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Goalies combat dehydration with pickle juice, mustard packs during games

Heat, heavy equipment reasons why they're losing more than 10 pounds per night

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

When it comes to losing weight quickly, playing goalie in the NHL is a lot more effective than any crash diet. The problem is the goalies, unlike dieters, aren't looking to quickly shed pounds.

Between the heat of television lights, layers of padded protection and rarely leaving the ice except for between periods, goalies can lose 10 or more pounds of sweat during a game.

That might be appealing if they're trying to fit into an old suit, but goalies go to great lengths to avoid excessive sweat loss. Sports drinks, IV drips, pickle juice and mustard packs are some of the tools enlisted in the war against muscle cramps that often accompany dehydration issues.

"Staying hydrated is a big deal," Carolina Hurricanes goalie James Reimer said. "Sometimes I weigh myself before games, and you're always losing 8-10 pounds for sure during the game. I'm a heavy sweater, so even in practice I will lose up to 8-9 pounds. My body runs hot and I sweat a ton. That's just how I roll, but obviously the equipment doesn't help either. When you're under all this gear, it's like you're playing in the sauna."

A full bag of goalie equipment weighs about 50 pounds, and that's when it's dry. It's heavier when it is soaked with sweat and melting ice. Now imagine wearing all that equipment and competing for an entire game.

"Cramping was an issue for me before when I first came in the League," Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton said. "I would always cramp. It was like a sure thing. My calves, definitely, blocker hand would always be bad too. Now it's really good. I've worked really hard at it."

Video: ARI@BUF: Hutton kicks out pad to rob Stepan in tight

Hutton learned the importance of a hydration plan quickly after joining the Nashville Predators for the 2013-14 season.

Hutton based preparations off lessons the Predators learned from goalie Dan Ellis, who was losing up to 13 pounds of sweat during games. Ellis left Nashville after the 2009-10 season and retired in 2015 after two seasons with the Florida Panthers.

Pedialyte, an electrolyte drink marketed to children, and electrolyte packets and pills were part of the plan. He stayed away from certain foods and learned protocols to better manage his equipment during intermissions and even TV timeouts during games.

"A helmet is like putting the top on a kettle so when I come to the bench on TV timeouts I take off my helmet and towel," Hutton said. "You see the steam coming off, so it helps."

Hutton takes his chest protector off between periods and places it on a drying rack. He changes into a dry undershirt and, on busy nights, will also wipe off with an "ice towel."

"Depending on how the period goes, sometimes it's a quiet night, but for the most part it's usually pretty busy in this new NHL," Hutton said. "Everybody's buzzing in your zone all the time, so it's something you have to be aware of, and all those things definitely help."

Despite those preparations, Hutton can lose 7-8 pounds a game.

Detroit Red Wings veteran Jimmy Howard said he typically loses 10-11 pounds in a game, adding the team has sweat analysis performed at the beginning of each season.

"Gatorade comes in and they take their body measurements before practice and then after, seeing how much water we lose, and we wear the sweat bands on our foreheads and everything like that to measure it," Howard said. "So I found out early on in my career that I'm a heavy sweater, so for me it's important to hydrate, and it's not just the day of the game.

"It has to start a couple of days before a game. If you fall behind hydrating, it's too late. There's plenty of products that can help with dehydration and cramping and sweat loss. I found my recipe."

Video: DET@SJS: Howard makes terrific glove save on Couture

That recipe once included pickle juice, which was shown to be better than water at reducing muscle cramps in a 2010 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

"Just one shot glass of it after the first and second period," Howard said. "It seems to help."

So too does drinking water. A lot of it.

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby told the Washington Post in 2016 he can lose 10-13 pounds during a game despite drinking 16-17 liters of liquid on a game day.

Frederik Andersen doesn't go to that extreme, but the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie does drink between 6-8 liters of water on a game day to help avoid dehydration.

No wonder a lot of NHL goalies reach for the water bottle on the back of their net after every whistle.

"We play on the ice, which is cold, but the arenas are usually pretty hot, and as a goalie you're wearing gear that keeps the heat in," Andersen said, "So you better be really conscious about how much water, not just during the game but throughout the day, and that starts from the second I wake up to when I go to bed at night on the game day."

Such vigilance won't keep a goalie from losing the weight. It just helps them manage how much and for how long.

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