The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Lean During the Hockey Season

October 20, 2016 ,

To look lean requires a low amount of superficial (just below the skin) body fat stores and a good amount of muscle mass. This is why leaning out usually involves both decreasing body fat stores and increasing muscle mass. What the average athlete has trouble understanding is that these two processes are opposing each other. This is why daily and often hourly changes to what you eat can impact your results. Sound complicated? It can be! But by sticking to these simple do’s and don’ts, you will be able to get started on the right foot without compromising your hockey season.

DO choose to eat enough high energy foods within 24 hours of a hockey game. This is my #1 “DO”. This means no carb-restricting. Stick to high carbohydrate foods that are simple to digest. Think grains, fruit, milks and yogourts. This way you are sure to have full energy stores in your muscles during a game. (Tip for professional sports dietitians: Have your hockey players aim to eat 5 to 8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of their body weight in the 24 hours before a hockey game.)


DON’T skip meals or snacks. Balanced breakfasts that include grains, protein, and even a vegetable will help you manage your appetite and energy levels later in the day. Two high protein snacks, ideally one after a heavy training session and one right before bed will help you grow muscle faster. (Tip for professional sports dietitians: Have your hockey players eat approximately 20 grams of protein at each meal and at 2 snacks from food first or a certified protein supplement as a last resort.)

DO eat unrefined foods on off-days and lighter practice days (i.e. days where muscle mass gain through training sessions is not the workout goal). Refined products are most foods that come in a package or are the “white” version of the food (like white rice). That means you are aiming to eat fresh whole fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fresh meats and fish, no-sugar dairy, and unseasoned nuts and seeds. (Tip for professional sports dietitians: Have your hockey players eat higher fibre, slow digesting foods when games are more than 2 days away, as games approach a lower residue diet may be more tolerated.)

fitness fruits smoothie

We like smoothies made with fresh fruits and vegetables, and full of protein

DON’T drink your calories. For the most part stay away from sugary drinks, juice, and simply stick to water. High sugar loads from quickly absorbing sweet drinks can encourage your body to store body fat. The one exception may be a game-time sports drink which may be helpful for some hockey players to enhance game performance. (Tip for professional sports dietitians: Have your hockey players practice mouth rinsing techniques with sports drinks to enhance game-time performance as this does not involve swallowing the drink.)

DO eat good fats to promote a healthy lean physique. Eating fat does not make you fat, really! This is hard for my young athletes to accept as the truth. But you need to eat the good fats that are in the whole seeds, whole nuts, and some fish (trout, salmon, mackerel, sardines). Fried foods, oily foods, and high fat meats and cheeses are the wrong type of fats to focus on. (Tip for professional sports dietitians: Have your hockey players eat 10 grams or more of fat from a good polyunsaturated, omega-3 rich, fat food per meal.)

When making a plan to lean out, it is always good to enlist the support of a professional sports dietitian. You will want to get actual measurements of your body composition (muscle mass, body fatness) taken. You will also want a plan for how much to eat on rest days, light training days, heavy training days, and within 24 hours of games days. And keep in mind that next May may be your best time to really focus on changing your body composition so you don’t hurt your in-season hockey performance goals.

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Pearle Nerenberg
Pearle Nerenberg, MSc., R.D. is Canada's leading expert on hockey nutrition, and author of the book The Nutrition Edge for Hockey Performance. She co-founded and chairs the Hockey Nutrition Network, an international non-profit organization dedicated to linking hockey players with top sports dietitians who have an expertise in hockey nutrition.

One comment to “The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Lean During the Hockey Season”

October 22, 2016 Tossed Salad said:

Hi Pearle,

Great tips for staying lean during hockey season! I still like to eat out at least once a week for social purposes, but try to go to a healthier restaurant, like Tossed Salad or Panera.


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