Quality Nutrition – Why It’s So Vital for Young Hockey Players

It’s not just a breakfast of champions that helps develop young hockey players. It takes good nutrition at lunch and dinner and maybe not so much pre- or post-game refueling at the Golden Arches to ensure their peak performance.

Good nutrition is important for every athlete who strives to do their best. It’s particularly important for young hockey players, but surprisingly enough, not something their parents necessarily buy into. In fact, a survey by the Allstate All-Canadians program found that only 17 percent of responding parents thought nutrition was important to on-ice success.

Unfortunately, that kind of mindset is not what it takes to create a Stanley Cup winning player.

Good nutrition is key to driving an athlete to consistently do his or her best, and it’s particularly true for young players who need the right kind of energy to get them through hockey practice, school and an otherwise full day, and maybe a game at night.

It starts with breakfast, says Jarret Reid, a former pro hockey player who now works as a power skating hockey instructor at Wave Sports Centre in Burlington, Ontario. “Kids are in too much of a hurry or not sure what to eat, and so may just grab sugary stuff that’s there,” Jarret Reid adds. “That gives short-lived energy, and not of the quality they need to fuel them on the ice.”

Instead, Reid points to one selection from each of four categories – fruit, protein, whole grain and fluid, in combinations that appeal and can be assembled quickly and easily.  Make a whole grain frozen waffle sandwich with peanut butter and banana slices and a glass of soy milk. Or load a serving of organic or Greek yogurt with blueberries, sunflower seeds and/or granola for sweetness and crunch.

Especially before and after games (and, actually, all day), the body needs to be refueled, so it has enough stored energy to get hockey players through the game. Again, it’s a combination of healthy choices that will do the most good. This means carbs that have staying power like brown rice, quinoa or a sweet potato. Steamed vegetables are good, too, especially the green ones that give the young athlete iron and fiber. And lean protein like chicken or salmon is important for all the sweating that comes with their skating.

Gary Roberts, another Ontario NHL pro turned hockey coach, said young players should eat a substantial meal three hours before the game, while a post-game protein shake will help them immediately refuel until they can eat within an hour. “If you make a meal plan, you know you and your kids won’t have to chase down fast food after the game to satisfy the hunger,” he tells Today’s Parent.

Hydration is something else that young players shouldn’t neglect. It’s not just during the game that drinking water is important. Reid recommends hockey players keep a water bottle routinely at hand. “If they wait until they’re thirsty, they’ve already lost 1 or 2 liters of water by that stage,” he says. “And if it happens when they’re on the ice, they can see their performance impeded by as much as 20 percent.”

And sports drinks should be consumed with discretion. They are typically recommended for more intense, long-lasting athletics and aren’t necessary for most young hockey players. But for the most competitive, beginning at the bantam stage, they may help for recovery purposes – not before the game. Their high sugar content could result in a sugar crash at an inopportune time.

Good training, coaching and the right equipment help make good hockey players. But it takes good nutrition to keep their performance up to consistently high standards.

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