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Back to Basics: Improve your game by improving diet

by Deborah Francisco

Back to the Basics is's multi-part series focusing on youth hockey skill development. During the coming months, will feature a slate of guest coaches and experts who will share their expertise on skill development.

The hockey world was buzzing about Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene's new physique as the 2012-13 NHL season started on Jan. 19. The 22-year-old implemented a gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free diet along with a new workout regiment during the offseason which helped him slim down and bulk up.

Duchene's new regiment seems to be making a difference in his performance as he currently leads the Avalanche in scoring with 17 points in as many games (6G-11A) compared to last season when he struggled to produce offensively and produced a mere 28 points in a 58-game span. It's no wonder the young forward is finding more success, because nutrition is key to fueling athletic performance.


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According to Dr. Kelly Stott, this is especially true for children as they grow and develop in their athletic ability. Stott has a background as an athletic trainer and has even toured internationally with Team Canada's soccer team as well as trained with a number of different college teams. She received her PhD in Health Education from Columbia University and her doctoral project specialized in childhood obesity and its prevention.

While the gluten-free approach worked for Duchene, Stott explained it's not always recommended because many gluten-free foods are actually higher in calories and carbohydrates, and lower in fiber.

"Not to mention, most gluten-free products are just gluten-free junk food," Stott said.

Instead, Stott recommends a "Clean Eating approach" to nutrition which consists of five basic components:

1. Eating whole grain, lean meats and dairy products

2. Eating 6 small meals a day

3. Eating every 2-3 hours

4. Eating correct portion sizes

5. Avoiding processed foods, refined flours, sugars, and hydrogenated oils

Implementing these basic concepts into an overall healthier lifestyle is the idea behind the "Clean Eating approach." Clean eating is especially helpful to athletes because it provides the body with food sources that are easier to process directly into energy rather than slowing down the body with the digestion process.

Stott has developed a few tips for parents and coaches for implementing clean eating and improved nutrition:

1. Replace sugary cereals with oatmeal and add a spoonful of applesauce or agave nectar for sweetening.

2. Avoid soda and drink more water

3. Switch to using all-natural nut butters

4. Always go for whole grains

5. Avoid fruit juice, or water it down to reduce the sugar content

6. Eat more seeds and nuts

7. Eat meals together

8. Turn off the TV when eating and engage in conversation

9. Never use food as a reward or punishment

10. Eat six small meals a day instead of three big ones.

"This does not mean kids can't have treats," Stott said. "It just means they will be made with yummy healthy ingredients instead."

Implementing healthier eating habits is a lifestyle that can go a long way in a young athlete's career.

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