Pre- and Post-Game Meals for Hockey Players

A couple days ago I posted the presentation (with the videos) I gave at the USA Hockey Level 4 Coaching Clinic in NJ. If you missed it, check it out here: USA Hockey Level 4 Presentation

After the talk, I got a great question from one of the coaches in attendance. To paraphrase, he wanted to know what the ideal pre- and post-game meals or supplements were to help prepare for and recovery from optimal performance. I love this question. It demonstrates an understanding of the impact that food/fuel can have on an athlete’s performance/recovery. Naturally, as the players achieve higher and higher levels of performance, their approach to training, nutrition, and recovery will need to be tweaked to squeak out as much potential as possible.

That said, in every performance category it’s important to understand the perspective of where the player is starting. It is very common for folks to be attracted to the strategies used by the elite, but when a player has a large adaptation window (or huge room for improvement) then the strategies they use should be simple. There are tons of applications of this concept, but relevant to this coach’s question, the best thing a hockey player could do to improve their performance (and overall health, durability, immune system resiliency, etc.) is to start eating REAL food (food that can be hunted or grown). We’re talking about a population that eats almost entirely processed foods, largely grain- or high fructose corn syrup based. There is a HUGE window for drastic improvement simply by changing to higher quality nutrient choices throughout the day. Throw out the snacks and start eating actual food, not food products.

I’ve been a big supplement guy in the past, and I’m not opposed to them now, but giving a 14 year old that eats garbage all day a Muscle Milk after their workout sends the wrong message. I think we need to make a bigger push toward holistic eating in our youth. Food is incredibly powerful, much more so than people recognize.

And kids may be smarter than we give them credit for.

I say all that to say this: The message that needs to be sent is that “pre-game” preparedness is a year-round endeavor. You can’t eat garbage all week or all day and then eat grilled chicken, quinoa, and steamed broccoli and expect to overcome all the prior poor decisions. With that said, if framing this message in a “these are the best foods to eat before and after practices and games” gets kids to eat two meals a day of higher quality foods, then it’s worthwhile. This can then be used as a springboard for adapting other dietary habits.

To provide some applicability to this post, I generally recommend players eat a meal pre- and post-game that consists of a plate divided up into thirds with a lean meat (e.g. chicken, turkey, ham, and eggs), vegetable (e.g. broccoli, spinach, peppers, asparagus, and carrots), and quality grain source (e.g. quinoa, sweet potato, and gluten-free pasta or rice). This gives the players the freedom to choose foods that they enjoy. If a meal can’t be consumed within an hour or so following getting off the ice, players would do well to grab a chocolate milk ASAP after getting off the ice. I still don’t think kids should drink Gatorade; if there is a push for a sports drink then they’d be better off with Generation UCAN.

If you’re looking for other great food choices, check out this “high performance” grocery list. I also highly recommend you pick up a copy of Ultimate Hockey Nutrition, which is the single-best Hockey Nutrition resource I’ve ever come across. It was written as a companion resource to my book Ultimate Hockey Training, but if you want to dive into the nutrition stuff first, you can pick up a copy of UHN by clicking the link below.

Grab your copy here >> Ultimate Hockey Nutrition
To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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