A guide to nutrition in hockey

According to Tribesports, field hockey players travel more than athletes in almost any other sport, chasing and defending the ball for nearly a 10km during play. The game has no restrictions on substitutions and the matches have become shorter (60 minutes consisting of 15 min quarters), due to which the game has become a lot faster and the players need to have a lot more endurance, strength, speed and agility. Therefore, hockey players will use both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Players are also required to think tactically, have fast reaction time and display tactical and technical ball movement skills for the duration of the game.

Because of these characteristics, energy demands can be high, particularly in tournament settings where several games may be played over a number of days. There is the potential for high levels of fluid loss and injuries making nutrition and hydration strategies essential for optimising performance of players at all levels.

How much energy should a player consume? 

Energy deficiencies are one of the more prominent reasons for injuries in athletes and hockey is an especially intense and physically demanding sport. Therefore, hockey players need to make sure they consume enough energy to optimise performance and are at their best during games. You also need to be aware of energy intake to be able to ensure appropriate body composition.

Every player has a different energy requirements that changes with their age, sex, and training schedule. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) of a person is the amount of energy they require to keep their body functioning at rest. BMR is also known as your body’s metabolism; therefore, any increase to your metabolic rate (such as exercise) will increase your BMR. There are apps and sites on the internet that give you a rough idea of your energy requirements but a Sports Dietitian will be able to work with you to provide a more individual assessment of your intake and requirements. Once you’ve determined your BMR, you can begin to monitor the energy you consume to ensure you are meeting your needs.

Where should you get energy from?

Now that you know how much energy you need to consume, let’s talk about where to get that energy from.  A well-balanced healthy diet means you need to consume a percent of your energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. That percentage of energy changes depending on many factors. For example, the more you train, the more energy you need, the more carbohydrates you have to eat to top up the glycogen reserves. The food you eat before the training sessions and games will play a huge role in maintaining blood glucose levels as well as enhancing physical and mental performance. The rough values are 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates, 15-25% from protein and 20-35% from fats, the amount of energy delivered by the nutrients in food is as follows:

Carbohydrates - 16.7 kilojoules per gram
Protein - 16.7 kilojoules per gram
Fat - 37.7 kilojoules per gram
Alcohol - 29.3 kilojoules per gram

These figures represent the average amount of energy released from these nutrients

It is highly be recommended to consult a sports dietician for more accurate values specific to you.

 Good and bad energy

Due to the high intensity, physically demanding nature of the sport, hockey players need a nutrient rich diet to optimise performance at training and promote recovery between sessions. A hockey player’s diet should be based around lean proteins for muscle repair and recovery and appropriately timed carbohydrate for fuel. In addition, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and dairy foods provide important vitamins and minerals, along with some healthy fats.

Now you know how many carbohydrates, proteins and fats you need to consume but one thing you should remember is that not all energy sources are the same, there are different types of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Not all carbohydrates and fats are good for you and the same applies to the sources of proteins. There are some sources of proteins that are going to be healthier than the other ones.

Let’s talk about carbohydrates first. Good carbohydrates are the complex carbohydrates like wholegrain, brown rice etc. They take a little longer to digest and give you a longer release of energy. Complex carbs are better for you than simple carbohydrates (sugars) which have been linked with an increased risk of diseases and poor sustained energy levels.

With fats, there are good and bad forms of fats. The unsaturated fats are better for your body than the saturated ones and the trans-unsaturated ones. One way to tell if the fat is good for you or not is that unsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil are generally liquid at room temperature and the saturated fats like cheese, butter etc are solid at room temperature.

Fluid Requirements

Due to the high intensity, stop/start style of the matches, sweat rates can be high. To maintain good hydration levels, you should drink fluids before, during and after a hockey match even if you don’t feel very thirsty.

In most situations, water is sufficient to replace fluid losses, however, you need to remember it’s not just water you lose when you sweat. You lose nutrients too so you should try something like an electrolyte drink or a bit of cordial in your water to get the lost carbohydrates back during the game but the focus should be on water intake for hydration. Sports drinks can also be a good option as they provide carbohydrates to fuel the body along with the required fluid and electrolytes, but should be used appropriately.

Other tips

  • Supplements In most cases, players can meet their nutrition and protein needs from carefully planned and timed meals and snacks without supplements. Those wishing to use supplements should seek the advice of a Sports Dietitian to ensure the right type, doses and timing of supplement is used.
  • Body composition Sometimes people set goals like losing fat and bulking up. The thing you should remember is that it is not possible to do two thing together. A good idea would be to just maintain a good balanced diet and eat to perform at the highest level. Players wishing to make a major change to their body composition (for example, to increase muscle or decrease fat levels) should work closely with an Accredited Sports Dietitian for the best results.

"An Accreditation Sports Dietitian was consulted for the content in this article but should be considered general advice only and may not suit your circumstances. Before modifying your diet, consult an Accredited Sports Dietitian"



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