It’s been said that you are what you eat. If that’s the case, Eric Nystrom should be a lean, mean, forechecking, penalty-killing machine. Clearly, the adage is true in this instance.
Nystrom’s ability to perform at such a high level against the greatest hockey players in the world comes in large part to his passion for what he’s putting into his body.
At 32 years of age, the 10-year NHL veteran knows he’s not getting any younger. Nystrom has always had a love for cooking, but what he cooks and eats is a topic that the winger could admittedly discuss for days. But even a professional athlete has to slip up every once in awhile.
“The guys gave me hard time because in New York I had to get a bagel or a slice of pizza,” Nystrom said of straying away from his usual diet on a recent road trip. “You have to make a good decision when you can and start with the game plan.”
More often than not, Nystrom’s decision-making when it comes to food is perhaps tops on the team, if not one of the best in the League.
Eating on a philosophy he describes as an anti-inflammatory diet, Nystrom believes in wholesome, full-fat cooking, providing maximum amounts of energy to exert when he’s on the ice.
“As an athlete, you want to have as little inflammation as possible, whether that be in your organs or your joints,” Nystrom said. “That’s kind of where I started, but that’s the mindset behind it.
“I’m really strict, but it’s still great food. It’s not like I’m eating plain chicken breasts; it’s really flavorful, full-fat food and that’s where all the energy comes from, and I’ve been feeling great.”
Nystrom, who usually skates on Nashville’s fourth line, is often relied upon to shut down the opposition’s top players, in addition to killing penalties and providing that spark of energy when needed. In order to play that role, the proper fuel is needed.
“Especially in our schedule, you want to be putting the right things in your body and for the type of player I am, you need to be energetic and you need to have that physical edge,” Nystrom said. “What you put in your body is something that’s huge; it’s almost like a science experiment.”
So what are the elements for the lab report on a game day?
Nystrom starts with some grass-fed beef or ground bison in the morning, along with sautéed spinach and three over-easy eggs. The eggs come from a farmer in Memphis who drives to Nashville to deliver them, just one of Nystrom’s carefully selected sources.
“I cook the eggs over easy; you don’t want to cook the yolk too much because that denatures the protein in the yolk,” Nystrom said. “The yolk is loaded with omega threes which are anti-inflammatory. I cook them in coconut oil, which has tons of health benefits.”
After returning home from the morning skate, it’s time for the large pregame meal, consisting of white rice mixed with grass-fed butter and turmeric, a spice with high anti-inflammatory qualities. That gets paired with chicken thighs and topped with avocado, two more fatty foods with loads of nutrients.
Prior to the opening faceoff, oatmeal is mixed with almond butter and grass-fed butter before being topped with some berries for the final boost of energy for that night’s contest.
Nystrom says it’s undoubtedly trickier to keep up with the habits on the road, but he still makes an effort any way he can.
“I started bringing cans of wild Alaskan salmon and some nuts and stuff and mixing that with a salad on the plane,” Nystrom said. “It’s tough to do, but I really am trying to focus on staying on that point the whole season and seeing what the result is at the end.”
The results to this point have been encouraging to say the least. Nystrom has been influenced by different trainers over the years in regard to his diet and eating healthy, something that’s become an addiction of sorts for the Syosset, N.Y., native.
“I’ve really made it a goal to stay with it and focus on having good nutrition year-round and see how it affects my performance on the ice,” Nystrom said. “It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re eating clean and eating healthy and your energy level is sustained.”
While he admits that his teammates have yet to catch on at the same level, Nystrom will cook for his fellow Nashville Predators from time to time, everything clean and organic.
Depriving himself is the last way Nystrom would describe his lifestyle in the kitchen. He still appreciates a good burger, just as long as the beef is grass fed, of course.
There’s no way to know how much longer Nystrom’s full-time gig will be playing in the NHLr, but he’s certainly doing his best to keep it going as long as possible. And when it does eventually come to an end, perhaps the next generation of players will come calling on how to navigate their way through the kitchen.
There wouldn’t be any lack of passion on the other end.
“I love cooking – that’s why it all goes together,” Nystrom said. “I figure if I’m cooking every single meal, I want it to be made with super high-quality ingredients. I want it to be anti-inflammatory, I want it to be healthy and I want it to help my career. Plus, I want to look better when I’m 50 or 60 years old. That’s still to be determined, but my dad looks pretty good at that age.”