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Hockey Nutrition

Field hockey is a high-intensity sport with high demands in all three energy systems. Nutrition plays an important part in providing the fuel to perform at a high level. This article discusses the requirements of the macronutrients and micronutrients for elite-level hockey players. See also the article about hydration and hockey, and nutrition supplement use in hockey players.

Energy Requirements

For females, total energy intake (EI) varies from 5.9 MJ/day for off-season to 15 MJ/day for a carbohydrate supplemented group of players. The average, not including the off-season data or the supplemented group is 8.4 MJ, which is close to the average EI of 8.6 MJ/day for athletes reported recently in a review of team sports (Holway and Spriet, 2011). Nutter (1991) showed a slight reduction in EI during the off-season compared to in-season, showing the variability in intake depending on when during the season data is collected, and the importance of periodising an athlete's dietary intake dependent on training status. For males, average EI is 14.2 MJ/d, which is only slightly lower than the average EI of 15.3 MJ/d reported for team sport athlete averages (Holway and Spriet, 2011). Interestingly, van Erp Baart et al. (1989) noted that male hockey players were consuming less than male soccer and water polo players, and that the female hockey athletes energy intakes were marginally greater than for handball and volleyball athletes.

Practical Guidelines for Energy Requirements

  • To match energy needs with training and competition expenditure, being aware of changes in weekly training intensities, and periods of taper for competition.
  • Monitor weight and anthropometric changes to ensure athletes are not energy deficient or in excess.

Carbohydrate Intake

Average carbohydrate intake expressed as g/kg body mass (BM) (%E), was 4.14 (40.5%) and 4.5 (41%), for females and males respectively, which is lower than recommendations of 5-7 g/kg for a moderate exercise program (Burke, 2011). However, daily carbohydrate needs are not fixed, but should mirror changes in daily, weekly, or seasonal training programs (Holway and Spriet, 2011). Using a liquid carbohydrate solution hockey players were supplemented during a period of intense training, increasing the daily carbohydrate intake from 5.5g/kg up to 10g/kg. Without a change to dietary intakes of the remaining macronutrients this increase did not significantly affect carbohydrate oxidation, anaerobic threshold, or cardiorespiratory responses to maximal exercise, questioning the ergogenic value of carbohydrate supplementation (Kreider et al., 1995). The placebo group started with a carbohydrate intake within current recommendations; therefore higher intakes may not have shown any real benefit. The same cannot be said for athletes with lower intakes. Guidelines (Burke, 2011) suggest consumption 30-60g of carbohydrates for endurance exercise including 'stop and start' sports with 1-2.5 hours duration.

Practical Guidelines for Carbohydrate Intake

A minimum of 5-7g/kg BM/day is adequate for usual training loads; possibly higher for more intense training periods, or during busy competition schedules, and slightly less for periods of taper or low training intensity.

Carbohydrate Intake of 30-60g for 'stop and start' sports 1-2.5hr duration. Supplementation of a carbohydrate electrolyte solution during intense training and competitive bouts will assist in lifting carbohydrate intake to fuel exercise, to minimise fatigue. Sports drinks with 4-8% carbohydrate would be the best choice; 500ml - 1 litre would provide ~30-60g.Quantity will depend on intensity of training and game.

Protein Intake

Average protein intake was 1.13g/kg and 1.6g/kg for female and male hockey players, respectively. Elite adult athletes should aim for protein intakes between 1.3 – 1.8g/kg/d (Phillips and Van Loon 2011), and the females do not meet these current recommendations, but are above Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDI) for protein for adults (~0.8g/kg/d for adults, NHMRC & NZMH, 2005). Another recommendation for athletes is to consume protein evenly across the day with moderate amounts at each meal, with particular consideration for recovery after exercise (Phillips and Van Loon 2011). Athletes in the van Erp Baart (1989a) paper consumed 40% of their protein intake at the dinner meal, with 20% of protein taken for all snacks during the day, which leaves room for improvement for targeted protein intake to aid recovery. Ready (1987) also found that 50% of total energy intake was eaten after 5pm showing poor energy and protein distribution. It has been shown that ingestion of ~20g of protein in males is sufficient to stimulate maximal muscle protein synthesis after resistance training (Moore et al. 2009). It could therefore be suggested that hockey players undertaking training with a high anaerobic component should aim to consume 20g of protein to optimise repair of muscle tissue damage. Recovery with protein becomes especially important during tournaments when games are high intensity, and can be on consecutive days.

Practical Guidelines for Protein Intake

  • 1.3 – 1.8g/kg/day
  • Spread protein intake evenly across the day for muscle maintenance.
  • Aim to consume ~20g or protein in recovery post-exercise to optimise muscle tissue repair.
hockey goal scoringNutrition plays an important role in providing the fuel to perform at a high level

Fat Intake

Average fat intake for both male and female athletes is 35% of energy intake, which is higher than American and Australian recommendations of 20–25% and 20–35% of total energy intake (Rodriguez et al. 2009; National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 2005). This high fat intake could be displacing carbohydrates and improvements could be made to reduce levels, even though some of the data are quite old, and intake can change over decades.

Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and antioxidants)

Athletes are encouraged to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods to ensure an adequate supply of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Reference values exist in different countries for adults to achieve adequate amounts (Rodriguez et al., 2009; NHMRC, 2005). Several of the studies of female hockey players have reported micronutrient intakes lower than appropriate dietary reference values (Ready, 1987; van Erp Baart et al., 1989b, Tilgner and Schiller, 1989; Nutter, 1991; Gacek, 2010), with minimal issues in respect to intake of males.

Iron was consistently seen to be low in dietary intakes of female hockey players. Other nutrients identified as potentially deficient by more than one researcher were Vitamin B6, Vitamin A (Ready, 1987; van Erp Baart et al, 1989b), and Calcium (Tilgner and Schiller, 1989; Nutter, 1991). Tilgner and Schiller (1989) also reported very low fibre intake along with high refined sugar intake, interpreting low nutrient density and the many nutrient deficiencies in this paper. In contrast, Nutter (1991) reported low total energy intakes along with a high percentage of athletes dieting, but did not see low micronutrient intakes, possibly due to better diet nutrient density. Females could be at higher risk than males of not meeting nutrient intake requirements due to poor nutrient density of the diet, or restrictive eating for weight control. It is interesting to note that team sport athletes have higher alcohol consumption, compared to other groups (Van Erp Baart et al., 1989; Burke et al., 1991). In India where hockey is a very popular sport Davar (2012) looked at 30 university hockey players' knowledge and attitude towards healthy eating. Players had a positive attitude towards the benefits of good nutrition but had very poor knowledge and eating behaviours. These findings illustrate the importance of incorporating 'nutrition education' as an integral part of an athletes' daily training environment, to promote healthy eating and to optimise performance.

Practical Guidelines to meet micronutrient requirements

  • Nutrition education for athletes to improve quality of intake to improve health, immunity and sports performance.
  • Increase fruits and vegetables in the diet.
  • Reduce the amount of calorie dense (high fat/high sugar) and nutrient poor foods

Physical stress and psychological stress affects blood iron stores (Diehl et al., 1986), and reduced circulating haemoglobin reduces performance and resistance to fatigue (Deakin, 1995). The prevalence of low iron stores in female hockey athletes is not uncommon. Diehl et al. (1986) looked at serum ferritin reduction over three seasons, and noted that iron reserves tend to become progressively more depleted after successive seasons of competition. Another study found a significant reduction in haemoglobin in hockey players in the preparatory phase and competitive phase of training when compared to baseline data (Manna et al. 2010). In contrast, Douglas (1989), found no evidence of 'sports anaemia' in a group of college hockey players. Perhaps training was not strenuous enough or that the college food provision was nutritious enough. Hinrichs et al. (2010) only found four female players (30%) had ferritin levels lower than 25ng/mL. Although, the low prevalence of poor iron stores is explained by the frequent screening of the German National field hockey team, and subsequent supplementation when ferritin levels are lower than 30ng/mL.

This data alludes to the need for iron screening of female hockey athletes. When iron deficiency is diagnosed (serum ferritin <30ng/ml, Deakin, 1995), supplementation is warranted. Oral treatment can be effective to increase iron stores, however if an important competition is imminent, intramuscular iron injections are more effective in raising ferritin levels in iron-depleted females, compared to taking oral supplements (Dawson et al., 2006).

Practical Guidelines for Iron Supplements for Females

  • The current RDI (Australian) for adult females is 18mg/day (NHMRC, 2006).
  • Regular screening of serum ferritin is warranted to pick up low iron stores
  • Food first approach should be considered e.g. counselling dietary changesIf serum ferritin <30ng/ml, then oral supplementation when time permitting
  • Injections are warranted if anaemia is diagnosed or if there are iron deficiency/low stores, and a competition is within 1-2 weeks or athlete is attending altitude.

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