NHL Diet: Eat Like a Stanley Cup Champ
With the NHL back in swing, we take a behind-the-scenes look at the nutrition program and recipes that fueled the Chicago Blackhawks to victory last season.
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The 2013 Chicago Blackhawks were fueled to succeed.
By succeed we mean winning the fifth Stanley Cup in team history–and second in four years. And the Hawks didn’t go about it the easy way—the hockey team was pushed to the limit by an inspired and battle-tested Boston Bruins squad, thriving with momentum off a sweep of top-seeded Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Finals.
OK, so it didn’t go to Game 7, but how did a triple-overtime Game 1 work for you? That was a thriller. Ultimately, the Blackhawks won the title in six games, in a series that featured three overtime contests–for the first time in Cup history. It was a grueling finish for a team that started off the season by going 24 straight games without a loss (an NHL record).
So, what’s all this have to do with food? During their thrilling Cup run, the Chicago Blackhawks' fuel was coming from the JW Marriott Chicago, which tailored a sports nutrition program to the team. The hotel’s “banquet culinary program” builds partnerships with groups that stay at the hotel, which also includes visiting NFL teams taking on the local Bears. “Sports teams tend to have a specific set of dietary requirements set forth by their nutritionist or dietician,” says JW Marriott chef Russell Shearer, who takes pride in the program’s ability to meet the high standards of professional athletes. “We work closely with the team to provide the necessary nutritional content.”
Steve Conklin, director of sales and marketing at JW Marriott Chicago, says teams provide a template for the hotel’s culinary team to work with, but that the hotel itself instills some ground rules to keep the athletes in check. This includes an alcohol ban and even a lockdown on (gasp) mini bars. “The hotel has to be committed [to the program],” says Conklin. “Once you understand that their needs are very consistent, you either do it or you don’t. There is no middle.”
According to Chef Shearer, the culinary program for teams staying at the hotel differs by sport, with the common thread of helping athletes recover from their latest workout while also preparing for the next. When it came to the Blackhawks and their season-ending quest for the Cup, it became essential to keep the players energized to push through those final rigors of a long (and draining) hockey season.
“Hockey is an endurance sport. For the Blackhawks that meant that their menu comprised high-quality carbohydrates, lean proteins, and nourishing vegetables,” says Shearer. “During the Hawks’ Cup run consistency was key; changing the preparations or ingredients could have a detrimental impact on performance as the players' bodies attuned to a certain diet.” Shearer noted menus that sourced local produce such as asparagus and salad greens, and beef from regional Niman Ranch farms in Illinois and Iowa, as well as seasonal fish like wild Alaskan halibut. (Certified sustainable, of course.)
The Blackhawks even had their own secret recipe for a recovery and pregame drink, a magic potion that included an array of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Suffice to say, it sounds like a recipe the Bruins would have loved to get their hands on following that triple-overtime stunner stolen by Chicago.
What’s next for JW Marriott’s athlete-friendly eating program: “Sports science and physiology have made great advances in injury prevention and coaxing the maximum potential from the human body,” notes Shearer. “I believe that as returns diminish from science-based training, the way we fuel athletes will be more important than ever. It is our job to provide healthy and inviting foods that meet these ever-changing needs.”
Shearer pointed to the adaption of differing diets, such as Paleo and even (another gasp) vegan, as signs of what’s to come for the hotel program. The chef also mentioned crafting future menus to balance acidity and alkalinity in an athlete’s body, which have an impact on speed of recovery.
Ready to get down to the specifics? Read on for two recipes straight from the source.