The Microbiome of a Hockey Player

December 13, 2016 , ,

If you could see all the organisms that make up your microbiome, the first thing you would see is that there are many more of them than you by a factor in the trillions. Researchers always blow me away with the estimation that we may be carrying as much as 5 pounds of microbial weight! And we are learning these guys can do a lot for us. They can teach and control our immune system, they can make important vitamins like vitamin K and folate, they can break down hard to digest foods, and they can even talk to our brain. So what does that have to do with playing hockey and being a top athlete? For starters, a strong immune system can make or break a hockey season (healthy microbe population in you = strong immune system). And of course, getting the maximal quantity of nutrients from the food we eat can fuel our muscles and entire bodies to be more efficient and performing.

You should think of your microbiome organisms as players on a big team – your team in fact! In order to keep them healthy and motivated to perform you could do a few things:

#1. Optimize your microbiome environment

Being exposed to pets (dogs have been especially researched) could help increase variety of your microbiome. More variety is good! Too much stress from school, hockey, or homelife can hurt your microbiome, so include relaxation techniques in your day (such as sports psych visualization exercises, yoga for hockey players, and eating slowly to enjoy your food). Most importantly, be super aware of your exposure to harmful bugs. Is there someone on your team who is out sick or (even worse) who shows up to practice sick? You should make sure to wash your hands often and coaches should ask the sick player to sit separately from the players who are well. One bad bug that gets in you can tear through your microbiome and may even cause you to have to take antibiotics. The effects of a round of antibiotics are known to be devastating to your microbiome and can last an entire hockey season.

#2. Eat to keep your microbiome fit

Training days, when practice is not within 3 to 4 hours, would be an excellent time to train your microbiome team too. You can do this by eating fibre-rich vegetables and cereals. Choose some of the ones on this list and you will be happy to learn that these foods will also fill your muscles with the type of energy a hockey player needs to do high intensity sprinting up the ice!

#3. Experiment with adding teammates to your microbiome team

You already have a large microbiome team but adding more “players” might help you during the season. This area is very experimental so getting in touch with a sports dietitian will help you to make informed choices. Here are a couple of ways to add good microbes to your team:

  • Eat probiotic-rich dairy products
  • Eat unpasteurized fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso
  • Try taking a probiotic supplement (especially during and after antibiotic treatment). Supplementation is never something to trial lightly though. Make sure that you understand the different products available to you and do not experiment with taking something new the day of a big game!

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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.

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