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Sports Foods & Ergogenic Aids for Performance Enhancement in Field Hockey

As with most team sport athletes, field hockey players are interested in performance gains from supplementation (Mujika and Burke, 2010). It has been reported that elite Australian athletes associated with a state-based sporting institute routinely utilise nutritional supplements, with 87.5% of athletes using supplements, with the frequency of supplementation not different between genders (Dascombe et al., 2010). A much lower amount, 37% of male Olympic hockey athletes reported taking supplements (Grandjean and Rudd, 1994). Females use them to help improve energy and maintain health, whereas males want to improve performance, energy and immunity. Overall, the most frequently reported supplements used amongst the athletes were vitamins, minerals, iron and 'other' supplements (Dascombe et al., 2010).

Energy Boost

There are circumstances where the use of sports foods may help hockey athletes to achieve nutritional goals for training and competition (Mujika and Burke, 2010). In a study looking at liquid carbohydrate feedings during heavy hockey training, Kreider et al. (1995) showed 82% increases in carbohydrate availability, reducing the perception of fatigue following exercise and increasing time to maximal exhaustion.

Creatine Supplements

There is a large body of evidence supporting the beneficial effects of creatine loading on the performance of repeated high-intensity bouts of exercise with a short recovery interval (Burke, 2007), which typically describes the movement patterns of hockey. There are two papers looking at creatine supplementation in athletes groups, including hockey players. Redondo et al. (1996) studied mostly sub-elite hockey players during the off season and found that creatine supplementation did not appear to enhance sprint performance for three 60-m dashes, with two minutes rest. Creatine supplementation did not increase body weight in the subjects, possibly suggesting they were non-responders, and admitting the possibility of benefit with a greater number of sprint repetitions. Zeigenfuss (2002) using male and female athletes, with only two female field hockey players, found that Cr supplementation improved peak power during repeated sprints and total work during the first sprint.

Data suggest that soccer is physiologically very similar to hockey (Reilly and Borrie, 1992), and the research on creatine in soccer also shows mixed results, with some papers seeing small improvements in repeated sprint times (Cox et al., 2002; Mujika et al., 2000), and limited decline in jumping ability (Mujika et al., 2000). Whereas others found that creatine had no performance-enhancing effect or ability to offset fatigue, also indicating chances of harm were greater than chances of benefit (Williams et al., 2014). Despite this conflict Bishop (2010) believes that there is a general trend for an ergogenic effect from creatine when recovery between sprints is 50 to 120 seconds. It could be likely that creatine supplementation would improve some aspects of hockey play, given the average rest duration between hockey sprints was found to be 113 ± 51s (Lythe and Kilding, 2011).

Practical Guidelines for Creatine

There are mixed results of positive benefits in hockey, so use with caution under coach or staff supervision

Creatine loading procedure; (Powers et al., 2003)

  • Loading phase of 25g/day for 1 week, then maintenance phase of 5g/day for 3 weeks, or
  • To avoid side effects, a slow loading phase of 3g/d for 28 days could be implemented
  • Co-ingestion with 75-100g carbohydrate will enhance muscle accumulation (Green et al., 1996)
hockey goal scoringNutrition plays an important role in providing the fuel to perform at a high level

Caffeine Intake

There are two studies looking at caffeine and hockey performance both showing positive improvements (Duncan et al., 2012; Del Coso et al., 2015). There are other studies including hockey players in the cohort of team-sport participants also showing positive results (Schneiker et al., 2006), negative effects (Paton et al., 2001) and indifferent results (Galaister et al., 2008). Duncan et al. (2012) showed that after fatigue inducing exercise where skill hockey performance deteriorates, 5mg/kg BM of caffeine may offset this decrement associated with high-intensity fatigue. More recently Del Coso et al. (2015) showed that the pre-game ingestion of a caffeinated energy drink using only 3 mg/kg of caffeine significantly enhanced high-intensity and sprint actions of elite field hockey players, without affecting total running distance or mean heart rate.

Looking at other mixed-sport cohorts including hockey athletes, Schneiker et al. (2006) revealed that acute caffeine ingestion (6mg/kg BM) can significantly enhance the performance of prolonged, intermittent-sprint ability in male, team-sport athletes, which was not compromised by fatigue development. Paton et al. (2001) used a protocol of 10x20m sprints, with a 10 second rest period, while Glaister et al. (2008) trialled 12x30m sprints with a 35 second rest period. Both studies used sub-elite 'competitive' athletes, and showed that caffeine improved sprint performance in the initial stages of the sprint test, but the benefits were offset by an overall increase in fatigue in the latter stages. The trend for greater fatigue in the highest responders is suggested to be caused by quicker times in early sprint, not due to caffeine itself (Glaister et al., 2008). When recovery periods are longer e.g. 2-mins, the benefits of caffeine on multiple sprint performance appear to be extended well beyond the first few sprints (Schneiker et al., 2006).

There appears to be some good evidence for the use of caffeine in field hockey, however some practical considerations are the potential fatigue creation when taking caffeine, and the possible increase in sleeplessness (Del Coso et al., 2015). Caffeine uptake can vary greatly among individuals depending on habituation, so trialling of the appropriate dose is recommended (Bishop, 2010).

Practical Guidelines for Caffeine

There is some good evidence for the use of caffeine in field hockey:

  • Acute amounts of 3 – 6 mg/kg BM consumed approximately one hour prior to the start of exercise.
  • Doses should be individualised according to regular daily caffeine intake and tolerance.
  • Be aware of effects on insomnia, particularly for use at evening games or training.

Colostrum supplementation

Colostrum supplementation studies have produced conflicting results in regards to beneficial effects for performance, recovery, and illness in athletes (Shing et al., 2009; Bishop, 2010). Hofman et al. (2002) concluded that elite male and female field hockey players who supplemented with colostrum over eight weeks improved sprint performance. There was also a strong trend towards an increase in vertical jump, with no change in endurance performance results. Another study of young adult hockey players undergoing a 6-week dietary intervention showed a higher increase in plasma interferon-g levels in the colostrum group, without statistical significance, concluding that immune status may be enhanced in hockey players during a normal training period (Appukutty et al. 2009).

Practical Guidelines for Colostrum

There is not convincing evidence of a benefit in hockey when using colostrum, however, 20 – 60 g daily for 6-8 weeks may have some beneficial effects on immunity and sprint performance in hockey players. More research is required in this area.

Other Supplements

Limited research suggests that sodium bicarbonate intake is likely to improve repeated- and intermittent sprint performance, and B-alanine is less likely to be performance enhancing for team-sport athletes (Bishop 2010), however there is no data on hockey athletes.


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