Fuelling Your Hockey Billet

Hockey is a high-intensity, power-burst activity; hockey players expend an incredible amount of energy in practice and games. Fuelling your billet at frequent, regular times with the right foods, fluids and appropriate amounts will enhance his or her strength, stamina and speed.  Athough this article is focussed on supporting young hockey players, many of the recommendations would apply to supporting athletes in other similar high-intensity sports such as soccer, rugby, etc.

A hockey player's diet should be primarily based on complex-carbohydrate foods (quality whole grain starches) along with protein and fat. During activity, muscles use carbohydrate as their primary source of energy. The following foods are rich in carbohydrates:

  • Grain Products (bread, rice, pasta, cereal, crackers, granola bars)
  • Vegetables & Fruit (fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruit, potatoes, vegetables)
  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, hummus)
  • Milk Products (plain or chocolate milk, fruit yogurt)

Athletes also need foods with protein to build and repair muscles.  Some great examples of protein-rich foods include:

  • Nuts and nut butters (peanut, almond)
  • Legumes
  • Eggs, tofu, milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Lean cuts of beef, pork, poultry or fish

It’s important athletes get enough carbohydrates and protein, but those shouldn’t be the only foods he or she is eating.  There’s often not enough attention given to the importance of fruits and vegetables in an athlete’s diet.  Providing athletes with a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures they get the vitamins and minerals their bodies need.  Not only do the nutrients in fruits and vegetables help your billet’s body to function at peak performance, but there are many other benefits.  For example, the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables help repair cell damage caused by free-radicals and exercise.  Anti-oxidants also help strengthen the immune system; less sick time = more playing time!

How much athletes need to eat and drink before and after hockey practice and games will depend upon their gender, age, weight, height, as well as the intensity and duration of the workout.

Try to serve larger meals 3-4 hours before games or practices to ensure the food is digested and the athlete is ready to perform.  If there isn’t time for a proper meal, try for a larger snack 1-2 hours before the game or practice.  For practices lasting longer than 60 minutes, have a small snack on hand for the athlete.  Chocolate bars and candy are a handy energy boost before a practice, but tend to cause a big energy drain shortly after and will actually hurt your billet’s performance!  Here are some pre-performance meal and snack ideas:

Meal – Pre-Workout (with juice or milk)

  • Veggie packed omelette
  • Sandwich with low fat cheese, sliced roast beef/turkey/chicken and veggies
  • Grilled chicken and veggie kabobs on rice or pasta

Large Snack – Pre-Workout (with juice or milk)

  • Fresh fruit with cottage cheese
  • Whole wheat bread with a slice of cheese or nut butter
  • Low fat yogurt with granola

Small Snack – Pre-Workout

  • Piece of fresh or dried fruit
  • Small granola bar with water or fruit juice
  • Chocolate milk or fruit smoothie

Try to avoid serving high-fibre foods before games, such as bran cereal or whole wheat pasta, as they take a longer time to digest and may cause bloating or cramping on the ice.  Also, avoid spicy or high fat foods, as they can cause stomach irritation and take longer to digest. 

Hockey players, like all athletes, need to make sure they are hydrated throughout games and practices.  Water is the number one choice, but sports drinks can give athletes extra energy during a long, intense practice.  It is suggested that sports drinks with electrolytes should be consumed when athletes are participating in an intense activity lasting more than 60 minutes. Sports drinks are most beneficial to hockey players post-game, for “recovery purposes”, as they help replace fluid, carbohydrate and sodium losses. 

It is very important for athletes to refuel after a game or practice in order for their muscles to recover and repair.  Start re-hydrating and refuelling 30-45 minutes after the game or practice.  1% chocolate milk is great to have on hand for your billet, as it has the right nutrients to replenish energy and repair tired muscles.  A snack or small meal rich in carbohydrates within 1-2 hours of the practice or game is also key!  Here are some snack and meals ideas to have available for your billet to refuel:

Large Snack Ideas - Post Workout (with Juice or Milk)

  • Medium muffin with piece of cheese
  • ½ sandwich
    * Peanut butter/banana
    * Egg salad
    * Meat or cheese
  • Smoothie or yogurt
  • Hard boiled egg with crackers
  • Hummus dip with cut-up vegetables

Small Meal Ideas - Post Workout (with Juice or Milk)

  • Bagel with fruit and cheese
  • Whole sandwich
    * Peanut butter/banana
    * Egg salad
    * Meat or cheese
    Pasta and meat sauce
    Chili with more beans than meat
    Lentil soup

In addition to fresh fruit,vegetables, yogurt and cheese in the fridge, here are some nourishing, grab and go ideas to keep in your pantry for your billet to access as snacks:

  • Granola bars or energy bars
  • Dried and canned fruit
  • Applesauce or other real fruit cups
  • Concentrated fruit juice (individual boxes) 
  • Trail mix (nuts/seeds/dried fruits) 
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Pretzels