Written by Dan Minnicks
One of the big topics in the sports performance world these days is recovery. Players, coaches, and organizations are looking for a way to get a leg up on the competition so that when it’s game time, they have the upper hand. Some of the more popular methods you tend to see are:
- Compression boots and sleeves
- Ice baths
- Hot baths
- Contrast showers
- Massages or massage tools
- Electrical stimulation (EMS or TENS units)
- The latest “superfoods” or diet
- Recovery drinks
- And the list goes on…
Have you ever noticed what any NHL veteran attributes to their ability to stay in the league and play at a high level for so long? They always talk about taking care of themselves with proper nutrition, hydration and sleep. They never say, “This recovery tool gave me an extra three years of playing!” It doesn’t happen. If they do say that, it’s more than likely because they got paid to do so.
Without going on a huge rant, most of the recovery tools you see should only be used to fine tune the recovery process when you’re doing everything else right and still need that little extra help. Something I always preach to the athletes I work with is that you wouldn’t learn calculus without first learning addition and subtraction, right? Recovery methods are no different. None of the things listed above will work or work to their full potential if the basics aren’t mastered and being utilized first. As with anything, the basics are there for a reason; because they work.
The three basics are: sleep, hydration, and nutrition.
Coincidentally, the least exciting recovery method to master is also the most important. Our bodies have their own recovery system already built-in. It’s called going to bed! The fanciest and most expensive tools and methods will not work, or work as well, if you’re not getting enough sleep.
Have back to back games this weekend? An evening game followed by a morning practice? By getting enough sleep you can help your body rejuvenate and recover quicker than it would by only getting a few hours of sleep.
Without enough sleep, your muscles and central nervous system won’t fire as fast as they can. Your reaction times will be decreased so taking that shot, making a quick pass or timely save may not happen as well as you’d like. You will fatigue faster.
We also learn new skills while we sleep. You can work on your skating, shooting, passing and stick handling with the top skills coach in the world, but if you don’t sleep properly, those skills you learned won’t stick (pun intended). The brain needs rest to process new motor skills and mental acuity as well.
This one will be the simplest to track in terms of monitoring your intake. There are several ways that you can estimate how much water you need per day. These tend to involve a fancy equation and weighing yourself before and after exercise, but who wants to do all that? Isn’t there a simpler way? Yes there is! It’s something that we all do everyday: urinate. If your urine looks really yellow, have a big glass of water. If your urine is clear and you’re going to the bathroom every 10 minutes, you’re drinking too much. The goal is to have the urine be a light yellow, almost lemonade-like color.
Most people will require between 80-100 ounces of water per day, depending on gender, body composition, activity level, how much they sweat, etc. Most athletes, especially hockey players, will require more than that. How much more, you might ask? Well, what’s your urine show? Check out this awesome info graphic from Precision Nutrition:
Notice I said “water” and not your favorite “sports drink.” Those have a time and place but are often loaded with added sugars that you might not need. Listen to your body and pay attention to the signals it gives you.
Calories and nutrients are the keys in this area. Calories aren’t bad; having too many or too little is. A calorie is a unit of measurement with food or beverages that indicate how much energy your body can absorb from it.
Being that you’re playing a high intensity sport like hockey, you’re going to burn a lot of calories during a game. It’s not uncommon for many of the players you see on TV to eat 3,000-5,000 calories per day. Am I saying that you need this much? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know you or your situation so it’s impossible to give a definitive answer. What I will tell you, however, is that not eating breakfast, having a granola bar for lunch and then having an entire pizza for dinner isn’t going to be enough energy to fuel your body if you’re on the ice 2-4 times a week.
At the end of the day it all comes down to establishing what you want. Do you want the latest and greatest, super-secret methods that are sexy and make you look cool among your teammates? Or do you want to set yourself up for the long-term, mastering the basics that will help sustain you throughout your playing career and the rest of your life?
Don’t get me wrong; recovery tools can have a time and place within the right context. However, if your diet is poor and you continuously get four hours of sleep per night, you’ve got some other things you should be working on first.
And what’s the one thing the pros always say when people ask what they’d do differently in their career? The overwhelming response most times is “I wish I’d paid more attention to nutrition, hydration and sleep as a younger player.”
So, what are you waiting for? Start now!
Dan Minnicks is the Head Fitness & Sports Performance Coach at Umberger Performance in Pittsburgh, Pa. During his tenure, he has worked with hockey players at all levels from youth to the NHL. Dan also works with a variety of athletes of all ages including Adult National Figure Skaters and competitive endurance athletes. Dan’s clients also include a wide range of the general population plus law enforcement, SWAT, and members of the United States Military, including the Army, Navy, and Naval Special Warfare.