Post-Game Recovery for the “Professional” Rec Hockey Player
By Dee Jenkins, B.A., CPT, CPFT, NCCP Hockey Coach
Once upon-a-time, beer-bellies, greasy chicken wings, and pitchers of draft beer were synonymous with the sport of recreational hockey. In fact, for years, adult recreational hockey leagues were affectionately known as the “beer leagues.” Although this may still be true to some extent, but with the numerous resulting deaths from heart attacks, many players are starting to understand that you don’t play hockey to get into shape, but rather you need to get into shape to play hockey. After all, it is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world.
In recent years, several investigators have conducted field and laboratory research investigating the physiologic and biomechanical demands of ice hockey performance. As one would imagine, this research indicates that ice hockey is a start and stop, one-on-one, intermittent collision sport, where practice and competitive play consists of, and is characterized by, explosive dynamic movement patterns, and the technical skills of skating, shooting, passing, and body checking (incidental body contact in rec levels).
Given the demands on the neuromuscular, energy, and cardiovascular systems of the body, and regardless of the level of hockey you play, proper conditioning of these systems is a must to improve performance, prevent injury, and in some cases, death. Most of the focus is usually on pre-competition conditioning, however, players must not forget proper nutrition and post-competition recovery. Trust me, beer and wings and a few smokes after the game is simply a recipe for disaster. Post competition recovery, in this context, means just as it sounds; the “science” of “recovering” after a game of hockey.
First of all, hydration is a must; before, during and after a game. Particularly after a game, it is very important to re-balance the body’s fluid level. Pure water, G2, or another electrolyte-sports drink will help you achieve that. Players who only consume water need to mindful that they will need to drink not just to feel “refreshed” but to restore the fluids lost from perspiration during the game. Goalies, can lose a large amount of fluid during a game, and thus need to regularly consume fluids during the game, and especially after. In fact, it is recommended that by two hours after a sporting event, such as a hockey game or practice, an athlete should have consumed roughly about 750ml or 24 ounces of fluid to make up for the sodium and potassium levels lost through perspiration.
Sorry folks, but this doesn’t mean a large draft will suffice. In fact post game alcohol consumption will only serve to dehydrate you more. This will exacerbate the feelings of being “hung over” the next morning. Who needs that? Furthermore, as a result of the dehydration, ligaments, which connect joints together, tend to become less elastic, making joints feel tight or stiff.
Combine this with the fact that most people also become less flexible as they age. Ligaments will tend to tear more easily, and when they tear, they heal more slowly. Not to mention that dehydration, even mild dehydration, can cause symptoms such as irritability, grogginess, headaches, nausea, exhaustion, and light headedness.
Now that we have addressed fluid levels, let’s move on to muscle recovery. With all the stops and starts, falling down, getting up, pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging, bending, and twisting that goes on during a game of hockey, your muscles are exhausted after a game. Without getting all science nerd here, what you need to know is that you used both anaerobic and aerobic energy systems to fuel your working muscles, depending on the demands you place on them. A by-product of these energy systems, particularly the anaerobic (without oxygen) system, which is taxed during hockey several times a game, is lactic acid. Lactic acid is what causes muscles to burn after strenuous exercise.
The best way to recover from this soreness is actually to continue to exercise, but at a slower pace, without muscle strain. That is why elite, competitive hockey players are hopping on stationary bikes after games! If you have access to a stationary bike after a game, use it! Also, if you can get it, a good massage will help. Increasing blood circulation cleans out built-up lactic acid from the muscles.
Finally, we need to feed our muscles; we need to refuel. Post-game nutrition does not mean greasy chicken wings, nachos or any other bar menu item you may be tempted to eat. What our tired and hungry muscles really want is protein and some carbohydrates so that the energy systems fuel storage will return to pre-game levels. Post-game nutrition is just as important as pre-game nutrition. If you wouldn’t eat a large Poutine and Root Beer before a game, why would you think it would serve as a great post-game snack? Trust me, fat is NOT where it is at!
Most sports nutrition and exercise physiology experts will agree that following a game you have a window of opportunity of about 30 minutes to restore muscle glycogen. Glycogen is a carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles. Glycogen is used as a fuel during exercise; this must be restored. At the end of the game this muscle glycogen is depleted and needs to be restored ASAP especially if you are playing again within a 24-hour period, like at a tournament. So how is this done?
The basic premise is, combine glucose, which is a monosaccharide (simple sugar) that is the basic form of energy for the body, and a protein. For example, a simple but effective choice would be to consume chocolate milk. Various research conducted in post-exercise nutrition indicates that that if you combine glucose with protein, it will be absorbed by the body more effectively therefore the reason for chocolate milk (glucose plus protein). Also, because milk is a fluid, it will be absorbed into the system easier than solid food and it is usually more convenient as well. There are also some excellent pre-packaged powders and pre-bottled drinks on the market now that are made specifically for post-game recovery nutrition.
Even though you may not be playing in the NHL or in the CWHL, you are still an athlete, albeit a recreational/amateur one. Hockey is a demanding sport at any level and “professional” recreational hockey players need to fuel for competition; before and after games. You may just find that by following these simple but effective post-game recovery tips, your illustrious “professional” rec hockey career will be one of longevity and success.
© Dee Jenkins - 2012
 A Theoretical Review of the Physiological Demands of Ice-Hockey and a Full Year Periodized Sport Specific Conditioning Program for the Canadian Junior Hockey Player Eric MacLean, B.HK, CSCS, CK, CFC School of Exercise, Biomedical, and Health Sciences, Edith Cowen University, Perth, Australia
 Susan Davis and Sally Stephens. The Sporting Life. Henry Holt & Company; 1st American Edition, 1997
 Baechle, Thomas R., & Earle, Roger W. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning Second Edition. Human Kinetics Publishers. 2000.