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Thanksgiving Tournaments: Eat for Peak Performance

By Jayson Hron - USA Hockey, 11/22/17, 8:30AM MST

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Fuel hockey bodies properly for this weekend's busy activities

What’s on the menu? Turkey, stuffing and hockey tournaments.

That’s the plan for thousands of players and parents this weekend, as Thanksgiving shifts hockey season into high gear. But with all that tryptophan in the system, achieving peak performance can be a formidable feat. Here are five tips for getting your fill without feeling like a turkey on the ice afterward:

1. Keep it Light Before the Game

Thanksgiving is full of temptation to tank up, but make sure you give your system plenty of time to digest before you play. Experts recommend only a light snack in the two hours preceding a game or practice.

2. Keep Moving

Eating large portions and falling asleep while watching football is a Thanksgiving tradition, but if you’re looking to perform in the aftermath, it’s important to keep moving. Go for a jog, play two-touch, whatever – just don’t let the post-turkey lethargy linger long. Sticking with your fitness routine, even amidst a non-routine turkey feast, will help your body respond when it’s time to compete.

3. Be Picky

When eating on the road, research restaurant menus online in advance to determine if they have balanced meal options. Also, consider visiting a grocery store instead of a restaurant. Healthy foods from a grocery store (e.g., whole-grain bread, lean meats, spinach, fruits, nuts, cheese sticks) often have more high-quality nutrients, fewer unhealthy nutrients and lower costs.


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4. Hydrate with the Good Stuff

Try to minimize or eliminate soda pop and sports drinks. Drink water or milk instead. It will improve performance and recovery, plus it’s less expensive.

5. Focus on the 4 Rs

Recovery nutrition is one of the areas in which athletes can have the greatest affect on their performance. The goal is to consume something immediately after practices or games. As a guideline, remember the 4 Rs: Rehydrate, Replenish, Repair and Reinforce.

  • Rehydration: Chocolate milk is a great choice, since it not only rehydrates, but also replenishes protein and carbohydrates. According to recent studies, however, it takes two or three cups of chocolate milk to fully fuel recovery, so don’t skimp.
  • Replenish: The focus here is replenishing glycogen stores, especially in tournament settings. Smoothies can be a great choice, especially those that include natural yogurts and seasonally fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Repair: Muscle tissue needs repair and regeneration. Whey protein can be a great tool for this and it’s quickly absorbed. Milk, dry milk, yogurt, and kefir are all good sources of whey protein.
  • Reinforce: Boosting the immune system is important, especially in team settings during cold and flu season. Foods that deliver all-natural antioxidants (e.g., dark-colored grapes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, spinach) are great choices.

According to Alicia Kendig, senior sport dietitian with the United States Olympic Committee, the best advice for Thanksgiving tournament performance is rooted in moderation.

“The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to tournament nutrition is to eat less, more often,” she said. “The holidays are a time to enjoy with family and friends, often around a table of freshly made food, but high-performing athletes need to focus on eating less, and eating more often instead. It’s important to avoid too many heavy meals of rich foods, and instead, come to the rink stocked with small, healthy, prepared snacks to help maintain energy levels throughout the whole game, weekend and tournament.”

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