Today I want to talk about how hockey athletes should be approaching their nutrition in regards to their in-season body composition management and recovery from injury.
Why these two topics?
Well, body composition (the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass) is something a lot of hockey athletes actually regress with quite a bit during the season. This is (almost) entirely a nutritional issue.
Too many guys, whether intentionally or not, change up their eating habits during the season due to an increased busy schedule plus a lot more travelling. Many reading this are probably juggling either a job or school and going to hockey at least 3x per week during the season. In some cases, there will be people working, going to school and playing hockey. On top of this, you are also expected to continue with your strength and conditioning.
That’s a lot on your plate, but unfortunately with my observations of most athlete’s nutrition is the first thing they drop. They keep doing everything else and then just eat whenever they can and normally this means opting for quick and convenient options.
Opting for quick and convenient options isn’t exactly a bad thing, but it can be if you’re completely ignoring what your daily intake should be looking like in regards to your protein, carbohydrate and fat daily totals.
This is really the heart of where guys lose muscle mass and strength during the season, not enough respect to nutrition and how critical it is towards your recovery, performance and body composition.
As for injury recovery, if any athlete in sports is going to be susceptible to injury it’s going to be hockey players. Hockey is an incredibly high impact game and anybody who has been on the ice long enough has incurred some sort of injury.
Whether it be a structural upper / lower body injury or it be a concussion, most hockey players at some point in their playing career suffer something along these lines and staying on top of your nutrition can be the difference between a 7 week healing process and a 5 week healing process.
Let’s tackle each of these one at a time and put everything together in the end with some solid guidelines to follow so you can make the best of your season this year.
BODY COMPOSITION MANAGEMENT
I first want to briefly define some of the terms I will be using throughout this section of the blog:
Hypercaloric: A hypercaloric intake is a state in which your “calories in” are exceeding your “calories out” so therefore you will gain weight.
Maintenance: A state of maintenance is where your “calories in” are equalling your “calories out” so therefore there will be no change in weight. It’s important to note here that the term “weight”, means just that and it does not refer to the body composition of that weight.
Hypocaloric: A hypocaloric intake is a state in which your “calories in” are less than your “calories out” so therefore you will lose weight.
Training Frequency: Off-ice resistance training sessions performed per week. Training frequency can represent the frequency of any type of training, but for the purpose of this section I will be discussing resistance training.
Training Volume: The amount of total work done during a rep, set, exercise session, week, or any other measurement of training time. Technically measured as the sum total force x distance executed. It can be measured precisely by multiplying the sets, reps, and weight as well as the distance of bar path.
Some players have the old school mentality out there where the offseason is truly the “off” season. They really don’t do anything at all in regards to strength, conditioning, body composition changes, nutrition, etc. You name it, they’re not doing it. They’ll spend most of the summer hanging out with their buddies, partying, going on vacation and playing some recreational summer sports.
Then when the in-season rolls around they figure “Ok now’s the time to get into shape”.
In reality, this is exactly backwards to what you should be doing. Any and all major body composition changes should occur during the offseason when you have the time to eat well and train with a more comfortable schedule.
On top of this, during the in-season performance has to be the #1 priority. No other component ranks higher than this. If you want to be the go-to player on your team or you want to be that player people take notice of from the stands you had better be putting performance as the top priority.
“Yeah, I get that. Performance of course should be #1. But can’t I change my body composition at the same time?”
In most cases for most people, no, you can’t. Not with performance being #1.
Performance throws a real wrench into body composition changes during the season and we’re going to talk about why.
Let’s say you’re a smaller guy and you want to gain some muscle mass this season. That’s all fine and well but we run into some issues right away with both your training and nutrition.
To gain an appreciable amount of muscle mass you need to be training with an optimal training frequency and volume. That’s just the problem right there, this isn’t possible during the season, not without the degradation of performance.
A standard training frequency for muscle mass and strength gains hovers around the 4 sessions per week mark with the aim of overreaching your maximum recoverable volume so that you can super compensate, recover, and build new lean muscle tissue. This type of training is simply too difficult to sustain during the season without letting performance suffer.
The average hockey athlete should be resistance training 2-3x per week max during the season with the aim of maintaining/improving strength, conditioning and power levels. The augmentation of body composition for muscle mass gain is simply too difficult to sustain for the period of time that it would require to actually have any benefit to it.
In addition to this, a muscle mass gaining phase is typically characterized by not just a high training frequency and volume, but also a hypercaloric diet.
That’s a problem isn’t it?
Because if we are training the way we should be training during the season (2-3 resistance training sessions) introducing a hypercaloric diet is a recipe to get a lot fatter. You can’t train less, eat like it’s a mass phase and expect that weight to be lean muscle mass. It doesn’t work like that.
Now let’s have a look at it from the other perspective, let’s say you’re looking to get really lean this season and get that six pack you have always wanted.
Anytime you introduce a hypocaloric state during the season performance is going to suffer, it’s a recipe for disaster from both a performance and injury perspective.
Games + practices + conditioning + resistance training + school/work + travel is simply too much to take on in a hypocaloric state. Don’t get me wrong people can do it, but they will be doing it at the expense of performance whether they know it or not.
The only caveat here that is acceptable is if the person is blatantly overweight and could use some trimming down. In this case, dropping the weight will actually improve performance as opposed to decreasing performance mainly due to the increased speed and agility they will see.
But if you’re somebody who is already relatively lean and you’re looking to get even leaner, this can definitely come at the expense of your performance where it actually counts, out on the ice.
If that wasn’t enough, that type of schedule in combination with a hypocaloric state can create altered endocrine and immune function where testosterone levels typically drop, stress hormones typically increase and your ability to fight off colds/sickness decreases. Not exactly what you’re looking for in an athlete.
So where do we go from here?
What I like to recommend hockey athletes do during the season is begin with 4-6 weeks of maintenance eating. This will be enough to support performance and training load while still allowing for progress to be made in strength development, power, conditioning and speed. It’s important to note here though that an intelligent training program is an absolute MUST during the season to prevent any muscle mass, strength, power or conditioning losses from the offseason.
You want to keep every last piece of progress you made during the offseason all in-season. Now if where you need to perform, we need all those physical qualities year round. This cannot be done without an intelligent approach to your yearly training periodization.
Begin the season with 4-6 weeks of maintenance eating. In addition to supporting the above mentioned qualities, maintenance eating also allows you to still make some body composition changes. This is known as “recomposition”. Where your body weight doesn’t actually change, but your body composition does.
For example, if you’re 200lbs and 12% body fat and you successfully executed a recomposition phase you would exit that phase still around 200lbs but around 9-10% body fat. You both gained some lean muscle mass and lost some body fat at the same time while kickin’ around the same total body weight.
Is there a problem with body composition change during the season?
No, of course not.
But is there a problem with actively seeking body composition change?
Yes, there can be because it comes at the expense of performance.
This is why I like my athletes starting at maintenance. No worries here at all. We are supporting everything we possibly can while simultaneously potentially reaping some recomposition benefits along the way.
That’s how I highly recommend you guys attack this season.
Start at maintenance for 4-6 weeks and adjust accordingly if needed after that in respect to your current body composition, training schedule, ice schedule and goals.
If you’re not totally comfortable with all this, my brand new in-season training package is coming out real soon which will take all of the guesswork out of it for you from both a training and nutritional perspective. Simply follow the system and kick some ass.
INJURY RECOVERY NUTRITION
Moving on to injuries!
You know above I said a lot of guys drop the ball on their nutrition, but here is where most everybody drops the ball on everything. They get all upset that their injured, think they can’t do anything about it and just throw everything away until they are healthy again.
This normally consists of you having a permanently imprinted butt mold you fit into on your couch in combination with way too much Netflix and Playstation. Am I right?
Before I dive into some nutritional strategies and implications I have to mention sleep. Sleep is the king recovery strategy from exercise and injury. When you’re sleeping your body is in full on recovery mode repairing and rebuilding any and all things within the body. I have discussed sleep in depth in another blog that I highly suggest you check out if you haven’t already. If you aren’t sleeping well, this would be the #1 priority for injury recovery before we move on the other strategies.
When it comes to calorie intake, it’s an interesting conundrum because your activity levels are decreased. You’re just flat out not training as much or on the ice as much so you’re need for calories drops.
But yet, injury recovery requires the synthesis of new structures. Whether this be joint, muscle or tendon related. At the end of the day your body needs the raw materials to repair and rebuild this tissue damage.
Where does it get that?
Additionally, if you start dropping calories low and you combine that with low activity levels you’re also putting yourself at a greater risk for muscle loss.
So what’s the best approach?
Once again, maintenance.
Maintenance calories makes the most logical sense here because we don’t want to go hypocaloric and risk a longer recovery time plus greater muscle loss. But we also don’t want to go hypercaloric and risk a bunch of unnecessary fat gain.
Maintenance will put us in that sweet spot of optimal recovery with the greatest chance of maintaining your current body composition. Of course, the longer you’re down the greater chance you have of diminishing your body composition. But if you compare two guys who are both injured and one is focusing on his nutrition and the other is not, the one who is focusing on his nutrition will both have a better composition and a quicker recovery time.
That’s a no-brainer to me.
Here are some quick guidelines to follow when injured and wondering how you should be eating:
• Protein should be hanging around 1g / lbs of body weight.
• Meal frequency should be 4-6 meals per day spaced apart by 2-4hrs. This is to ensure round the clock amino acid availability to both your skeletal muscle and the injury site.
• Carbohydrates and fat are individually set. Carbohydrates should typically match activity level which is why I can’t make any real recommendations here. An injured construction worker is going to have a greater carb intake than an injured desk worker.
• Eat at maintenance calorie levels.
• Keep multivitamins, fruits and vegetables in the meal plan at all times. The body needs this vitamins and minerals for proper repair processes.
As a finishing note here guys I want to say this:
The priorities change, but your level of effort should not.
Meaning, yes you aren’t on the ice right now but you’re level of effort should be no different. We have different priorities right now, your team and your coach are depending on you to take this seriously and do whatever you can in order to get better.
Don’t mope around and act like a baby.
Study strategy, watch video footage of your team, watch video footage of opposing teams, Google hockey skill work stuff and stay on top of your nutrition.
If you mope around you’re going to have a few week transitioning phase until you actually get back into it.
But if you do all these things you’ll come back like you haven’t even missed a beat and could even be a better hockey player for it.
If you are looking to become a better hockey player check out our Hockey Training Programs.