In 2009, Tyler Randell, 18 years old at the time, attended his first development camp with the Bruins. By his recollection, Randell’s body fat was 12.6 percent. The organization instructs its players to be under 10 percent.
Six years later, the fourth-line right wing is down to 8.2 percent.
Randell’s change in body composition isn’t due to working out more. It’s because he’s eating smarter than when he was a teenager living with a billet family in Kitchener, Ontario.
Cheesy rice is one dish Randell remembers being served by his hosts. Now, he starts some game days with eggs, turkey bacon, oatmeal, and Greek yogurt.
“Nutrition is No. 1 when you’re looking to be lean and at your top shape to play,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s definitely something you have to watch and just stick to it.”
Randell is a member of the new NHL. The game rewards speed, skill, and quick thinking. It punishes the aircraft carriers that are too slow to keep pace with the speedboats.
Being big and bulky is no longer necessary for entry into the league. In fact, it may be an impediment.
So it is only natural that teams are examining what’s on their employees’ plates. They were once piled high with steak, chicken parmesan, and penne. Not anymore.
“There seems to be a trend away from what older guys used to do,” said Julie Nicoletti, a sports nutritionist and founder of Kinetic Fuel. “It used to be steak and pasta pregame. Today’s pro hockey players limit their red meat and processed starches like pasta.
“The goal is always to feel fueled and ready to compete when the anthem plays, not weighed down and heavy, or to feel empty when there’s a period to go.”
Encouraging proper nutrition for players is a slam dunk. But it wasn’t until this past offseason that the Bruins hired Nicoletti as a consultant. They did not have anybody in this position before.
Players who reported to camp with 10 percent or higher body fat had to work with Nicoletti to dip under the threshold. She is also available for players who have questions regarding their diet. Nicoletti helps with game-day nutrition, even if the morning skate has disrupted what she considers the most important meal.
For home night games, the Bruins eat at approximately 12:30 p.m. It is their primary source of fuel.
Protein options are fish and chicken. Steak tips or beef tenderloin are also available. Salad and mixed vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and asparagus are required. Players can have a small dish of pasta with marinara or pesto. Or they can choose what Nicoletti terms “clean starches”: quinoa, sweet potatoes, or roasted potatoes.
The thing about the pregame meal, however, is that it’s six hours before the puck drops. Nutritionists usually discourage such a long period between food and play. But players are hungry after the morning skate. Because they’re up and at the rink early, they could not push their pregame meal any later.
“I would like them to eat a little closer to performing,” Nicoletti said. “Typically, the last full meal occurs about three hours before the athlete plays.”
So a snack before the game becomes important for players after their pregame naps. Randell likes oatmeal and energy bars. Nicoletti cites fruit or protein shakes as other options. They are meant as topoff fuel to keep players from losing energy late in games.
Postgame, Randell will eat a recovery meal similar to his pregame spread minus the pasta: chicken or fish and vegetables. He’ll treat himself to a piece of cake or a cookie on occasion. But for the most part, players avoid sweets, and not just because sugar can add unnecessary weight.
“It’s the way it makes them feel,” said Nicoletti. “If they’re off sugar, then they have it, they will feel that. Some of them get that revved-up, agitated feeling. Others get a sugar spike, then it drops, then they feel low. That’s the change they don’t like.
“They seek consistency in how they feel. There are so many variables in a game. Whatever we can minimize is great.”
Hockey players do a lot of heavy lifting. They burn calories rapidly in games and practices. But not enough to ignore their diets.