If you've watched an ice hockey game, you know how much stamina it takes. In seconds, players fly from one end of the ice to the other. It's a series of sprints and battles with the opposing team, all in search of one little puck.
In other words, not a game you want to play with no fuel in your tank. U.S. Hockey Team member Angela Ruggiero knows that and pays close attention to what she eats, when she eats, and how much she eats.
Her four Olympic appearances have resulted in three medals: a bronze, two silvers, and a gold. She won her most recent silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Before she left for those games, we talked to Angela and her performance nutritionist Megan Mangano. Mangano, who's also a registered dietitian, makes it easy (and tasty) for athletes to bring out their very best game-day performance. Even if you're not headed to the Olympics (yet), what you eat and drink can help make you faster, stronger, and less likely to run out of steam, Mangano said.
Your Body = Your Dream Car?
It all starts with taking extra special care of your body.
"I tell athletes to treat their bodies like their dream car." Mangano said. "You'd only put premium fuel in there and you'd never leave home without fuel in the tank."
Ruggiero already had a pretty healthy diet, but Mangano has encouraged her to eat an even wider variety of healthy foods. More variety means more varied nutrients. She also urges athletes to "eat three for three." That means athletes should eat frequent small meals and snacks that contain these three elements:
Wholesome carbohydrates: These include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains such as 100% whole-wheat bread and brown rice.
Lean protein: When you think protein, you might think steak. But Mangano suggests beans, nuts, seeds, natural peanut butter, fish, eggs, turkey, and chicken over beef or pork. "The less legs, the better. Choose lean proteins with less legs more often," she said. Get it? A chicken has two legs and fish and peanuts have — you guessed it — none!
Healthy fats: You don't need a ton of fat in your diet, but some is healthy. The healthiest fats are found in nuts and seeds (pecans, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds), olive oil, and avocados.
Making it Easy
Before you say, "Hey, that's complicated!" Mangano points out that you can "eat three" with an apple and a small portion of peanuts or half a peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread.
And that type of snack is the perfect packable if you know you'll be staying after school for sports practice. You don't want to be all weary from a whole day of school and hungry because lunch was hours ago!
Let's hear what Ruggiero had to say about how healthy food helps her do her best on the ice:
Food Q&A With Angela Ruggiero
What's your favorite healthy food?
Puffins cereal, non-fat cottage cheese with jelly, turkey on wheat bread.
What is your favorite pre-game meal or snack?
A whole-grain bagel with peanut butter and banana, Lara Bars.
What's your favorite post-game meal or snack?
Chocolate milk, trail mix, fruit in a protein shake.
What's your favorite junk food and do you limit how much you eat?
I love ice cream, but limit it to about a pint a month. I also love Coke, but moderation is key.
Have your eating habits changed since you were a kid or teen athlete?
Yes, as an adult I have come to realize that you have to treat your body well if you want it to perform and function well for you. I try to only feed it healthy, non-processed foods as much as I can.
Timing is also important so I make sure I am feeding myself 5-6 times a day. I allow myself to eat what I want, but try to eat healthy the majority of the time so that I can not only feel great, but also play to the absolute best of my ability.
Any food advice for kids and teens who are practicing and playing hard?
Make sure you're eating enough when you're hungry and drinking as much water as possible. Try to stay away from anything that is packaged and instead turn to whole foods such as fruits and veggies. Eat enough carbs and protein for your body weight.
Finally, moderation is key. You can indulge in just about anything, but try to stay on-track the majority of time so that your workouts are not wasted when you get to the lunch table.
Anything you have changed since working with Megan that's worth noting? She mentioned an increased variety of food/nutrients. Any examples?
Meg was an AMAZING nutritionist. I have significantly changed my intake of foods to help create more variety with foods that make me feel even better. I have found many alternatives in my diet that are providing me with a wider range of nutrients and vitamins. I think I was caught up in buying the same healthy foods and ignoring many others that would help me.
I eat more of a variety of whole grains and brown rice now, and have also increased my lean proteins. On game days, I stay away from filling up the big salad plate that I used to make for my pre-game meal and instead turn to carbs with a little protein so that I have energy throughout the entire game.