Eating right is always important, but athletes, professional or not, should really understand what kinds of foods and nutrients they put into their bodies. Jesse Demers, the Islanders Strength and Conditioning Coach, helps the players by giving them dietary guidelines which help them obtain their playing and fitness goals.
“Understanding quality food is really important,” Demers said. “We try to get our younger guys in the habit of understanding how their food is grown, how it’s processed or unprocessed and what additives are added to make the food taste the way it does.”
While he pushes a healthy lifestyle, Demers understands that the players have different goals for their bodies throughout the year. During the season, each player wants to maximize his performance on the ice, but in the off season one player may want to boost lean muscle mass while another may want to maintain their current build.
“During the season each player typically has a really high carbohydrate intake because carbohydrates provide energy for what their demands are out on the ice,” said Demers. “Complex carbohydrates help the players sustain their energy a little bit. A fast absorbing carb immediately spikes your blood sugar levels, which will give you that quick bout of energy.”
Players can use those energy spikes to their advantage during a game, but “The problem with that is as soon as that bout is over, your body will hit a wall a little bit and slows down,” Demers said. “It’s at such a high peak because your body wants to normalize itself and return to that base level. Basically, your body is going through a rollercoaster of blood sugar.”
That constant feeling of up and down isn’t good for you either, so Demers said it’s all about balance and understanding the quality of the food source. While he doesn’t recommend athletes cut carbohydrates from their diet, Demers said, “In season I don’t mind pasta, although we do stray away from processed foods where the quality of the carb is not there.”
“A lot of guys, especially athletes, are always big on carbohydrate loading,” Demers continued. “But we try to get those sources of carbohydrates from the positive sources like fruit, vegetables, and a whole wheat product.”
Even though carbohydrates are a big part of a hockey player’s diet, once the hockey season is over, each player needs to reevaluate their fitness goals to create a proper off-season nutrition plan.
“For the summer, the biggest thing is to cut out any sugary foods where the source of the sugar came from carbohydrates of the more grainy whole wheat variety. In season you can afford to have more complex carbohydrates because they can be absorbed quickly,” Demers explained.
Although Demers recommends that pasta intake is eliminated or slowed in the summer, he tries to reintroduce players to pasta and similar carbohydrates when their workouts become more intense.
“You hear a lot of guys talk about that the importance of increasing their protein intake during the summer,” Demers said. “For the beginning phases, you have to cut carbs a little bit and increase your protein a little bit to help build some muscle. It’s not that protein equals muscle, but protein helps prepare and help re-build muscle.”
Rebuilding is definitely important to any athlete. For a professional hockey player, there are 82 regular season hockey games where the body becomes tired, stressed and strained. Therefore, each athlete has the summer to get himself prepared for the following season.
“For me, the offseason and diet is really important because you’re so hard on your body that you have to replenish everything. It is really time to build the body, where in season it gets broken down so much,” Demers said. “That being said, in the off season it’s time to explore new foods, find an eating pattern that works for you and refuel the muscles.”