Hockey Nutrition Coaching

I recently started, rapidly worked through, and completed the Precision Nutrition Certification Course. As I read through the 440 page text book over the last week, I was bombarded with great nutrition and supplementation information that really opened my eyes on differential strategies for people of different body types, and on how to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

While I found a lot of the advanced stuff really interesting, I think it’s important that people really master the basics before even considering the advanced strategies. For example, calorie and carbohydrate cycling probably won’t make a difference if the majority of your calories come from McDonalods, snacks, and other processed foods (including the “freezer dinners”).

The importance of nutrition in hockeyperformance cannot be denied. In fact, nutrition is largely responsible for:

  • Providing fuel for athletic movement
  • Replenishing energy stores after competition
  • Rebuilding bone and muscle mass following activity
  • Maintaining an athletic body composition (e.g. adequate muscle mass and minimal body fat for most sports)

This is truly just the tip of the iceberg. On a less obvious level, nutrition drives every function in your body, from maintaining the integrity of your cells, to allowing for proper blood flow and oxygen delivery, to improving eyesight.

Nutrition information is readily available. Indeed, it’s quite difficult to anywhere, watch TV, or listen to the radio without being bombarded by some sort of nutrition-related message. Unfortunately, finding QUALITY nutrition information is a different story. There are more commonly believed myths about nutrition than any other aspect of athletic development.  
Last week I listened to an audio interview with my mentor Michael Boyle, where he referenced a nutrition axiom:

“Eat food. Mostly plants and animals. Not too much.”

Nutrition, at the most surface level, is really THAT simple. Think about all the food you eat. How much of it is actually food? In other words, how much of it is NOT a “food product”, or something that has been manufactured by mankind? My friend Brian St. Pierre refers to “food” as things that can be grown or hunted.

Gatorade? Not food. The typical school lunch of chicken nuggets and tater tots. Not food. All chips, pretzels, dunkaroos and other enticing snacks. Not food.

Nuts aside, there is NO real food here.

Looked at this way, it’s amazing how much of the typical American diet is lacking in real food. This is true of both athletes and non-athletes. The next time you’re about to prepare a meal, ask yourself how much of what you’re about to make is real food, and how you can increase the proportion of real food in the meal.

Another interesting thing regarding your diet is that the overwhelming majority of the calories you take in are used simply to sustain the vital functions within your body. In other words, if you take in 2,000 calories in a day, that doesn’t mean you need to burn 2,000 calories during a workout or through playing sports to maintain your current body composition. In physically active people, calories are burned in the following proportions:

  • 60%: Basal Metabolic Rate (Calories burned to sustain vital functions)
  • 10% Energy required to digest/absorb food
  • 30%: Physical Activity

This means that 70% of your daily energy expenditure comes from things that are just a normal process of everyday life (eating, maintaining vital functions). Of course, these factors are specific to the individual. One pretty reliable equation to determine your Resting Metabolic Rate (similar to the basal metabolic rate, but encompasses food intake and minor movements) is the Mifflin Equation:

Resting Metabolic Rate (Calories/Day) =

10 x (weight in kg) + 6.25 x (height in cm) – 5 x (age in years) + 5

Resting Metabolic Rate (Calories/Day) =

10 x (weight in kg) + 6.25 x (height in cm) – 5 x (age in years) -161

Using this equation will give you an estimate of the amount of calories you burn everyday without accounting for physical activity. In other words, this will give you an estimate of the “70%” from above.

Low Calorie Diets for Fat Loss?

With few exceptions (football linemen, sumo wrestlers, etc.), maintaining relatively low levels of body fat is essential for athletes in all sports. In fact, a gold standard amongst high level male hockey players is that their body fat is below 10% (As far as I know there is no female standard, but the 10% equivalent for females is around 16%). Some coaches will dismiss a player altogether if he’s too far above this. The most commonly held belief in this regard is that the best way to lose fat is to eat less. This may be a decent start for those that eat excessively (not as many as you’d think), but weight loss/gain isn’t as simple as calories in vs calories out.

In the PN texbook The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, authors John Berardi, PhD, and Ryan Andrew, MS, MA, RD present a case study whereby a female cross-country skier was looking to drop body fat. She was currently 5’6”, 165 lbs and 23% body fat. She was initially counseled (by someone else) to eat a high carbohydrate, low calorie diet, which caused her to lose both fat and muscle, dropping to a mere 160 lbs and 22% body fat. Discouraged, she then consulted with Dr. Berardi’s team, and made the following changes:

After High Carb/Low Calorie 12 Weeks with Berardi’s Team Net Changes after 12 Weeks
Height and Weight 5’6″, 160 lbs 5’6″, 135 lbs Lost 25 lbs
Body Fat % 22% 9% Lost 13%
Energy Intake ~2500 Calories/Day ~4000 Calories/Day +1500 Calories/Day
Macronutrient Breakdown

15% Protein
65% Carbohydrates
20% Fat

35% Protein
40% Carbohydrates
25% Fat

+20% Protein
-25% Carbohydrates
+5% Fat

9% body fat is REMARKABLE and atypical for females. More importantly, this athlete dropped 13% body fat in 12 weeks, while INCREASING her caloric intake DRASTICALLY (60%!). These phenomenal results were the result of her metabolism becoming depressed from a severely negative calorie imbalance. As a quick disclaimer, because she was a cross country skier, she was burning a significant amount of calories through activity each day so I wouldn’t want you to blindly read this and start sucking down 4000 Calories each day.

Take Home Messages
Nutrition doesn’t need to be as complex as the special diet and supplement marketers make it. Eat every few hours, and drink water consistently throughout the day. Eat REAL food, not food products. Understand that weight loss isn’t as simple as eating less. Often times, eating more QUALITY food is the solution to achieving the body composition changes you desire and deserve.

Nutrition Coaching is the perfect compliment to a well-designed athletic development training program. I’m in the process of developing a Nutrition Coaching Program at Endeavor for our athletes there; I may extend that to offer it to online clients as well. in the meantime, if you’re in the market for a world-class Nutrition Coach, I highly recommend you contact my friend Brian St. Pierre.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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