CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – It was a Thursday night when the Salem High School hockey team gathered at one of the players' homes for a post-practice dinner.
It's a regular habit of the team, but on this night they had a special guest who prepared dinner for them.
Maureen Stoecklein, a registered dietitian whose resume includes advising the New York Mets, cooked up taco bowls similar to what high school athletes could buy at Qdoba or Chipotle. It's a popular food choice for high school students.
She also gave the players several healthy options for their bowls, including spinach, brown rice, grilled chicken, flank steak, black beans, corn, olives, tomatoes, salsa, avocados, sour cream and yogurt.
Stoecklein was refueling their bodies and teaching the players about the proper ways to use nutrition to improve their game. She wants them to focus on three principles: eating fewer processed foods, eating more fruits and vegetables, and hydrating.
"It's important for high school athletes especially to learn how to fuel themselves properly," Stoecklein said. "I think that so often natural talent takes an athlete so far, genetics will always help with an athlete being a great athlete and then also hard work gets them so far, but eventually an athlete gets to a point where they want to take it to the next level and that is where I think nutrition really comes in to play."
With the taco bowls, she taught the players to make healthier choices. For example, choosing brown rice over white rice is a little healthier and has a bit more fiber in it for sustained energy. Also, choosing lean meats for a protein source and filling the protein bowls with lots of vegetables can help make sure players get plenty of micronutrients.
When it comes to food, Stoecklein said people often focus on getting enough protein and avoiding too many carbs, fat or sugar, but she said what athletes really need to think about is getting more micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals are what help keep a body healthy, help with recovery and prevent long-term diseases.
Stoecklein said micronutrients will give an athlete's career longevity. To get micronutrients, she suggested the players get eight different fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
"I like to call it their performance plan because I feel like, especially high school athletes, oftentimes are on the go all the time, relying on other people preparing their food or oftentimes fast food comes into play," Stoecklein said. "I feel like, as an athlete, if you can make 80 percent of your choices great choices, then that gives you the leeway to have that 20 percent of the time where you're able to be a high school athlete and still eat some of the foods you enjoy like ice cream or cake or cookies or whatever it might be."
She also recommended not skipping meals and that athletes eat two hours before a game or practice, which can be their most important meal of the day. She said they need to eat again 30 to 45 minutes afterwards to refuel.
"We are always trying to combat this inflammation, so for athletes, they have exercise-induced inflammation, and what that is is when we work out and we work out really intense, we get these tiny little micro-tears in our muscle tissue, and so that's the inflammation that we are trying to combat and get refueled in order to do the same thing the next day or the same thing in a couple hours if it’s another game," Stoecklein said.
For nutrition after a workout or a game, athletes should drink water and consume protein and carbohydrates, Stoecklein said. She told athletes to have food readily available after they exercise, for example, keeping a protein bar or shake in their car or locker room.
Good options to include in a recovery meal include chocolate milk and cherry juice concentrate. Cherry juice concentrate is good for inflammation. She said they can put 2 ounces in a protein shake.
Portable snack recommendations:
- Epic brand beef jerky
- GoMacro bars
- Clif Protein Bars
- Trader Joe's Trail Nuggets
- Kind Protein Bars
- Trail mix
- Gatorade Chews or Clif Bar Chews
- Unsweetened apple sauce
When it comes to water, Stoecklein told the players a good rule of thumb is to drink half their body weight in ounces of water each day. She warned it is hard to catch up once a person is dehydrated.
She said athletes should think about hydration all day and avoid drinking products like Gatorade throughout the day because they contain sugar.
She also suggested they be careful with energy drinks because of the caffeine.
Drinks such as Gatorade are good for electrolyte replacement, she said.
The hockey team also worked together to make protein balls after dinner, using peanut butter, oats, dates and dark chocolate chips. The goal was to teach them they don't need to rely on some of the products available to them, they can make their own food.
"I feel like when the athlete participates in the making process it becomes a little bit more fun and they are a little bit more engaged in wanting to eat what they have made," Stoecklein said.
The hockey players left the dinner feeling as if they had learned some very useful advice to up their game.
"Before tonight, I wasn't really focusing on it," player Anthony Gattoni said. "I would just kind of eat, like, things that I thought would be good for me. But it turns out there is way more stuff that would be better."
"I know a lot of people on our team like to go out and I definitely feel like it is going to be better we make our own stuff or healthier stuff, and then we work on getting that stuff in our body other than our fast food," player Alex Schaumburger said.
Stoecklein speaks to several different teams and schools about nutrition. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org.