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Fuel your game like the pros

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings dietitian Lisa McDowell has a passion for fresh, functional food and enjoys sharing her knowledge with athletes to improve performance. McDowell applies the science behind sports nutrition and translates rigorous scientific research to food and meal planning for the Red Wings. Read more in this month's Priority Health Wellness Blog below. TO VISIT THE PRIORITY HEALTH MONTHLY DIGITAL MAGAZINE, CLICK HERE.

Fuel Your Game Like The Pros

We all want to be the best version of ourselves. Great nutrition, hydration and recovery are essential to competing at the highest level. I am often asked what “little things” make the biggest impact in sports performance. After training, talent and mental resiliency, significant gains are realized with adequate sleep, great hydration, eating a whole-foods diet at the proper time, paying attention to recovery and correcting any deficiencies in your blood. One recommendation I always like to share is to double your current intake of fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs to get the biggest benefit for fighting inflammation and fueling muscle demands. These variables contribute to the difference between winning and losing, especially when players are relying on speed and endurance at the end of a game. Fueling sport can seem complex, but take a look and learn about fundamental basics and a great hydration/sweat rate calculation example from our goaltender, Jimmy Howard.



1. Never skip meals. You need steady calories for energy, recovery, muscle building and optimal performance. Many athletes skip breakfast. This is detrimental to the high demands of a rigorous schedule when you are constantly depleting glycogen stores during training.

2. Build your plate according to your training output. Easy training days should be lighter in calories. Half your plate should be fruits and veggies with the other half divided between quality protein and complex carbohydrates.

3. Eat food that helps to fuel sport by reducing inflammation and speeding up recovery. Super foods include berries, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, vegetables, tea, mushrooms, cherries, dark chocolate, ginger, turmeric, oatmeal, greens (spinach, kale, arugula), Greek yogurt, flax seed, fish, olive oil, avocado, sweet potatoes, pineapple, onions, garlic, etc. Eat these daily!

4. Eat the Rainbow – 5-10 fruits/veggies per day with at least 5 different colors. Order sides of sautéed greens, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, onions when eating out. Make sure you get a red, green, white, brown, yellow, orange, purple and black serving each day.

5. Try to eat a full meal within an hour of finishing your practice or game.

6. Consume healthy fats (salad dressing, nuts, olive oil, avocado) with vegetables to increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

7. Purchase protein sources that are void of hormones, antibiotics, artificial colors/flavors or arsenic added.

8. Limit junk calories to less than 10% of daily total calories. This includes ice cream, soda, fast food, sweet treats, chips, etc. Remember, you are what you eat and what you drink. You feel most alive when the food you eat was alive and not processed to the point of losing the essential nutrients.

Jimmy loses 6lbs during a game


1. Monitor your morning urine color, which should be the color of pale lemonade. Darker urine color means you are dehydrated. Remember, you are waking up 3% dehydrated which decreases your performance by 30%.

2. Drink at least 2 liters of water or other fluids during the day to prepare for your training. This is in addition to recovery fluids.

3. Weigh yourself at least once before and after a game or practice. The amount lost will help you calculate sweat rate.

4. Know your sweat rate by understanding the amount of weight lost and amount of fluid consumed. Performance suffers 11% with just a 1% fluid deficit. Drink to thirst!

5. 1 kilogram lost = 1-1.5 liters of fluid to drink or 1 pound lost = 16-24 ounces of fluid needed to replace.

6. During a game or race, you can typically absorb only 40-60% of fluids lost.

7. You also lose 1 gram of sodium in one liter of sweat so remember to eat a salty snack. Top off fluids two hours pre-game and drink another 240 milliliters right before the game or race.

8. See how our goaltender, Jimmy Howard, calculates his sweat rate loss.

Calculations based on Jimmy’s weight of 200 pounds

6 pounds lost in a game, divided by 200 pounds = 3% body fluid loss WITH FLUIDS

6 pounds (96 ounces) lost requires 96-144 ounces (about one gallon or 3.7 liters) of fluid and electrolyte replacement.

Remember to add fluids consumed during the game to the amount of weight loss. For example, Jimmy tries to drink 32 ounces or 1 liter during the game. So, his sweat rate would be: 96 ounces of weight loss + 32 ounces fluid consumed = 128 ounces or 8 pounds per game.

Jimmy needs 128-192 ounces or 4.5-5.5 liters for adequate rehydration.

Glycogen Stores:

1. You will have the most success in your sport if you come to training and games well hydrated and well fueled.

2. Muscle glycogen is the main fuel used by the body during high intensity exercise. A trained athlete is able to use fat stores for fuel longer with good blood sugar control. This is called metabolic efficiency and is the difference in power and energy.

3. A trained athlete can last 2-3 hours before glycogen stores are depleted. Remember when you wake up, your stores are 30-40% depleted. Do not skip meals, especially breakfast. BREAK THE FAST!

4. An elite adult athlete has 70,000 calories of fuel stored as fat and only 2,000 calories stored as glycogen. The muscles, liver and brain all need glucose for energy. A deficit in glycogen decreases performance.

5. Choose super complex-carbs (clean fuel) for sustained energy stores (oatmeal, beans, rice, fruit, vegetables, farro, ancient grains, quinoa, etc.).

6. Repletion requires immediate attention. You should consume a replacement beverage or snack immediately post-game/practice within 10 minutes of coming off the ice or finishing a hard workout.

7. Your replacement meal or drink should contain a carb-to-pro ratio of 3-to-1 (a recovery shake is fine). A meal should be eaten within 45-60 minutes post-exercise (should include a good source of protein, healthy fats and complex carbs). This turns off catabolism (protein breakdown) faster.

8. The meal eaten the night before the game or race is the most critical for maximizing muscle glycogen. Pay attention to this important detail. Never skip meals the day of a game. Top off glycogen two hours before a game.


1. Do not use supplements without discussing with a sports RD or physician. Many are dangerous and contain steroids or steroid pre-cursors which are harmful.

2. Ask your physician to check your bloodwork for any abnormalities. Only take supplements that are necessary. Many supplements have been linked with harm, and few show evidence of performance advantages.

3. Check your Vitamin D level. This is the sunshine vitamin that is often low in people who live in Michigan. If you take a Vitamin D supplement, make sure it is in the form of D3.

4. If you choose to use any type of supplement, only select those with NSF certification. Check this site for approved products:

5. For more information, see Team USA resources and fact sheets. Handouts explaining supplement use, iron and Vitamin D are available here:

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