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The Importance of Proper Sleep & Nutrition for All Athletes

February 16th, 2017

I recently received a call from a concerned parent of a high school freshman, trying to enlist our help as advisors because his young hockey player was yet to “commit” to an NCAA program. After comforting this parent that the commitment process is different for all athletes, and many late bloomers still find their way, he seemed to relax. Alarmingly, this has become a familiar call in all sports, the panic of parents who see “uber” young players commit to top college programs, only to hear them de-commit in the next two years for another school, or leave for Major Junior hockey. The “get paid now” craze of this young generation continues, fed by overzealous athletes and their parents, coaches, and advisors. Everyone is in a rush to skip levels and be able to tell everyone that will listen that their kid is “committed”, meanwhile often missing crucial steps along the way that could bring staying power and longevity to a sports career. One of the main causes of this “panic mode” is physical development, which happens at different paces and in different processes for all individuals. I remember having to explain to my son over and over again that being the smallest while growing up can be an advantage, having to figure out the game, being forced to be creative, fast and skilled. Much to his joy, he grew almost 11 inches in 15 months to over 6 feet, but now the task will be to add muscle to his frame. The combination of genetics, nutrition, sleep and training brings different results for all athletes, but the importance of the last three, the controllable ones, is crucial.

As I turn it over to the expert, Sports & Performance Dietitian Natasha McLaughlin-Chaisson, who consults many of our athletes, please listen to her important advice: Being a dietitian to the elite and the elite-in-training, I help players “train Smart” by personalizing one of the most crucial controllable factors in their performance: Nutrition. Most players know how to “Train Hard” however, in most cases, without proper nutrition support and guidance, most of them are training and playing at around 75% of their full potential. Players are taking 2 steps forward in practice, followed by 1 step back due to inadequate recovery nutrition. Recovery actually occurs for 24-48 hours after a training session or practice. This means that proper timing, combination and balance for weight, height, goals, level & position are crucial to achieving max results.

Studies prove that having insufficient carbs, at opportune times, will reduce speed by 17% and encourage muscle wasting (loss). Studies also show that dehydration when a player is not consuming the right types of liquid, in the right amounts/concentrations, at proper times, can reduce power output by up to 30%, while reducing reaction time & endurance capacity. Most hockey players who have not worked with a performance dietitian are very much affected by these statistics. Increases in muscle cramping, headaches, and energy crashes are also often associated with improper nutrition for hockey. Did you know that certain deficiencies can reduce explosiveness? Did you also know that in the first 2 weeks after an injury, a player loses 23% strength and can add on weeks of healing time if nutrition is not adapted promptly?

Too many young players and their parents turn to the latest diet trend/supplements, even advice from self-proclaimed nutritionist, in hopes of seeing quick results in mass gain, increased speed, improved energy, reduced body fat, etc. The truth is that nutrition is a complicated scientific field of study. After 7 years of university in the domain, two of which were done alongside the International Olympic Committee, I still continue to learn and be challenged, by the complexity of food (fuel), hydration, supplements, and the human body.

Dr. Louise Burke, PhD, Head Sports Dietitian of the Australian Institute of Sport, summed it up perfectly in saying : “When everyone is highly talented, highly trained & highly motivated, nutrition will provide the winning edge that separates you from the rest.”

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