Stories have been told from decades past of players showing up to NHL training camps in September after a summer full of burgers, fries and a lack of movement. Camp was a time to get in shape for the upcoming season.
Nowadays, the artery-clogging entrees are being replaced with things like salmon, quinoa and kale. It may not trigger the brain’s dopamine levels in the same manner that a bucket of fried chicken would – but maybe it can.
Count Nashville Predators prospects among today’s hockey players who are paying more attention than ever before to what nutrients they put into their bodies, and how to do it on their own as well. The Preds received some hands-on instruction during their stay in Nashville for the club’s development camp, when they stopped by Whole Foods for a cooking class, packed full of healthy entrees, sides and even dessert.
The menu included healthy sloppy joes, warm quinoa salad with shrimp and asparagus, farro salad with a slew of veggies and even raspberry lime tarts to finish.
“I love this, it’s my favorite thing to do here,” development camp veteran and forward Zach Stepan said of the cooking class. “I’m a hockey player and I like to eat, so I was happy.”
Stepan and his teammates embarked on preparing a meal from start to finish, splitting up into teams to tackle each item with the help of cooking school staff, led by culinary instructor Karen Vanarsdel.
“One of the reasons why I do what I do is I want to get everybody back into the kitchen and out of the drive-thru,” Vanarsdel said. “By eating at home and cooking at home, they can have healthier food, they know what’s in it, they control all the aspects of it, and for an athlete, especially, it’s super important to know what you’re putting in your body, and how to make it taste great too.”
Stepan has seen firsthand what the nutrition aspects of the game can do for his overall performance. Set to begin his senior season at Minnesota State-Mankato in the fall, Nashville’s fourth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft says he’s added about 10 pounds just from the end of last season, while still remaining fit and healthy, thanks to his work in the kitchen.
“I can speak from personal experience, because my first couple years here, I was a twig; I was super skinny and I didn’t pay attention to the nutrition aspect,” Stepan said. “It’s a big deal, and especially now that I’m getting older, I can’t eat whatever I want and feel good like I used to. It’s getting down to the wire where I have to start taking care of my body, or else it’s not going to do what I want it to do.”
That realization continues to click for hockey players and athletes everywhere, as training and eating properly has become a full-time job, especially in the offseason.
“It used to be where you didn’t have to be the fastest, but the game has gotten so much faster in the last 30 years, and you can’t skate fast if you’re not taking care of your body,” Stepan said. “Your legs aren’t going to work if you don’t feed them right, so I think that’s a big aspect of it.”
Chia seeds and avocados may not be the most craved items in the pantry, but once they’re prepared the right way to not only benefit the body, but taste good too, it’s impossible not to embrace the outcome.
“I want them to feel like they’re empowered; that they have more tools when they step into their kitchen,” Vanarsdel said. “There’s a whole world out there of great food, and if I can inspire them to cook something from scratch once a week, I’m happy. That’s kind of the whole gem of it is to get people cooking again. To get them inspired and to think about what they’re eating, that’s the thing.”