If you have to hydrate during a hockey game, you’re already too late.
At least, that’s what Boston Bruins forward Sean Kuraly believes.
“I start with two electrolyte packets before the game, just to retain some of the water,” he said. “If you’re trying to hydrate at game time, you’re too late. You can’t catch up. It’s yesterday, it’s today, just drink as much water as you can. If you’re drinking anything else, you’re kind of taking away what water you’re drinking.”
Kuraly’s approach is on par with nearly everyone’s idea of how to maintain hydration during play: Water and electrolytes are the biggest things, with players limiting whatever else they’re consuming. Other supplements can cause more harm than good if they’re absorbing water or other hydrating supplements, especially if it’s near game time or around when a player is going to sweat the most.
And even for those players who differ on the exact intake formula required to maintain hydration, one constant remains: the importance of being prepared.
Planning for loss
Hockey players can lose up to one-and-a-half liters of water — nearly a half gallon — per game, and up to five pounds of actual body weight in a single contest, depending on body chemistry. Trying to gain that weight back between games is tough, and being properly prepared before the game even begins is the key.
Players know their own bodies, having settled into hydration routines long before they made it to the NHL. But at the top professional level of the sport, they now have access to more supplements and more knowledgeable trainers.
“Everyone knows what feels best for them,” defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. “For me, I try to get a lot of electrolytes in my system during the day, like those Gatorade packets. Try to do a lot of those with water throughout the day. Sometimes Pedialyte is good before a game, stuff like that. I’m usually on top of my hydration, that’s an easy part of the job.”
Most everyone has a routine down where they’re ready to go before the game even begins, and all of them involve some sort of electrolyte, whether it’s from drinking Gatorade or using a packet.
Not all of them go the water route, though; some are a bit more unorthodox.
“I’m a little bit different than everybody else,” said Jake DeBrusk. “You do need to be hydrated before games, because if you are dehydrated before a game at all it can throw you off, your whole rhythm. I’m not a water guy, I don’t drink water, I’m a little different than everybody else like that. I have Gatorade or sometimes a Coke or Red Bull or coffee. I have a Red Bull and coffee before every game.”
Red Bull and other caffeinated or sugar-heavy drinks might seem counterproductive, but every person’s bodies work differently, and it comes down to having a routine that works.
Most players have a strict routine of only water and Gatorade and very few other liquids, at least during the season; coffee seemed to be a nearly universal exception to the rule.
“Coffee for sure,” said Kuraly. “I still have coffee. But coffee, water, that’s all I drink. I mean, beer or wine, but not usually during this time.”
A player’s hydration routine has to begin early, either earlier on game day, or even the day before. If you’re behind, it’s nearly impossible to catch up.
“I think overhydration is a good thing, especially during the day,” said Karson Kuhlman. “You want your body to be above and beyond where it needs to be, because you sweat and lose a lot during the game.”
During the game, all players have access to bottles of water, sports drinks and other hydration supplements, and while they take advantage of those, at that point it’s more for maintenance. If they haven’t put in the time and effort beforehand, in-game hydration can be all for naught.
“You’re sweating a lot,” said Chris Wagner. “I drink three bottles of water like, the last hour and a half before a game, then we have BioSteel, and I’ll usually have a Gatorade for extra electrolytes after the second (period). On the bench, I take a sip after every shift, but don’t really notice it.”
The Bruins also use BioSteel, a sports drink nearly every player cited when discussing their hydration routine. Some of them aren’t even sure exactly what it is (A hydration mix that supports energy production without the use of sugar or caffeine, according to the company), but it works, they say, as a mix with other supplements.
“I use it for mostly hydration. I sometimes take electrolyte pills, sometimes you have a headache,” said DeBrusk. “Some guys take stuff pre-workout, and it looks like it’s gasoline and a little different, but I usually stick with the Red Bull and coffee.”
The Bruins’ training staff makes sure the players are equipped and hydrated, no matter their personal preference.
“We have a lot of supplements around that are safe,” said Connor Clifton. “You kind of just get in a rhythm, everyone is different. I’m a big water guy. I think it’s the case for everyone, you have to be hydrated before the game even starts or else you’re cramping.”
As the season goes on, being prepared physically gets more and more important as wear and tear becomes an issue. The best thing athletes can do is have their bodies prepared, and hydration is arguably the most important — and easy — thing a player can monitor.
“I think you get into a better rhythm where you’re ready for game time and you’re hydrated and it’s built over time,” said Kuraly. “In summer, it’s a different situation, especially with a short summer. As the season goes on, it’s crucial, it’s just as important as being stretched and warmed up, being hydrated.”
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