Armed with a clear directive, the 27-year-old forward set out to modify his offseason training routine.
His agent recommended the BioSteel program, led by veteran strength and conditioning coach Matt Nichol out of Toronto, where Stewart spends his summers.
“Not saying what I was doing before was wrong or bad, but I needed a new approach,” he said. “If you do the same thing, the stigma is still there that you might come in the same way.”
Listed at 6’3”, 230 pounds, Stewart said it was important to invest in his body before anything else in order to improve his physical fitness.
“The first day, [Nichol] wrote down what my goals were,” Stewart said. “He said if I showed up every day and put the work in, I’d see results.”
Despite the promise, Stewart said he was initially skeptical about the workout plans that included little cardio work: just three-minute intervals on the bike followed by workouts. He thought that in order to lose the weight he wanted, heavy cardio was necessary.
“[Nichol] said, ‘Just do what I want, and afterward when we’re done, you can go run yourself into the ground if you want. But I’ve been doing this for a long time, so just trust me,’” Stewart said.
So trust Nichol he did. A nutritionist coached Stewart on what he should eat and when he should eat it. Meals were delivered to the gym. He cut out alcohol consumption for eight weeks.
Part of the BioSteel program, Stewart had access to masseuses, acupunctures, chiropractors, supplements and more – a sort of one-stop-shop for strength and conditioning. He would spend four to five hours at the gym each morning, and pound by pound, the results trickled in.
“It’s a process,” Stewart said. “It’s 100 percent commitment, but the results show.”
The LaSalle, Que., native shed 10 pounds over the summer and trimmed his body fat from 17 percent to 11 percent.
“It was definitely hard, but it was just smart,” he said. “As hard as we were working, we got 10 days off in the middle of the summer – which I’ve never done – and it really helped repair the body coming back.”
Wrapping up Stewart’s BioSteel summer was a week-long camp that featured a number of NHL players, including his brother, Chris.
“When you get 34 NHLers under one roof, it’s definitely going to be intense,” he said. “We had some competitions, sprints and the tournament at the end where we played four-on-four. It was definitely intense but fun at the same time. It’s helped us all get ready for camp.”
And the process doesn’t end there.
“I’m still trying to cut down on the carbs after a certain time and all that. It was more of a lifestyle change,” Stewart said. “I learned a lot about my body and what I can and can’t eat, and it’s definitely something that’s helping for sure.”
Stewart signed a two-year contract with Carolina in the summer of 2011 after coming off a breakout season with Atlanta in which he compiled a career-best 39 points (14g, 25a).
“I had a fairly good season, but I think that was just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “I think I can do better and play better.”
But last season was, in his own words, up and down for Stewart. He was waived in February. His average ice time per game dipped from nearly 15 minutes in 2010-11 to just 8:07, as he was relegated to fourth-line wing. He saw sporadic time on the power play, recording two assists on the man-advantage. His point total was shaved in half, as he recorded nine goals and 11 assists (20 points).
The desire to have a bounce-back season fueled Stewart’s offseason training objectives.
“You could say I played eight minutes a night and still put up 20 points, that could be considered success,” he said. “But that’s not my game. I want to be a guy that can play in all situations, in a physical role and fight here and there.”
Now he’s prepared to prove himself on the ice.
“Kirk (Muller) was adamant that it’s not about the points. It’s about playing hard every shift, being an impact player and doing what it takes to help the team,” he said. “I did my part, so I just want to get the opportunity now. Whether that’s in a couple of weeks or a month, I’m going to stay on top of the ball and be ready for the opportunity.”