Behind every hockey player’s success, there is a team of people helping them reach their top level of performance to maximize their on-ice results.
Among them are the dieticians and nutritionists that help form eating plans and advise on what these athletes put in their bodies that will allow them to be at peak performance.
Carrie Aprik, along with Shelly Guzman-Johnson, serves as a dietician for the U.S. Women’s National Team. In addition, Aprik consults with U.S. Figure Skating and was one of four Team USA dieticians at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“I was a figure skater growing up, so I was involved in sports,” Aprik said. “My whole family had an interest in sports. My uncle was an athletic trainer and we were around football and team sports and all sorts of things growing up, so I knew that I loved sports and wanted to be involved with it. When I got to college, I started to recognize there was a whole field of nutrition and started to volunteer on campus with the sports teams in our on-campus nutrition program for the athletes, and just fell in love with it and knew that was what I wanted to do.”
The holiday season, particularly with hockey, can be one of the more challenging times for athletes to remain disciplined with their food intake. After all, it’s difficult to pass up some of the delicious food choices that come around this time of year.
Aprik poured some recovery smoothies after a USWNT practice before the 2018 Four Nations Cup
Aprik has developed a strategy for the holidays that focuses on making sure athletes balance foods they enjoy while remaining in top playing shape.
“Around the holidays, it’s got to be a balance of still enjoying their lives, enjoying their traditions and their families, foods that are maybe important to them or nostalgic to them without getting way off track as far as training,” Aprik said. “Hockey especially is in full swing right now and a lot of our national team players are playing professionally or are playing on college teams, so as soon as they get back from this little break they’ve got to be operating at their best. I’m always telling people to take the time, enjoy what you’re eating and move on from it. Have that one meal and really love it. Have that one thing that you really want, enjoy it, feel satisfied, but then don’t bring home leftovers.”
A big part of a dietician’s job, especially when working with a team, is to individualize dietary plans. While there is some general nutritional advice that is healthy for all people, each body is different and each athlete has different preferences.
“I think building relationships with them has been the most important way to figure out what each athlete needs and to build a trust within those athletes and a consistent presence that they want to reach out to you and rely on you for good information that they believe is going to help them,” Aprik said. “So being able to be part of the team for the last four or so years has really helped my role with them evolve and see on an individual level what we can do to help them.”
Individualizing dietary plans can be difficult during hockey season, particularly at big events. That’s why building relationships to garner the trust of the athletes is paramount for Aprik.
“It’s difficult because we’re not with them all the time and we’re just getting together at events, especially getting together at times that are stressful like a tryout camp or World Championships,” Aprik said. “Those aren’t necessarily the best times to be making big changes or big suggestions, but as we’ve built relationships, it’s easier to connect with them outside of those camp times and stay in contact.”
Aprik is responsible for learning what works and what doesn’t work for the entire team and then taking that information and implementing it into individual strategies that each athlete is comfortable with.
“As we’ve gotten to know each other, I know what foods people like,” Aprik said. “I know what should be on each menu. I know what to tell the hotels and the restaurants that make sure we have this item and that item, and I’m lucky that this organization gives me the freedom and the budget I need to go out and buy things that each athlete needs. So we try to provide the best food environment and then get as many things as each individual athlete likes, and then I encourage a lot of feedback. I try to get people to tell me if they don’t like something. That’s really important for me.”
Aprik knows the discipline and the commitment it takes to be a top-level athlete and to be at peak performance. That’s why watching the athletes she works with find success is the most rewarding part of her job.
“It definitely always comes back to the athletes, and watching them succeed is so exciting for us,” Aprik said. “I imagine that’s what it feels like on some level as a parent. You get so much joy out of watching their successes and being a small part of that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.