Melissa Walsh

Youth Hockey Nutrition: Keep It Simple

Powerplay Communications | April 2011 | Hockey Mom Sense blog: "Youth Hockey Nutrition: Keep It Simple"

For many hockey parents, the pre-ice routine begins with racing home from work to quickly gather the equipment and kids, only to hop right back in the car to head off to the rink. Following the ice-time, it’s racing home again to quickly get the kids in bed. Though you know good nutrition is valuable to youth hockey players, you can’t seem to fit it into the schedule. You may feel that feeding them like the champs they’re striving to become is impossible.

However, with a little planning and teaching, you can foster excellent nutritional habits in your players, which they will continue the rest of their lives.

According to sports nutrition experts Mitzi Dulan and Dr. Chris Mohr of, proper youth hockey nutrition is quite simple. Just remember three fundamental rules: fuel, hydrate, and recover.

FUEL — Teach your youth players that food is fuel for the body and that winning performance depends on ingesting optimal fuel. But unlike the fancy synthetic fuel required for a race car, a healthy body depends on simple, natural fuel — fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Stock up on healthy kid-friendly foods, such as berries, grapes, raw carrots, bananas, yogurt, PB&J, oatmeal raison cookies, trail mix, etc. Be vigilant about your kids not skipping breakfast and ensure that they eat healthy carbs one to three hours before hitting the ice. Also, teach them that poor fuel — fried and sugary foods — can deter the body’s performance.

HYDRATE — Explain to your players that optimal performance also depends on a reliable cooling system. Like engine applications, an athlete’s body temperature is regulated with water. It is critical that youth hockey players understand that when they feel thirsty, they are already dehydrated. Therefore, they must learn to schedule fluid intake regularly throughout the day, rather than waiting until they’re thirsty to grab something to drink. Youth athletes should drink fluids a few hours before an event (16 oz), during an event (sips after every shift), and following an event (24 oz). Get them in the habit of carrying something to drink with them all day. If they don’t want to drink water, juice or Gatorade are fine. Exercise caution with energy drinks, ensuring the ingredients do not include caffeine or sugar.

RECOVER — Muscles are strained during athletic activity. Not fueling and re-hydrating the body within two hours following athletic activity will impair muscle recovery. Because youth hockey players’ muscles are growing as well as recovering from the strain of playing hockey, it is especially important to ensure that they are nourished with carbs and fluids within two hours after getting off the ice. Ideally, they should eat a healthy snack and intake fluids within a half hour.

While getting proper nutrition is as critical as any other aspect of youth hockey training, keep in mind that youth hockey players are not elite pros who require a sophisticated pre-game carb-loading routine and complicated protein/vitamin-supplement regimen. The key is to teach them the three fundamental rules of fuel, hydrate and recover, then making good foods and fluids available.

Because hockey players are superstitious, you may soon have in your household a kid who won’t play a hockey game without first having his peanut butter and banana on whole wheat washed down with an orange Gatorade. If this is the case, you’ve made a great impact as nutritional coach.

Practical Tips for the Time-Deprived Hockey Parent

-Have your youth hockey player eat half her dinner before practice (Fuel), then reheat the rest after practice (Recover).

-Order your child a grilled chicken wrap or sandwich at the drive-thru instead of a burger and fries.

-Make sure your blender is within easy reach for making berry yogurt smoothies or other nutritional, low-fat drinks that kids like.

-Take your hockey player grocery shopping to choose pre- and post-ice snacks and drinks. Get the entire family involved in stocking the pantry and fridge with healthy foods that are easy to prepare or pack for the rink.

-Remember that chocolate milk is an excellent source of fluid, carbs and protein following a practice or game.

-Require youth players to pack their own healthy snack and drink bottle for the rink, stressing that this task is as important as remembering to bring the stick.