Fitness and Conditioning
What do you eat and drink before a game? How close to game-time can you eat? What stretches and warm ups should you do?
Food and drink
Hydration is the key to pre-game conditioning. Drink several glasses of water or fill a water bottle and drink from it on the way to and before the game. Sufficient hydration will enhance the body's ability to rebound from the stress during the course of the game.
A pre-game meal is an individual choice. Some players are able to eat a meal or a sandwich right up to game-time without apparent adverse effects. A prevailing view among players is that food should not be eaten any later than two hours prior to a game.
Eating food any closer to game-time may affect your ability to play in several ways. First, an upset stomach or heartburn is a possibility which is an unpleasant experience while you are being pushed to your physical limits. Second, the blood supply is directed to digesting food which takes it away from the supplying the muscles needed to play hockey. A meal close to game-time will deprive a player of needed energy for the game.
Pregame stretching enhances flexibility and helps prevent injuries. Until muscles are warmed up, aggressive stretching is counter productive. Pregame stretching to loosen up muscles can be performed in the locker room before putting on equipment.
Try pre-game stretching on the ice as a substitute or as a supplement to stretching in the locker room. Before stretching on the ice, skate several times around the rink first to warm-up arm and leg muscles. A mistake many hockey players make is to begin stretching their hamstrings before warming up their muscles. A cold muscle cannot be easily stretched and risks injury.
Exercises on the ice include hamstring stretches on the boards. This exercise is risky depending upon the player's physical size, the height of the boards, the player's ability to balance themselves on one skate, and the slipperiness rink's surface. It is safer to stand on the bench side of the boards and stretch the hamstrings on the players' bench or the boards.
Stretch the legs first then the arms. A good groin stretch is to place one leg behind while maintaining balance on the skate of the other leg. Leg kicks and calf stretches (pull one leg up by the ankle toward the torso while balancing on the flats of the other skate) are good pre-game stretching exercises.
An effective back stretch is to go to the knees and bend backwards stretching the back and neck. Arms and wrists can be stretched by spinning the hockey stick like a baton in a twisting action. Another back and arm stretch is to place a hockey stick behind the back in an arching and uplifting action.
Most hockey players are unaware of the secret of post-game stretching. Stretching after an athletic event, especially a hockey game is the key to minimizing injury and reducing muscle soreness. It is surprising how few players know this.
Once the equipment is taken off, the same pre-game stretching routine should be followed. Sometimes this is difficult due to time constraints or the size of the locker rooms. At a minimum stretch the legs. Make sure to do a groin stretch, a calf stretch, and stretch the hamstrings. This becomes more important over time as a player becomes older and less able to bounce back from the stress and strain of hockey. Continue to drink water after the game. Fill up the water bottle and drink it on the ride home!