Nutrition: The Secret Ingredient to Greater Hockey Success

As the popular saying goes, “Good nutrition will not make a poor athlete great. But, poor nutrition can certainly make a great athlete poor”.   

Hockey players are getting bigger, faster, and stronger, and their need for energy to support this growth is concomitantly increased. Long gone are the days of a traditional off-season where players would get off the ice at the conclusion of their season, grab their golf bags and not get back on skates until training camp the following fall. Today, hockey players must remain committed to constantly improving themselves day in and day out whether in season or off. As the physical demands of the game continue to increase, the need for optimal nutrition is becoming more important than ever.

Hockey is a very demanding sport, and requires elevated levels of energy for its athletes. Athletes get their energy in the form of calories, more specifically from the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each macronutrient is important in its own unique way:

  1. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of fuel and is a very efficient energy source for athletes to consume before competition, while competing, and after competition. Common sources of carbohydrates include grains, bread, potatoes, and fruit.
  2. Protein is also important for athletes because it can help repair muscle damage that occurs during games. Popular sources of protein include meat, poultry, dairy, legumes, and seafood. 
  3. Fat provides the body with a valuable energy reservoir, promotes the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and helps the body control its internal temperature. Common sources of fats are nuts, oil, seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring.

The combination of total carbohydrate, protein, and fat consumed in a day comprises an athlete’s daily caloric intake. 

A common theme on social media and TV is that most people need to reduce their caloric intake. For hockey players, this could not be further from the truth. It is extremely common for athletes to be significantly under-fueling and not giving their body the energy it needs for optimal performance. Many athletes are shocked to learn that they may need nearly double the number of calories when compared to their peers who live a more sedentary lifestyle. Depending on an athlete’s body composition, it is not uncommon to see an athlete who may need 3,000-4,000 calories per day just to maintain their healthy weight. Consuming so many calories can be very challenging for some athletes, especially if they are constantly on the go from workouts to practices or managing a rigorous training schedule in combination with work and family life. The most functional recommendations for athletes to meet their energy needs are for them to consume 3 balanced meals throughout the day, consume functional snacks containing both carbohydrate and protein, and to prioritize an evening snack before bed.

Nutrition goals can vary throughout the year. Typically, in-season goals are to optimize performance and maintain weight and skeletal muscle mass. To do this, athletes must ensure they are getting enough carbohydrates to fuel their body and also enough protein to prevent muscle degradation. During the off-season, many players will try to either increase or decrease their weight and also to build up speed, agility, stamina, and muscle mass. Ensuring that the body has sufficient protein to promote growth will be critical during this time. In addition to protein, carbohydrates will still provide the body with the energy needed to complete training sessions. A good rule of thumb for athletes is to consume:

  • 55-65% of total calories in the form of carbohydrate
  • 15-25% of calories in the form of protein
  • 10-25% of total intake from fat.

Proper nutrition is more important now than ever before. Athletes who are properly fueling their bodies have a significant competitive advantage against athletes who do not prioritize nutrition. With hockey getting increasingly competitive, it is important for elite players to gain every advantage possible. This is why more and more athletes of all ages and levels are working with sports dietitians to dial in their specific nutrition needs and ensure they are getting the fuel to allow them to perform their best. The earlier an athlete is able to dial in their nutrition, the more impact it will have on their long term athletic performance. Additionally, athletes are at a significantly reduced risk of injury when they are properly fueled and hydrated. 

If you are interested in visiting with a sports dietitian, we recommend that you connect with your primary care physician for a referral to a registered dietitian in your area. 

Hockey is a game that requires continuous improvement to create and maintain a competitive advantage. You’ve done the work to get your skating, skills, strength and conditioning where it needs to be to compete at your current level. And now when you layer in proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep, watch your performance accelerate! 


About the Author

“Sniper” Sam Schilling, M.S. RDN, is a registered dietician (and hockey fanatic) with sports nutrition experience at Training Haus, Mayo Clinic, and Sanford Health. Sam grew up playing hockey (goalie) in Eden Prairie, MN and played collegiate hockey at the University of Alabama, where he studied Food and Nutrition, and later earned a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Central Arkansas. In addition, Sam will be starring as a high school hockey player in the upcoming film "Way of the Warriors" about Minnesota high school hockey. You can follow Sam on Instagram @Samschillingofficial. Sam currently resides in Bismarck, ND.

May 16, 2022 — Sam Schilling
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