amino acids serve as building blocks for all the processes in our body. When you train or skate, the stress you place on your body forces your muscle tissue to adapt and build a more robust system. It requires amino acids for that rebuilding process.
The need for amino acids goes far beyond muscle building. They are necessary for sleep, appetite, connective tissue, hair, metabolism, detoxification, and more. As an athlete, you utilize these amino acids at a much higher rate due to your activity level. This is the same for all micronutrients, for that matter, and they must be frequently replaced.
We aim for 20-30g of protein in our breakfast. This will help your body repair damage from the previous day and keep you satisfied for longer.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bit of a bad rap over the last few years with the rise in popularity of Keto/Low Carb diets, but they are also vital for hockey players!
Hockey requires rapid bursts of energy primarily supported by your anaerobic system, which relies heavily on carbohydrates. Additionally, glucose – the breakdown of carbohydrates – is the nearly exclusive fuel of your brain, helping you to make plays late in shifts.
But, not all carbs are created equal. Remember the sugary cereal we mentioned earlier? That is an example of refined carbohydrates. These are carbohydrates that have been highly processed and stripped of almost all of their nutrient benefit. So, instead, you should look to include complex carbohydrates in your breakfast and your overall diet.
Complex carbohydrates are packed with nutrients and have a much higher fiber content. As a result, they slow down the breakdown and help provide more consistent long-lasting energy.
GR Tip – Fiber also helps with satiety. If you’re an older player, working on your body composition, fiber will help you stay fuller longer.
We aim for at least 50g of carbohydrates in our breakfast. If you have a hard hockey practice, game, or training session in 3-4 hours, you may want to increase that number slightly to ensure you have adequate energy to win races to the puck.
Fat is another macronutrient that has been demonized for years. Fortunately, that narrative is shifting, and the broader public is starting to understand its importance in a diet.
Fats help decrease inflammation, ensure long-lasting energy, aid with nutrient absorption and hormone regulation plus much more. You should consume most of your fats as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, flax oil, avocados, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds.
Overconsumption of fat, especially before strenuous physical activity, can negatively affect your digestion. It’s why we suggest that fats only makeup 20-25% of your calorie consumption on game days and closer to 30% on recovery days.
The amount you consume for breakfast will vary based on your total calorie intake, but a 20-30% target is ideal.
Now that we’ve covered general breakfast guidelines, here are a couple of our favourite breakfast options to fuel up for the day.
Mediterranean Scramble + Green Smoothie
- 3 Eggs
- Chopped Baby Spinach, Onion, Tomato, Red Pepper (Vegtable amouunt to preference)
- 2 slices of Organic Bread
- (Sourdough, GF, etc.)
- 3-4 slices of Turkey Bacon
- 1 cup Almond Milk
- 2 cups Frozen Greens
- 1 Frozen Banana
- 1/4 cup Frozen Peaches
- 1 scoop Protein
- 1 scoop Collagen
- 1 cup Dry Oats
- 2 cups Almond Milk
- 1 Scoop Protein Powder
- 1/2 pup Unsweetened Yogurt (Organic Cow, Buffalo, Goat, Sheep, or Coconut)
- 2 tbsps Chopped Nuts
- 1-1/2 tsps Hemp Seds
- 1 tbsp Pumpkin Seeds
- 1 tbsp Nut/Seed Butter
- 1/4 cup Berries
Chorizo & Sweet Potato Hash
- 225 grams of Chorizo Sausage
- 1 cup Sweet Potato (chopped into small cubes)
- 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Sliced Avocado
- 2 slices of Organic Toast (Sourdough, GF, etc.)
It’s not an easy task to fuel your body as an elite hockey player, but it can give you an edge over your competition and improve your game, making it well worth the time.