Gary Roberts scored 438 goals and 910 points in 1,224 career NHL games. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
By Gary Roberts
Eating well sets the tone for a player’s performance both on the ice and in life. Sounds simple enough right? While that common sense advice has been around forever, many in the hockey world only began taking proper nutrition seriously in the past five-to-10 years.
Personally, it took me too long to figure out that what I ate affected my performance. Unfortunately, I had to retire first. At 30 years old, after I lost my career to two neck surgeries, I started to take an active interest in nutrition and training. I realized just how much the food I ate affected the way I performed.
Now it’s become a lifestyle for me to eat healthy. I realize how important it is to my energy levels. As an athlete, it’s all about preparation. The food ingested before a game or practice can directly affect performance. It’s also about recovery, the food consumed post-game. It’s what creates an edge for a young athlete. If a player wants an edge over the summer to improve performance, strength and overall conditioning, nutrition is a huge part.
I can’t say enough about it. At a young age, getting that nutritional edge is going to be what separates a player from the pack. Even in the NHL, there are still a surprising number of guys who aren’t eating the right way.
It starts with the parents. I’m a hockey dad now, so I certainly appreciate that it’s important to reward kids for a job well done. We all like those rewards and they’re important to keeping young kids motivated and having fun. But when I’m in a minor hockey dressing room, it makes me cringe when I see cupcakes and chocolate bars going around after the game. Imagine how that affects performance, especially when the kids are in a tournament and playing four or five games over a weekend.
Young players just can’t go five or six hours without fuelling the body properly. Athletes need to understand and learn more about the importance of eating for proper recovery. I think post-game nutrition is one of the least appreciated pieces of the nutritional puzzle.
After I retired, I began to think about how I could share what I learned over my 21 years in the NHL. I began to work with young players who were beginning or about to begin their professional careers, but I knew this information was for everyone. The more time I began to spend around minor hockey parents, the more I realized these families weren’t getting the information they needed from a trusted source. So this season, I teamed up with the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) to help create fitness and nutrition content for a website they’ve created as part of a new hockey mentorship program called Allstate All-Canadians.
It’s no secret nutrition can be intimidating for a lot of people because there’s a lot to learn. The main message is to get started with a few steps in the right direction. For example, I have a simple oatmeal recipe that became a cornerstone of my diet for much of my career. I ate it for breakfast and as a pre-game meal. It gave me long-lasting energy and it was a great source of nutrients.
I wish I ate better when I was developing as a young player. I know it made a huge difference to me as a professional once I figured all this out. There’s no doubt about it, I would be thrilled if better nutrition became part of every Canadian’s routine for hockey. But it goes beyond the game: This should be part of everyone’s routine for life.
Feed the machine
Eat three meals per day plus snacks to maintain a high metabolism and energy level. Although this is difficult when travelling to games, NHLPA players know, it pays off in the end.
Eat a high-carb, high-calorie meal to last throughout the game. Avoid heavy meals like steak as they will only slow players down. Try spaghetti and meat sauce, chicken or salmon and rice before a big game.
Post-game or workout
After practice, a game or a workout, athletes need to eat within the hour to restore the calories lost on the ice. Flax and essential oils, vegetables, carbs and protein provide critical benefits.
Healthy eating, like exercise, is still important in the off-season. Add more fruit and an occasional treat to your diet.
Nutrition has become a vital part of the modern hockey game. Today we have a greater knowledge of the affects different nutrients have on the body and mind and that means young hockey stars have a chance to improve their game in another way.
Gary Roberts is 21-year NHL veteran and a former NHL All-Star who played for six teams including the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning. He won a Stanley Cup with the 1989 Flames and he currently serves as a player development consultant for the Dallas Stars. Gary is also a hockey dad with a deep commitment to passing along his knowledge of fitness and nutrition to the next generation of young Canadian hockey players.