PREPARE! To Have Your Best Tournament Ever

The most common question I get asked at every tournament I attend is “Hey coach, I really want to have a good tournament…what should I eat before my games to make sure I have a lot of energy and play well?”

Unlocking The Key To Performance

This question stems from a common misconception among young athletes, their parents and sometimes even their coaches that performance nutrition doesn’t matter for youth athletes and as long as they have a good breakfast and eat “healthy food” on game day they’ll be ready to play. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth and here’s why. Attending a tournament often means traveling long distances, playing multiple games in a single day and playing on back to back days. These factors put a tremendous strain on an athlete’s ability to recover—and let’s be very clear—recovery is the key to performance! Your ability to fully recover and refuel your body between each game will dictate both the level and consistency of your performance throughout the tournament. Fueling your body for optimal performance and recovery requires planning and attention to detail that starts a minimum of the week before the tournament, not the morning of the first game. 

So Much More Than Just Game Day

Let’s start by thinking about your upcoming tournament as Tournament Week, and not just the two or three days that games are actually taking place. If you’re not already following a performance nutrition program (you should be if your goal is to be an elite athlete), you need to start taking your nutrition seriously a minimum of four to five days before your first game. Simply eating clean is not a sound strategy for achieving peak athletic performance. Just because you consume food, even healthy food, does not mean your body is optimally fueled. I’m not going to bore you with the biochemistry that goes into a properly designed performance nutrition program but in general terms, nutrient ratios, quantity, timing, digestion, assimilation and hydration are just a few of the things that must be considered when creating a successful tournament nutrition strategy. 

Make Sure You Top Off Your Tank

When it comes to macro nutrients, hockey players require protein (amino acids) for muscle recovery, carbohydrates (glucose and glycogen) for nervous system and muscle energy and fats for cellular repair and hormone regulation. Because of the intensity and speed of the game, a player’s preferred and most efficient energy source comes from carbohydrates in the form of stored muscle glycogen. The goal for your nutrition for the four to five days leading up to your tournament should be to have your muscles completely repaired and topped off with muscle glycogen. Once game day arrives your focus will narrow and you’ll adjust your nutrient ratios and timing based on your actual game schedule with the goal being to expedite recovery and maintain consistent energy levels and performance throughout each game as well as from game to game.  

Bottoms Up

Hydration is so important to your performance, I had to give it its own section. Water plays a critical role in all bodily functions. From basic digestion to more complex functions like glycogen transport, protein synthesis and beyond—without proper hydration and electrolyte balance it’s impossible to reach optimal performance. If you feel thirsty, you’re already well on your way to dehydration. As little as a 2% loss in body water can have adverse effects on a hockey athlete. Between a 2% and 5% loss in body water you’ll likely experience increased heart rate, reduced muscle endurance, reduced muscle strength, reduced motor skills and reduced mental capacity–all things critical to hockey performance. A general rule for staying hydrated is your body weight divided by 2 = your daily intake in ounces. Being fully hydrated before you ever arrive at the tournament is critical, once you become dehydrated it becomes impossible to catch up until it’s too late. When it comes to staying hydrated during a game, you should be drinking anywhere from 6-12 oz of water for every 15-20 minutes. 

Preparing For Battle

In the week leading up to the tournament, your focus should be on preparing your body for the battle of 5 or 6 hockey games crammed into 3 days. This means plenty of sleep, plenty of fluids and plenty of high quality food. This week it’s important to really tighten up your diet and pay attention to what you’re putting into your body. Remember the goal here is to repair your muscles and keep them topped off with glycogen (fuel). You want to eliminate processed foods and refined sugars from your diet and stick to only natural food. Limit eating out as much as possible and absolutely no fast food, fried food or sugary drinks. You should be aiming for five meals per day consisting of protein at between .8 and 1 gram per pound of body weight, complex low glycemic carbohydrates between 2 and 4 grams per pound of bodyweight and healthy fats making up about 25% of you daily calorie intake (around .5 grams per pound of bodyweight.) A note on protein shakes and other liquid nutrition drinks, these have a place in a hockey players performance nutrition program but not until the actual games begin. Until then stick to eating whole natural foods.  

Example foods you should be eating pre-tournament: 

ChickenOatmeal Natural Peanut Butter
Lean Red MeatRiceAvocados
EggsSweet PotatoesEVO Oil
Cottage CheeseGreen VegetablesRaw Nuts
Plain Greek YogurtBeansFlax Seeds
SalmonFruitChia Seeds

Timing Is Everything

You’ve arrived, your first game is tomorrow and now it’s time to switch gears on your nutrition to really focus on timing. If you’ve followed the plan up until this point your body should be well rested, fully hydrated and your muscles completely fueled and ready for action. From this point until the tournament is over all of your attention needs to be on recovering (as quickly as possible) from your game and refueling (as quickly as possible) for your next game. Timing is critical here so I can’t stress enough how important it is to have your meal plan prepared ahead of time. Doing this on the road while staying in a hotel, I’ll admit, can be a challenge but not impossible–but make no mistake–it’s completely necessary if you want to be a champion. 

If your first game is early in the morning let’s say on Friday, you’ll want to have your high carb meal earlier in the day on Thursday as your lunch. For dinner on Thursday you’ll want to keep it light with some lean protein, moderate carbs and minimal fat. Listed below is a sample meal plan for a scenario of two games being played in one day assuming about a 6 hour break in between games. 

Game 1 

Pregame Meal- You want to have your pregame meal 1-3 hours before your game. Your pregame meal should consist of 25-35 grams of protein and 25-35 grams of carbohydrates and little to no fat or fiber. 

  • Example: 3 eggs, 1 serving of oatmeal and 1/2 cup fresh fruit.
  • Alternate: 1 cup Greek yogurt, 2 slices wheat toast and 1/2 cup fresh fruit.
  • Never: Sugary cereals, donuts or pastries, breakfast bars, sausage or bacon

Intra Game Drink- During your game along with your water, it would be ideal for you to have an additional drink containing branched chain amino acids, complex carbohydrates and some electrolytes. This will start the process of replenishing your body’s amino acids and glycogen while you’re still playing to speed the recovery process. 

  • Example: 1 Scoop Ryno Power Hydration Fuel 
  • Alternate: BioSteel Hydration Mix
  • Never: Energy drinks, gels, soda, coffee

Postgame Shake- Immediately following your game, while you’re still undressing, you want to have a recovery shake. This shake should contain 20-30 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of carbohydrates. 

  • Example: 1-2 Scoops BioSteel Recovery Protein Plus
  • Alternate: 8-16 oz of low-fat chocolate milk. 
  • Never: Soda or candy. 

Post Game Meal- Your post game meal should be about an hour after your first game finishes and will most likely also serve as your pregame meal for your second game. Again we’re going to go with 25-35 grams of protein and 25-35 grams of carbohydrates and little to no fat or fiber. 

  • Example: 1 chicken breast,  1 cup of rice, small portion leafy or green vegetables 
  • Alternate: Sub-sandwich with roasted/grilled chicken or turkey, no mayo or oil, skip the onions 
  • Never: Chicken nuggets, burgers, pizza, soda/juice/lemonade, fast food, anything fried. 

Game 2

Pre Game Snack- Depending on the time between your last meal and the start of Game 2, if you’re feeling like you need a little extra nutrition, 30-45 minutes before the game you could have a shake. 

  • Example: 1 Scoop BioSteel Recovery Protein Plus
  • Alternate: 8 oz low-fat chocolate milk
  • Never: Candy, Gatorade, muffins or chips

Intra Game Shake- During your game along with your water, it would be ideal for you to have an additional drink containing branched chain amino acids, complex carbohydrates and some electrolytes.

  • Example: 1 Scoop Ryno Power Hydration Fuel  
  • Alternate: BioSteel Hydration Mix
  • Never: Energy drinks, PB&J, cookies 

Postgame Shake- Immediately following your game, while you’re still undressing, you want to have a recovery shake. This shake should contain 20-30 grams of protein and 40-50 grams of carbohydrates

  • Example: 1-2 Scoops BioSteel Recovery Protein Plus
  • Alternate: 8-16 oz of low-fat chocolate milk
  • Never: Soda, candy, sugary snacks

Postgame Meal- Your post game meal should be about an hour after your game finishes. For this meal you can relax a little bit, but let’s not go crazy—remember you have to wake up and do it all over again tomorrow.  You can have 30-40 grams of protein, 40-50 grams of carbohydrates and 20-25 grams of fat. 

  • Example: Steak or fish, rice or baked potato (light sour cream/butter), green salad with light dressing (preferably vinegar and oil based) or cruciferous vegetables
  • Alternate: Pasta with red sauce, chicken breast, green salad with light dressing (preferably vinegar and oil based
  • Never: Pizza, burgers, soda/juice/lemonade, fast food, anything fried 

Before Bed Snack- Depending on the timing of your post game meal you may want to have a light snack before bedtime. 

  • Example: I cup of nonfat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with ½ cup of blueberries
  • Alternate: Beef jerky, trail mix with dried fruit, apple with peanut butter
  • Never: Chips, ice cream, cookies 

Rinse And Repeat

Follow these guidelines for each day of your tournament and you’re sure to be hanging that banner or hoisting that trophy soon. Who knows, maybe there’s even an MVP award in your future. 

Keep in mind that all of the information contained in this article including quantities, timing,  types of foods, etc. are general guidelines and are used as examples only. For a performance nutrition program to truly maximize performance, it must be based on an individual athlete’s specific biometrics, energy expenditure, goals, preferences and schedule.

“If you want to perform to the best of your ability on the ice you have to be properly fueled. It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how good you are – if you aren’t properly fueled you will never be playing to the potential that you could otherwise be playing at.”

About The Coach 

Terry Knealing CFT; SPN

ISSA, NASM, USA Hockey Certified Coach

Terry Knealing is the owner and head coach at Hockey Performance Nutrition. Coach Terry has worked with a countless number of athletes from high school to the professional level throughout his 25+ year career. Coach Terry has assisted athletes from MLB, NHL, NFL, PGA, ATP, MMA, NCAA and NASCAR to improve through performance nutrition. 

Hockey Performance Nutrition takes a scientific, long term, sustainable approach to nutrition that focuses on addition not restriction. Bringing to the table an extensive knowledge of not just the game of hockey, but the hockey lifestyle, we help hockey athletes and their families create and implement simple, flexible and easy to follow meal plans We offer 1 on 1 and group–comprehensive, online, performance nutrition programs designed to give hockey athletes everything they need to take their game to the ELITE level.

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