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Powerful Post-Game Plates

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.

Powerful Post-Game Plates

Just like your family’s dinner table may be the heartbeat of your house, uniting each other over daily meals, so too is our training table. Where food is the connection to nourish children, cultivate health, imbed traditions or celebrate important events, it is also the sustenance to fuel the career of an elite athlete, rebuild a body stronger, replenish depleted muscles and reinvigorate profound fatigue. The rigorous schedule of training and travel requires an unwavering dedication to the smallest details. This includes optimizing meals and snacks. When the Magic Man, Pavel Datsyuk, has given his all, what food does he choose to put on his plate to help him prepare for the next day?

Successful professional hockey players eat, drink, sleep and train with purpose. In the arena of sports nutrition, significant attention is given to pre-game meals when instead, the arguably most vital meal may be after the game. In sport, turning off the catabolic demands of an elite hockey player's body is similar to turning off a light switch. Muscle recovery begins the minute our team swallows the nutritious smoothies made by our Strength and Conditioning Coach, Mike Kadar. This special smoothie allows for immediate muscle repair and buys our players the time they need for their post-game soaks and massages. The timing of this recovery smoothie becomes paramount during back-to-back games. Most elite athletes are not immediately hungry after their games due to the appetite-blunting effects of extreme exercise. But they understand how imperative the recovery meal is to rebuilding stronger muscles, resulting in performance gains.

Before each game, Chef John Borso and I collaborate on the post-game menu, which is then displayed for the team to see. The players depend on this crucial recovery meal to meet their macronutrient needs, which includes healthy fats like avocados, powerful proteins like wild Alaskan salmon, high fiber and complex carbohydrates like beans, brown rice or quinoa. In addition, this meal must be brimming with micronutrients as well. Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, polyphenols and adaptogens found in nutrient-dense food, which helps increase the body’s response to the damage of oxidative stress from playing professional hockey. The players have a keen understanding of a powerful post-game plate but they also appreciate it when the food is both nourishing and delicious. But just like your family or mine, what tastes great to one may not be appetizing to another. The Red Wings family has players from six different countries with a variety of taste buds. I have learned that while our American players enjoy cilantro in their guacamole, their Swedish teammates do not. Our Russian players gravitate toward dried fruits, which are a staple in their country while the Canadians prefer fresh fruit. Many European players did not grow up on peanut butter, nor can you find it in their hometowns. Appealing to taste preferences, calorie needs and food intolerances while being sensitive to cultural comfort food is an exercise in menu creativity. The team often eats breakfast, lunch, post-game dinner, meals on the airplane and on the road together. And like a family, this time spent together is treasured.

Feeding the team is just a small part of sport performance but we know a great meal can provide the energy and vibrancy to make a difference. Nutrients can also impact oxygen delivery to the muscles and provide the building blocks for hormone production. Our philosophy is to fuel sport with food first. You cannot simply add supplements to make up for a poor diet. If we have a player who doesn’t enjoy his veggies, then we provide a green smoothie. Chef Borso sources the best whole foods from local suppliers and creates simple recipes that are exceptionally rich in flavor. These ingredients boast the deep pigments of the rainbow, healing minerals, delicious textures and wonderful aromas. We strive to provide meals that are comprised of at least 90% nutritious, functional ingredients while avoiding processed ingredients with little nutritional value. This does not mean the team does not enjoy an occasional sweet treat. We just try to provide sweet treats that have natural flavors like dark chocolate, pureed figs, dried cherries, bananas and apples. For example, ice cream made from frozen, pureed bananas instead of sugar and cream is incredibly tasty and nutritious! One-ingredient ice cream, who knew?

Like Chef Borso, I love to cook. I have a voracious appetite for reading cookbooks from cover to cover. My journals and magazines are dog-eared next to my bed to highlight important ingredients or recipes. Part of my night-time routine is recipe analysis which allows me to dream of the next great chia seed smoothie recipe. I enjoy listening to foodie podcasts like The Splendid Table and Food Sleuth Radio. I’m hours deep into the new Netflix series called Cooked by Michael Pollan. Other favorites to stream include Food Inc, Forks over Knives, Fed Up, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Fast Food Nation, and Vanishing of the Bees. I’m inspired by the works of true food pioneers like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, NYU professor Marion Nestle, Stephen Ritz of the Green Machine and Restraunteur Danny Meyer. Enjoy their TED talks here:

One of my favorite free recipe resources is from the United States Olympics. At this link, you will find numerous fact sheets on sports-nutrition topics and recipes to help fuel your day. Our team enjoys many of these recipes prepared by our chef.

So what exactly does Pavel Datsyuk like to eat after a game? Check out our next post-game menu.

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