Good nutrition is an important ingredient in the success of athletes engaged in intense competition.
It’s 6 a.m., you’re at the rink and realize you forgot (once again) a key piece of equipment! Shin guards? Elbow pads? Helmet? No, you amazingly have all the protective gear, but can clearly hear the growling of your hockey player’s stomach!
Even as a nutritionist, this hockey mom of two has been caught missing this key piece of equipment: Healthy fuel for my young athletes. We intuitively know that practicing and training leads to better on-ice performance. The other key to optimizing your player’s experience is having them fueled properly before and after their time at the rink. Youth athletes can’t run on empty fuel tanks. Active bodies also don’t work optimally if fueled on low nutrient choices.
What should the head coach of food and fuel (aka parents) know to be prepared?
It really is the most important meal of the day. Make sure to include both protein and carbohydrates in the morning meal. Here are some ideas:
1. Oatmeal with milk, almonds and fruit.
2. A smoothie can provide a whole serving of fruit while hydrating. On-the-go products allow you to bring them from home, or you can find them as a good choice at the rink concessions for those early-morning, stomach-growling games.
3. Breakfast quesadilla of eggs, lean meat and salsa in a whole corn tortilla.
4. Greek yogurt and a small bag of cereal, nuts and dried fruit.
5. Banana muffin with peanut butter or other nut butter and a glass of low-fat milk or soy milk.
6. String cheese, fruit and a whole grain granola bar (yes, breakfast can be that simple)!
When cooking dinners or lunches, make twice as much. What was dinner the night before can now be a ready-to-go pre-game meal for the next day. Here are the basics to a healthy meal that can be customized using the strategy below:
1. Cook a double/triple batch of whole grain carbohydrates. The stored leftovers become the template for the next set of meals. You can choose whole wheat pasta, brown rice or something new like quinoa. Carbohydrates are the fuel that your muscles and brain prefer, so it’s essential that athletes have it ready to go.
2. Cook up extra lean protein, such as chicken, turkey or tofu. Add this to your whole grain carbohydrate. To include more plant protein, throw in some beans. Protein plays an important role in growth, building muscle and immune function.
3. Veggies on hand. I stock my fridge with cut up peppers, carrots and snap peas. I also love to use frozen veggies to help add variety and nutrition to my leftovers. Veggies give the fiber, vitamins and minerals important to active bodies. Toss these in with Nos. 1 and 2 above.
4. Stock up on fun sauces and condiments that your kids love. This allows you to customize between Asian stir-fry one day and Italian pasta bake the next.
Get the kids involved in pre-packing healthy snack bags for the week. Here are my top favorites:
1. On-the-go smoothies (hydration and nutrition).
2. Trail mix (whole grain cereal, nuts, seeds, dried fruit).
3. Individual nut butter packets and whole grain crackers.
4. Whole grain muffin, fruit, jerky.
5. Veggie sticks and hummus.
6. Whole grain granola bar, cheese stick.
7. Nut butter and jelly wrapped up in a tortilla.
8. Popcorn and dried fruit.
9. Oatmeal raisin cookies and yogurt.
10. Fruit leathers (made with real fruit) and trail mix.
The goals of good sports nutrition are to help young athletes optimize strength, speed, stamina and recovery as well as decrease the risk of injury. Healthy pre- and postgame fuel is that one piece of equipment you don’t want to be missing!
Christina Meyer-Jax is a proud hockey mom and the Principal Nutrition Scientist for Schwan’s Shared Services, LLC.