Lisa McDowell doesn’t oversee the Detroit Red Wings’ forechecking and defensive strategies.
She isn’t on the ice helping them skate faster or shoot quicker.
What she does for the team, however, could be the difference between a win or a loss in the next game.
McDowell, MS, RD, CSSD, is the Wings’ team dietitian. In a sport where a fraction of a second could make all the difference, she’s crucial to the team’s success.
“We know that a great diet can’t make an average athlete great, but we know that a poor diet can make a great athlete average,” McDowell said.
McDowell wants all athletes, not just her Red Wings, to watch what they are putting into their bodies. A good diet is crucial for everyone – especially a young hockey player who is still developing on and off the ice.
“If you’re sleeping well and eating well and hydrating well, then you really start to see a synergy with those and you become I guess the best version of your genetic potential is what I would say,” McDowell said. “We know that God-given talent will get you so far, but how do you become the best version of your genetic potential? Without proper nutrition, sleep and hydration, you just can’t. There’s lots of studies that look at performance gains with nutrition. Part of my role with the Detroit Red Wings is making sure that we don’t have any deficiencies, that we’re paying close attention to the little details and hard-wiring them into the players’ routines because they do become successful when their habits are successful.”
And just so all the youth hockey players (and their parents) reading this know – even the Red Wings struggle to consume the food doesn’t exactly taste like candy. For captain Henrik Zetterberg, vegetables are Public Enemy No. 1, but he and the Wings get creative on how he can consume them because veggies are crucial to his diet.
“It kind of starts with knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are,” McDowell said. “For example, Henrik doesn’t love vegetables, but we find a way to get them to him, so we know things like spinach are very helpful for sport because of the nitric oxide that you get from eating spinach, and that helps fuel the large muscle groups…We joke, ‘Popeye was strong to the finish because he ate his spinach.’ But if somebody doesn’t like spinach, what do we do? So for Henrik, we put it in his smoothies and he’ll eat the spinach in his smoothies, but he’s not such a big fan of eating the vegetables.
“But we know that having a colorful plate of fruits and vegetables at every meal is so important because of the damage done during exercise, so we need those phytochemicals and antioxidants to help repair the damage done during exercise.”
McDowell wants to see players consuming a balanced diet full of whole grains, lean protein and fruits and vegetables. As it turns out, Dylan Larkin is just as much of a role model for how he treats his diet as is he for his on-ice performances for the Wings.
“Dylan is very conscientious and in fact, he’s somebody that very early on, we went to training camp in Traverse City when he was a prospect and we did cooking classes so they would learn how to cook and how to use a knife and knife skills, and he was so interested in the recipes,” McDowell said. “He was living with Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan and the three of them, they were always asking me for recipes and so I would give them these Olympic recipes and I can tell you right when the game’s over, he’s like, ‘What’s post-game dinner? What are we having?’ We do these recovery shakes - he’s always looking for a shake. It’s definitely on his radar. He’s newer to the team, but he’s already developed those habits that are hard-wired into his routine, so he’s looking for his post-game shake and his meal.
“He’s worried about his sleep. The guys guard their naps like it’s their life. And then we look at the athletes’ blood work to see if they’re deficient in anything, so we’re managing that information and making food recommendations based on if they’re low, say if they’re low in iron or low in vitamin D, then we’re taking care of that in their meals. Just totally eating to optimize performance.”
Stay tuned for a series of articles about health and nutrition to help our hockey players succeed on and off the ice.