Brooks Orpik is an exemplary hockey player in so many ways – the way he plays, the way he competes, the way he leads.
But there is a less obvious area of being a professional athlete where Orpik is the example, and that is what he eats, how he trains and how he takes care of himself to keep excelling at the highest level of hockey at age 33.
“He is extremely cognizant of what he eats, and how he works out,” said strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar. “He knows and understands the importance of eating healthy and clean. He also understands the importance of keeping his body in the best shape possible to be at the top of his game.”
The most impressive part of Orpik’s commitment to fitness is his diet. When asked what his favorite dessert is last year for a videoboard segment, Orpik responded, “Greek yogurt and berries.” Greek yogurt and berries as an indulgence?! That sounds more like punishment.
But that’s just one example of just how seriously Orpik takes nutrition, health and fitness.
“Brooks is a leader in that regard,” Kadar said. “It isn't always easy to eat clean and healthy, but his willpower certainly allows him to stick to it. His professionalism and work ethic can't help but wear off on younger players.”
Orpik is the first to say that he hasn’t always been this dedicated. Back when he was attending Boston College his goal – like most teenaged athletes trying to physically mature as fast as possible – was to gain weight and build as much strength as possible.
“By no means am I perfect. I remember my college days, it was pizza, chicken wings and beer all the time,” said Orpik, who weighed around 230-240 pounds during that time and is now down to a trim 219. “I haven’t always been this way, it’s definitely something I kind of learned on the go.”
Orpik’s approach drastically changed six years ago when veteran Gary Roberts came to Pittsburgh at the 2007 trade deadline. Roberts is a noted health nut who has built his passion into a post-playing career of training NHL athletes, with Penguins winger James Neal being one of his clients.
Roberts implemented a lot of healthy habits in the Penguins locker room and helped educate the team on clean living. His teachings changed everything for Orpik.
“As soon as he got here, he wasn’t worried about stepping on anyone’s toes,” Orpik said. “All the (unhealthy food) we had on the plane, he got rid of. All the (unhealthy food) at the pregame meals, he got rid of. And some guys didn’t like it at first. But then I think once they started seeing the difference in how they felt, they were like wow, this really is a huge difference and guys kind of buy into it.
“Gary Roberts taught me a lot about it and I’ve learned from a couple other guys; and then obviously you can educate yourself if you want to read about stuff. Gary got me into it and I think you kind of learn as you go that if you want to keep playing and you want to play longer, you’ve got to pay more attention to that stuff.”
Orpik certainly bought in. And for him, the teachings and what he’s learned have become a way of life, not just something he follows during the season.
In fact, Orpik said it’s actually easier for him to maintain his lifestyle during the offseason, as he and his wife Erin live on an organic farm 20 miles south of Boston, called Holly Hill Farm.
“We’re lucky in the summer,” he said. “We get kind of spoiled there. We get produce and eggs and meat all the time. So we get spoiled in the summer and then we come back (to Pittsburgh) and we try to find different places we can go here and get stuff.”
Orpik takes his health and training seriously. And just like Roberts did for him, Orpik hopes his teammates will learn from his example.
“There’s some guys like Olli (Maatta), where if I can get through to him early, maybe it helps him out,” Orpik said. “I wish someone had told me that earlier.
“It’s a little extreme for some people, but there’s some people who I know like Tanner (Glass) and Joey Vitale who are really interested in it. You just try to share some of the knowledge that you learn and I think it’s almost your duty to do it because somebody else did it for you.”