Nutrition: On the Road and on the Run

contributed by Sheryl Normandeau (Calgary, AB)

MAKING SURE EVERYONE IS HAPPY, HEALTHY, AND FED is as important as making sure all the hockey gear makes it into the vehicle and that everyone shows up at the arena on time.

Those early games and long tournament weekends only make it more difficult to wisely choose the best foods and drinks for young players, and there is a tendency to hastily choose fast-food meals, or sugary snacks and drinks that do not supply the nutrition necessary to have fun and play hard.

It is no secret that top NHL players like Sidney Crosby eat plenty of carbohydrates pre-game: pastas, especially with tomato sauce, are heavily favoured. Unfortunately, unless your child’s game is in the afternoon or evening, there is not enough time to consume a full plate of spaghetti—and who really can stomach that in the wee hours of the morning when you’re scrambling to get to the rink?

On rushed mornings, try high-carbohydrate foods, fresh fruit, and yogourt

On these rushed mornings, try high-carb foods like whole wheat, or whole grain toast, or bagels spread with a little peanut butter or a thin slice of cheese; if your child doesn’t eat breads, then perhaps a cereal that is not high in sugar with milk will do.

Fresh fruit is always a good choice, as well as yogourt.

Make sure your young player drinks some water though no more than a cup and a half—before he or she leaves the house or hotel. The trick is to eat and drink enough—but not too much and not so close to game time—that the stomach can’t digest it. Cramping and stomach upset are unwelcome on the ice!

Ensure your child drinks plenty of water during the game; it is very trendy to serve up sports drinks, but bear in mind that sports drinks are manufactured to replenish electrolytes that an athlete loses during extreme exercise, ie: sustained or punishing activity over an hour or more, or in excessive heat or altitude. Endurance runners may need Gatorade, but it isn’t likely that young hockey players do unless they’re playing extraordinarily long shifts over many games in one day. Kids like the stuff, though, so just limit their intake—don’t give them the entire bottle.

Post-game beverages should include water, and fruit juices or fresh fruit is a good option as well, because the carbs they contain will help restore the glycogen levels that have been depleted by activity. (Glycogen is a large molecule made in the liver, used to store glucose for future use).

Chocolate milk is becoming very popular to consume post-sport, and it is an excellent choice if your child isn’t lactose intolerant, as it contains both carbs and protein.

Making healthful choices is not as difficult as you might think

If it is meal-time, have your child select high-carbohydrate foods like baked potatoes and pastas, and, if he or she doesn’t have a heavy dislike for them, go heavy on the vegetables. Ensure a little protein is thrown in for good measure (be careful, as too much protein can actually slow rehydration and glycogen replenishment). A small serving of meat, fish, or poultry will do the trick. Snacks such as trail mix with dried fruit and nuts, yogourt, and cheese and cracker combinations are useful as well. If your child is prone to stomach upset, sometimes a protein drink or smoothie will be all he or she can manage (although this is sometimes a difficult creation to produce when on the road!).

Stay away from chocolate bars, chips, French fries and anything deep-fried. The key is to maintain the proper nutritional balance before, during, and after the game, so that your child doesn’t suffer from fatigue, blood sugar fluctuations, or any kind of upset.

Selecting the appropriate food and drink choices isn’t as difficult (nor as time-consuming!) as it may first seem, and it will make a world of difference.

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