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An Olympic Athlete's Diet: Peak Performance Through Proper Nutrition

Angela RuggieroOne of the most common questions that I get as an Olympic athlete is: what do you eat to get ready for the big game? I am always quick to reference the key food groups that can help you develop good skating muscles, while at the same time keeping you lean and fit.

Lean protein is key

First of all, any hockey player cannot ignore the demands hockey places on the body. Hockey players play a game that is both anaerobic and aerobic. In other words, we have to be able to sprint several times a game for short bursts (think 30-45 second shifts) and do it over the course of a long period of time (e.g. a 60 minute game).

In order to help the body build the required skating muscles, hockey players need to eat lean sources of protein, such as chicken, turkey, and fish. Another way to get extra lean protein (less than 3% fat) is through protein supplements. I usually take a scoop of whey protein (25 grams of protein per serving with no fat) and mix it with a cup of orange juice and some water for a yummy orange Julius. I try to have a bit of protein with every meal. This allows my body to not only build muscle, but to also feel satiated so that 2 hours after a meal my stomach still feels full. One of my favorite types of protein is omega-3 egg whites. I love to make omelets for breakfast and throw a few veggies into the pan as well.

Eat your vegetables!

Speaking of vegetables, eating them is important for any athlete. Indeed, if there is one food that I always tell kids they can never eat enough of, it is vegetables. Vegetables:

  • Are integral to any athlete's diet because they are a lean source of fiber, nutrients, and calories which can help you stay trim and full at the same time;
  • Are a simple form of carbohydrate that are great for you and fill you up;
  • Are important sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals that are great for anyone.
  • Can be blended into your diet naturally and at every meal, such as:
    • in tossed or 3-bean salads
    • as side dishes (steamed or stir fry veggies)
    • as a beverage (100% vegetable juice), or
    • as snacks (I like to munch on whole carrots with hummus).

 

Avoid too many complex carbs

Too many complex carbohydrates can hurt peak performance. When I was a kid I used to carbo load (which in my case was to eat huge plates of pasta) before games. Now, I limit my complex carbohydrates to the days that I am active. Don't get me wrong, your body needs carbs, especially for the aerobic aspect of hockey. I just advise limiting the number of complex carbs to the days when you are the most active. If you don't your body will store the unused carbs as fat. Good complex carbs can come from a variety of sources, such as whole grain breads and pastas, unbleached flours, and quinoa.

Don't forget the fat

Fat is necessary for the body to function, but try to limit the amount of trans and saturated fat sources. Some sources of good fat are:

  • extra virgin olive oil (for salads and cooking),
  • raw almond or walnuts (a handful for a snack),
  • avocados (for salads or guacamole).

It is important to get enough fat, but remember it has to be the unsaturated.

Stay hydrated!

Finally, if you are looking for peak performance, make sure you are hydrated! I always carry a water bottle with me, filled with either green tea or water to help me stay hydrated. Make it easy to drink water by carrying water bottles in the car or in your hockey bag. I try to avoid all drinks that can add extra calories to my diet such as soda, juices, and coffee. I do love a cup of coffee in the morning, but I limit it to one serving and I go light on the sugar and milk. Drinking lots of water will help you flush your system and allow your muscles to work properly throughout the game so that you never cramp up.

So, remember: eat lean protein, lots of veggies, limit the complex carbs and saturated fats, and always drink lots of fluids! I follow these rules and eat around 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day to help me compete against the best players in the world and achieve peak performance through proper nutrition.


Revised August 31, 2011

 

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