“It’s nice for me to have a real good handle on what I’m eating,” says new Hab, who is a Type 1 diabetic.
STU COWAN, MONTREAL GAZETTE
Wayne Gretzky is arguably the greatest hockey player who ever lived (I still say it’s Bobby Orr), but his eating habits would have today’s NHL training staffs shaking their heads.
Gretzky’s main pre-game meal was always the same: a bowl of chicken-noodle soup and a salad, followed by a steak with a potato and corn, which he would eat around 12:30 p.m., following his team’s morning skate. But Gretzky would find himself starving around 5 p.m. and looking for something else to eat before the game. Depending on the city he was in, it could be pizza, a sandwich or his favourite, hotdogs.
Gretzky once joked: “I play best on four hotdogs with mustard and onions. People ask me what’s my secret on the ice? Bad breath.”
The Great One would wash it down with a Diet Coke.
Gretzky has noted there were no power bars or energy drinks when he was young and started his pre-game routine, so he would get a boost from a Diet Coke and a chocolate bar.
Times have certainly changed.
Proper nutrition is a big deal in today’s NHL and no player takes it more seriously than the Canadiens’ Max Domi — in part because he is a Type 1 diabetic.
Since entering the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes in 2015, Domi has hired a personal chef to cook his meals. After getting traded to the Canadiens this past summer in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk, Domi started looking for a new chef in Montreal and found Emily — he didn’t want to reveal her last name. She cooks all the meals at his house.
“It’s nice for me to have a real good handle on what I’m eating,” Domi said after Tuesday’s morning skate in Brossard. “Obviously, with my medical situation it makes it even more important for me. It maximizes your recovery and helps your performance and all that stuff. So I take nutrition pretty seriously.
“The things I can’t eat are probably things I shouldn’t be eating anyways,” he added. “I look at it that way. It’s just a really healthy diet … I think everyone should be eating whole foods and a nutrient-intense diet. Obviously, there’s little preservatives and chemicals and steroids pumped into other stuff … you don’t want that stuff. It’s all organic, all whole-food stuff I put in my body and I’ve been noticing a big difference in being able to recover. Last year, I played all 82 games and I think the diet was a big part of that. The second half of the season is when I felt the best and I think a big part of that was nutrition.”
Domi said his diet focuses on a good balance of complex carbohydrates and he tries to avoid sugar unless his blood-sugar level is low and he needs it. Domi has to check his blood up to 15 times a day and inject himself with insulin. He said it’s important for him to eat slow-releasing carbs mixed with good fats like avocados, along with nuts “and stuff like that.” He also drinks plenty of water to stay hydrated and makes sure he gets enough sleep.
His pre-game meal normally consists mainly of brown rice and a type of quinoa pasta with a bit of tomato sauce, but it can depend on how he’s feeling, how many carbohydrates he needs and whether it’s back-to-back games. Salads are made with kale and spinach.
“She also makes gluten-free bread that’s a low-carb, pretty dense bread, but it’s good,” Domi said about his chef. “The proteins can be any type of red meat, it can be chicken, depending on how I’m feeling that day.”
For snacks, Domi and his chef focus on high-fat, low-carb treats, which can range from a cookie to a doughnut made with medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil.
“It’s all just really, really healthy stuff, purely to sustain your energy and make you feel good,” Domi said.
Gretzky’s pre-game eating was as much about routine and/or superstition as anything else. Gretzky would also always put his equipment on starting from the right side. Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby is similarly superstitious, still wearing the same protective cup jock strap he has had since his junior days with the Rimouski Océanic and always eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich (with specific brands of each) at 5 p.m. on game days.
Domi’s eating routine is more about necessity since he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12 and his first question to the doctor was: “Can I still play hockey?” Domi was inspired by former Philadelphia Flyers captain Bobby Clarke, who was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic when he was 13 and went on to play 15 seasons in the NHL, winning two Stanley Cups and being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987 — eight years before Domi was born.
As for his diet restrictions, Domi said: “To be honest with you, there’s really nothing I can’t eat. I choose not to eat a lot of things.”
Hotdogs are probably near the top of that list.