It is a privilege to fuel the Detroit Red Wings. I see first-hand the raw speed of Darren Helm, and the finesse of Pavel Datsyuk. They are gifted athletes. But in order to perform at their best, they need to be fueled with the best, and that means fueling with “clean” foods. Pure, simple, fresh ingredients without manufactured lab chemicals. To achieve that, there are a few rules of thumb that serve our team well.
But for performance, however, the adage should be changed to “spectacular in, spectacular out”.
One, consuming foods that once were alive makes you feel alive and full of energy. Processed foods, on the other hand, include a wide array of ingredients that can have detrimental effects on performance. When it comes to eating, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” truly applies. But for performance, however, the adage should be changed to “spectacular in, spectacular out”.
Next, I’ve learned that one size does not fit all. Individual players have individual preferences, and asking one player to follow a diet similar to another player rarely works. This is due in part to the fact that our team is made up of players who were born and raised all over the world, who have different cultural food preferences. And in some cases, it’s the result of pre-game or post-game superstitions or habits. Regardless, it’s important to be flexible when it comes to helping players eat foods that give them an edge on the ice. So we try very hard to understand the needs of each individual player while keeping it simple for the team.
Another rule is to listen to what the research is telling us, and not what companies are telling us. As a dietitian, I know all ingredients are not created equal. In fact, studies show there are some ingredients that ignite muscles like rocket fuel. Not surprisingly, these ingredients are not grown in labs, but are grown from healthy soil like beets and spinach, which have been shown to increase muscle oxygen and delay fatigue by 15 percent. They are the natural, real foods from farms that brim with vitamins, minerals, plant compounds, anti-oxidants, fluid, fiber, flavonoids, polyphenols, protein and healthy fats. These are the ingredients everyone needs, especially athletes.
Commercial messages try hard to convince you otherwise, and in the last several years, marketers have started to take aim directly at athletes. Marketing campaigns would even have you believe that 5-year-olds need an electrolyte drink after 30 minutes of soccer! But when you take the time to read and research the ingredients, you realize more of them are created in a plant than come from a plant, including red dye #40, yellow #5 or #6, brominated vegetable oil, sodium benzoate, artificial flavors, sugar alcohols or carrageenan. As a result, every product we provide for the Red Wings players is vetted for these ingredients. It is easy to fall victim to the convenience of pre-packaged sport fuels, but being a phenomenal athlete has nothing to do with convenience.
What distinguishes a good diet from a spectacular diet?
There is some good news out there, though. Many consumers are becoming more aware of what is being added to the food system, and a cultural shift is beginning to occur. Chipotle, for example, has realized tremendous success with its commitment to fresh ingredients, sourced without added hormones and antibiotics. For more information about the Chipotle success story and others like it, check out the Tedx Manhattan talk: “Change the Way You Eat.”
My favorite talk from Tedx Manhattan was from Danny Meyer. He explains how fast food and traditional fine dining are merging to recreate healthier dining options.
Everyone deserves access to great food. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to implement these recommendations. Start by reading labels on the food you consume. Better yet, purchase food that does not require labels like apples, almonds and asparagus, to name a few. Create recipes from real ingredients and avoid processed food from a box. See how great you feel when your routine includes lots of plant-based ingredients.
Red Wings executive chef John Borso and I recently participated in a Fox cooking demonstration to highlight some of the healthy recipes we feed our players and our fans at Joe Louis Arena.
In the meantime, here are some ingredients you should look to avoid:
- Meat, poultry, fish and dairy products that have been fed or treated with hormones, antibiotics and/or arsenic
- Trans fat and hydrogenated oils
- Artificial colors
- Artificial flavors (like Acesulfame-K, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose)
- Bread and bakery products with refined, bleached, chlorinated and enriched flours
- Canned foods, bottled sodas and water with Bisphenol A (BPA) – look for BPA free labeling, stainless steel or glass containers
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Potassium benzoate and sodium benzoate
- BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene)
- Propyl gallate
- Magnesium Stearate
- Brominated vegetable oil
- Foods that contain excess sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Soy lecithin
- Genetically-modified organisms
To get you started, here are some examples of great tasting, convenient food without added ingredients:
About the Author: Detroit Red Wings dietitian Lisa McDowell has a passion for fresh, functional food and enjoys sharing her knowledge with athletes to improve performance. McDowell applies the science behind sports nutrition and translates rigorous scientific research to food and meal planning for the Red Wings.