Field hockey is a sport that is played extensively by both men and women throughout Australia and overseas. It is played at both amateur and professional levels. Hockey is a team sport played between two teams. Traditionally a team consists of 10 players plus 1 goal keeper with up to 7 substitutes permitted per team. There are also some newer formats of the game that are played with much fewer players (e.g. Hockey5s which is played with only 5 players per team).
Match play lasts for 70 minutes and consist of two 35- minute halves plus a short break at half time. In some major international tournaments such as the Olympics, matches are played in four 15-minute quarters. Players can be substituted as many times as desired during a game and play is not stopped for substitutions. Some teams will substitute players up to 70 times in a single match. These substitutions are used give players brief periods of rest as hockey is a fast paced sport with high intensity sprints alongside passing, scoring and tackling.
Hockey is generally played in the winter months, with elite athletes spending the off-season in training or at other competitions. Training sessions typically involve strength and conditioning, technique and match preparation. In season, matches are played most weekends and athletes may have to travel locally, interstate or overseas for competitions. Competitions are also played in tournament format over several days.
Hockey requires a great deal of endurance, strength, speed and agility. Therefore, hockey players will use both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Players are also required to think tactically, have fast reaction time and display tactical and technical ball movement skills for the duration of the game.
Because of these characteristics, energy demands can be high, particularly in tournament settings where several games may be played over a number of days. There is the potential for high levels of fluid loss and injuries making nutrition and hydration strategies essential for optimising performance of players at all levels.
Due to the high intensity, physically demanding nature of the sport, hockey players need a nutrient rich diet to optimise performance at training and promote recovery between sessions. A hockey player’s diet should be based around lean proteins for muscle repair and recovery and appropriately timed carbohydrate for fuel. In addition, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and dairy foods provide important vitamins and minerals, along with some healthy fats.
Individual nutrition requirements will be determined by training load, specific athlete needs, training goals, body composition goals, health and adjustment for growth in younger athletes. Junior hockey players also need to meet the nutrition needs of growth and development.
Hockey is a fast moving game that requires high-intensity running, fast decision-making and skill. Studies have shown that dehydration can negatively impact shooting accuracy, speed, agility concentration and co-ordination.
Due to the high intensity, stop/start style of the matches, sweat rates can be high. The temperature and humidity will also play a part in the players fluid needs. Fluid needs will depend on individual fluid losses, which vary between players depending on individual sweat rate.
To maintain good hydration levels, players should be encouraged to drink fluid before, during and after a hockey match. Since hockey is a winter sport, on cold days, players may need prompting to drink as they may not feel the need to replace fluid losses in cooler weather. In most situations, water is sufficient to replace fluid losses, however, during matches, sports drinks can be a good option as they provide carbohydrates to fuel the body, fluid and electrolytes simultaneously.
In tournament settings, it is important to replace fluid losses after a match to avoid starting subsequent matches dehydrated. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can work with players to determine their individual sweat losses and a fluid plan to ensure they start all matches appropriately hydrated.
Eating before competition
It’s important to start matches well fuelled. The timing of the pre-game meal will depend on the start time of the match, which can vary from morning to late in the evening depending on the level of the athlete. Each athlete is different, but players will often eat a pre-game meal around 3 to 4 hours before the start of the match. This meal should contain some carbohydrate for fuel as well as some fluids for hydration.
Some suitable pre-match meal ideas can include:
- Wrap or sandwich with chicken and salad
- Bowl of muesli with yoghurt and berries
- Pasta with beef mince in tomato-based sauce
- Chicken stir-fry with rice or noodles
Many players will also have an additional small snack 1-2 hours prior to the game. This is often something light that is rich in carbohydrate but relatively low in fat and fibre so it is easy to digest.
Some suitable pre-match snack ideas include:
- Yoghurt with fruit salad
- Banana and a handful of almonds
- Peanut butter on rice cakes
- Toast with vegemite
Players who are nervous, or struggle with a poor appetite before matches, may find liquid carbohydrate options such as a fruit smoothie more appealing and easy to eat.
Eating and drinking during competition
There is only a brief opportunity to eat and drink at half time. There is also extra opportunity to rehydrate and top up fuel stores during substitutions.
While water is the priority fluid during training and for hydration during the day, and in most matches, sports or electrolyte drinks may be useful during a game for players with high energy requirements or heavy fluid losses as they can provide carbohydrates as well as electrolytes.
During tournament settings it is important to keep fuel levels topped up over the day to prevent fatigue. Light, easy to digest carbohydrate rich snacks such as muesli bars, fresh fruit, flavoured milk and simple sandwiches are all good options for refuelling between matches. Trialling nutrition strategies during training or practice matches will help determine the best plan for each player.
There are three rules to consider with recovery nutrition:
- Refuel muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stores)
- Repair muscle (for function & development)
- Rehydrate (replace fluids lost through sweat)
Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrate (fuel), some protein (for muscle repair and development) and plenty of fluids and electrolytes to replace sweat losses. A recovery meal or snack should be consumed soon after exercise period, remembering that recovery nutrition extends well beyond the initial hours after the match, particularly when the next training session or game is the next day. Fluids (mainly water) should also be consumed, based on estimated losses.
Some recovery food suggestions include:
- Ham, avocado and salad sandwich
- Dairy-based fruit smoothie
- Tofu and vegetable curry with rice
- Poached eggs with baked beans
- Grilled salmon with baked potatoes and salad
Other Nutrition Tips
- Be organised Players should have recovery snacks ready to go in their match day bag as it can be difficult to rely on the venue to provide appropriate choices for meeting recovery nutrition needs.
- Supplements In most cases, players can meet their nutrition and protein needs from carefully planned and timed meals and snacks without supplements. Those wishing to use supplements should seek the advice of a Sports Dietitian to ensure the right type, doses and timing of supplement is used.
- Body composition Players wishing to change their body composition (for example, to increase muscle or decrease fat levels) should work closely with an Accredited Sports Dietitian for the best results.