Faster NHL has players turning to weight loss, nutrition to keep up

This is his NHL profession on the road, in any case. Eating this manner could possibly be the distinction between enjoying out the remainder of his hefty contract — it runs three extra seasons, together with this one, at a mean annual worth of $6 million — as a contributor or as a spare half. Backes hopes it’s the former and, to get there, he’s prepared to forgo the meals that have been as soon as his lifeblood.

“I’m salivating,” Backes stated. “But I know it’s better for me to stick with the omega-3s in the piece of salmon than it is to bury a 16-ounce steak.”

Backes was on a mission final offseason, to get leaner, to deliver his 222-pound body extra consistent with the place it ought to be within the present NHL. He shed 10 kilos in an effort to reclaim the sport that enticed the Bruins to signal him to that five-year, $30 million contract July 1, 2016, after 10 seasons with the St. Louis Blues. 

It’s a narrative that is turning into widespread throughout the NHL, particularly amongst veterans, particularly amongst greater players, as they struggle to maintain on to what as soon as made them an integral a part of the NHL. They have watched the players round them develop smaller and lighter and quicker, they usually acknowledge they want to do the identical — if they will.

Because the NHL is shrinking.

Fourteen seasons in the past, in 2003-04, the typical weight within the NHL was 206.41 kilos. This season, it has dipped under 200, to 199.54. And although the typical height has additionally dipped, from 6-foot-1.24 in 2003-04 to 6-1.05 this season, it isn’t sufficient to account for the weight loss.

In 2003-04, there have been 117 players within the NHL weighing a minimum of 225 kilos; 17 of them have been at the very least 6-6. Five years later, there have been about the identical quantity, 113, weighing 225. But by 2013-14 the quantity had dropped to 81, and this season it stands at 41, with seven of these players at the very least 6-6.

“I do believe there’s been a movement away from a boxier-type build in a player,” Boston common supervisor Don Sweeney stated. “The game is so fast. If you can’t move, you get left behind.”

Vancouver Canucks basic supervisor Jim Benning stated, “It’s going to be harder and harder going forward with the speed of the League to find big-bodied guys that can keep up with the pace.”

Boston Bruins ahead David Backes is among the many NHL veterans who consider they want to watch their weight so as to keep up with youthful, quicker players. 

Which is why Backes took up the trigger within the offseason, considering again to when he misplaced 10 kilos after he had diverticulitis, or intestinal irritation, the earlier fall. He was stunned to discover that he felt higher on the ice within the wake of the sickness, and performed a few of his greatest hockey, scoring 14 factors (seven objectives, seven assists) in 15 video games after his return. In the opposite 42 video games he performed, he scored 19 factors (seven objectives, 12 assists).

He gained the weight again over the remainder of the season, then set about dropping it once more; if he actually had performed higher as a result of he was lighter, he believed he wanted to completely lose the weight and recapture the magic of being faster and quicker. 

Plus the Bruins requested him to do it.

“It was an eye-opening experience that maybe there’s a chance to play a little lighter,” stated the 34-year-old, whose manufacturing has dropped from 58 factors (26 objectives, 32 assists) with the Blues in 2014-15 to 13 factors (5 objectives, eight assists) in 40 video games this season.

“That makes you feel a little bit like you’re staying on top of the ice and not worn down during the game. Just conversations with (coach) Bruce Cassidy and the management of, ‘You have to stay healthy, but you’ve got to also keep up with the play and you’re not getting younger and you’re probably not getting faster,’ just naturally by the aging process. So I had to do something concertedly.”

But although Backes could be one of many extra notable examples, he is removed from the one one. Players like Dallas Stars ahead Jason Spezza, Edmonton Oilers ahead Milan Lucic and Detroit Red Wings ahead Justin Abdelkader have tried — some regularly, some all of sudden, some efficiently, some much less so — to get extra according to the place the NHL is.

It has shrunk. So they’ve shrunk. Or tried to, as least.

Because they know that if they do not, they may be rendered out of date.


When Erik Karlsson was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2008, the slight defenseman seemed extra like a stickboy than an NHL participant, stated Dallas Stars ahead Jason Spezza, who was then with Ottawa. 

Spezza remembers taking a look at Erik Karlsson and marveling.

Back then, on the time of the 2008 NHL Draft, Spezza was a member of the Ottawa Senators and Karlsson was the their first-round decide (No. 15), a Lilliputian 5-11 and 165 kilos, no less than in contrast to a number of the defensemen drafted forward of him that yr (Drew Doughty, who was 6-Zero, 219 on the time; Zach Bogosian, 6-2, 197; Alex Pietrangelo, 6-Three, 206).

“This is who we drafted?” Spezza remembered considering. “He looks like a stickboy. And now he’s the best defenseman in the world, right? It was a definite shift.”

Karlsson is not that measurement, listed at 6-Zero, 190. But his body matches completely today, with the smaller, extra cellular, extra offensive breed of defenseman coveted by basic managers all through the League.

In the brand new NHL, Calgary Flames ahead Johnny Gaudreau (5-9, 165) and Tampa Bay Lightning middle Brayden Point (5-10, 166) every is within the prime 10 in factors. (Gaudreau is second with 74; Point is seventh with 64.) Five of the 14 defensemen within the prime 31 on NHL Central Scouting’s remaining listing of North American skaters forward of the 2018 NHL Draft have been shy of 6 ft. 

Fast is sweet. Quick is sweet. Size can nonetheless be good. 

But not all the time. It’s not what groups are on the lookout for first anymore. 

“The top five picks when I got drafted (No. 2 in 2001, by the Senators) had to be 6-3 and play at 210, 220,” stated the 35-year-old Spezza, who misplaced about 12 or 13 kilos from his 6-Three, 222-pound body three years in the past on the suggestion of then-Stars coach Lindy Ruff and who now performs at 215. “Now the highest picks are 6-foot-1 and 175 kilos and appear to be they might work for the staff.

“When I used to be younger, we squatted each day, all day. Because you needed to have an enormous [rear] and large legs and that is what made a hockey participant.”

Now, to be a hockey participant, it is much less about squatting, much less about steak, extra about yoga and Pilates, and much more about ginger-and-turmeric photographs and tart cherry juice and wild Alaskan salmon and so, so, so many avocados.

Because you modify or, as Backes stated, “You turn into a dinosaur and turn out to be extinct.

“That’s your choice. I’m going to be stubborn and stay on my train tracks, or I’m going to flip the switch and try to get on the right track so I can stay relevant and stay productive and stay doing what I love to do.”


For almost a decade, Backes watched as his spouse, Kelly, concocted meals for herself.

They cooked individually, Kelly together with her plant-based menu — with fish added now that the household is on the East Coast — and David together with his meat-and-potatoes-heavy weight loss plan. 

Then got here final offseason.

Boston Bruins ahead David Backes has adopted a plant-based weight loss plan from his spouse, Kelly. 

“Adopting her lifestyle, her dietary regimen, was simple to do because she’s already cooking it,” Backes stated. “And I tasted most of it and it wasn’t terrible. … So it was an easy transition for me because she was already doing it and pointing the family in that direction. Our kids are both [eating] plant-based [diets] and thriving. My 3-year-old daughter looks like a 5-1/2-year-old. She’s growing at an alarming rate.”

He adopted up that change by eliminating added sugars, together with in dried mangos and different seemingly healthy meals. That transition was harder.

“I had withdrawal symptoms for 10 days, maybe two weeks, of just a headache that wouldn’t go away,” he stated. “I am like, this was an issue. I used to be telling her what I used to be consuming: fruit snacks and Rice Krispies Treats and little — ‘Oh it is proper there, I am going to have a pair.’ Oreos are dessert after dinner.

“Now you begin to boil that down. How many ineffective calories was I consuming?”

They did not go chilly turkey. There continues to be the occasional Sunday afternoon ice cream with the youngsters. There’s the occasional chew of meat, some hen in hen soup, a cheat meal once in a while. But Backes took a tough take a look at what he was consuming, and shortly sufficient, 10 kilos vanished.

That’s the overall strategy for many who need to shed weight, particularly those that are already among the many better of the perfect within the realms of fitness and health. But there are alternative ways to go about it, from plant-based diets to vegan to gluten-free to the elimination of pink meat.

NHL groups have employed dieticians for the previous decade or so, with Lisa McDowell of the Detroit Red Wings one of many longest-tenured at 10 years. She’s seen players develop more proficient at monitoring their intakes, although she has to be careful for the European players and their alfredo sauce, and the Swedes and their bearnaise sauce; neither complies together with her concept of a balanced food plan. (Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson is so devoted to the sauce that he launched his personal line, Ericssson’s Bearnaise.)

She has seen the subsequent era are available with the idea of consuming healthy already established and has seen the older era study to accommodate her needs. Her 15-ingredient morning smoothies, her ginger and blueberries and avocados and coconut and chia seeds and floor flaxseeds. Her sauteed spinach with pine nuts. Her candy potatoes.

But for these fascinated by dropping weight, McDowell first strips the extras from their consuming habits, these Oreos and Rice Krispies Treats and fruit snacks that Backes minimize.

“What we might do is a very in-depth evaluation of what they’re sometimes taking in and also you search for that 10, 20 % fluff stuff,” McDowell said. “It could possibly be pretzel rods, perhaps the beer, the ice cream, a few of the meals in hockey which are fairly prevalent, and we take a look at how to sort of tweak. I feel the offseason is one of the best time to periodize their nutrition routine, so we attempt to dial it in then.”

She may experiment with training players on a low-carbohydrate weight loss plan, may take a look at an idea referred to as metabolic effectivity, an strategy to training made common by Bob Seebohar, who has been the sports activities dietician for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Metabolic effectivity training is a method of enhancing the power to use the physique’s inner shops of vitamins. McDowell has taken players to Seebohar in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to see once they is perhaps tapping into fats vs. carbohydrate shops, and to discover a goal coronary heart price quantity that permits them to burn fats particularly.

“There’s all these instruments obtainable if guys categorical that curiosity of wanting to [lose weight],” McDowell said. “We need to stability energy and velocity for positive, and don’t need to see them endure of their recreation.”

But that is a troublesome stability, she stated, “since you’re taking a look at a two-percent margin. You’re going to begin to endure sooner or later, proper? It’s such a slender hole that you have to be within the candy spot.”

And that candy spot is not straightforward to discover.

“The recreation has gotten quicker,” Bruins sports nutritionist Julie Nicoletti said. “It continues to velocity up and guys need to be as robust as they will, however nonetheless as fast as attainable. They don’t need to be too mild and simply get pushed round, however I additionally really feel like they need to be fast.

“The old, thicker, bigger bodies, I think that’s a thing of the past. They just get left in the dust.”


But weight loss is way from a cure-all. And that is for the players who may even lose the weight.

“We’re all big guys that don’t skate very well, right?” stated the 35-year-old Spezza of a gaggle that features Backes, Lucic, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook and himself, amongst others. “So they want to tell us to lose weight because they think it’s going to make us skate better. Is it?”

That’s an necessary query.

For all of Backes’ weight loss, and for all the modifications he is made, he has skated this season anyplace from the primary to the fourth line, spending most of his time as a very-well-paid bottom-six proper wing, and was a healthy scratch Wednesday for the primary time since he turned an NHL common 12 years in the past.

When Backes signed, he was considered a potential third-line middle or top-line proper wing. But neither of these choices has panned out regardless of his bodily evolution.

The weight loss has not introduced him again to the best way he performed final season after first dropping these 10 kilos. It has not introduced the factors or the position he needed. 

But maybe considering that weight loss alone would change issues was shortsighted.

“There’s still room as long as you can adapt,” stated Spezza, who scored an NHL career-high 92 factors in 2007-08 however dipped to 50 in 2016-17 and 26 final season. He has 21 factors (six objectives, 15 assists) in 47 video games this season. “I think it’s more about adapting the style of the game than it is thinking you’re going to become this little skinny guy. My legs aren’t going to shrink all of a sudden. You’re stuck with what you’ve got.”

That was Lucic’s drawback.

The Oilers ahead informed Sportsnet halfway via 2017-18 that he wanted to slim down, acknowledging that his manufacturing wasn’t what it as soon as was. He had 34 factors (10 objectives, 24 assists) after routinely having 50- and 60-point seasons from 2010-11 by means of 2016-17. 

Edmonton Oilers ahead Milan Lucic labored exhausting to get his weight down in hopes of elevating his manufacturing. 

And he tried within the offseason, nevertheless it wasn’t fairly that straightforward.

“It took me all summer just to get down to 230. I think I weighed in officially at 230.6,” stated the 30-year-old, who has performed at 235 in previous seasons. “It took me all summer time of weight-reduction plan and every thing as a result of I did not need to lose my power. I did not need to lose my energy. Especially due to the best way I play, I want these issues.

“There have been occasions that I used to be weighing in at 227, 228 this yr, and I felt virtually exhausted. I felt virtually dehydrated and exhausted. So you’ve got acquired to discover a stability of what works on your physique.”

The similar factor occurred to former linemate and present Bruins ahead David Krejci. He shouldn’t be precisely in the identical class as a few of the different, bigger-bodied players, however the 32-year-old knew he wanted to work on his quickness and lose weight over the summer time. Krejci dipped to 180 from his regular enjoying weight of 188, and fought the identical exhaustion that Lucic confronted, ultimately settling in on the mid-180s. Lower, however not too low.

“I used to be like, I am going to be superior. I am going to be flying. I am going to be quicker,” said Krejci, who has 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) in 49 games this season and is on pace for 66 points, his most since he had 69 in 2013-14. “But I stored it up for 2 weeks and each time I woke up, I used to be like, why am I so drained? I had no energy, as a result of I used to be consuming so little. Healthy however little.

“It’s not just about losing weight. You’ve got to feel good.”

That’s the problem.

Ultimately, Lucic determined that he wasn’t enthusiastic about slimming down. Instead, he recognized that in the course of the years when he performed the perfect, his vertical leap made the distinction. He spent the summer time engaged on that to get his recreation again the place he needed it to be. But it has not helped; after scoring in a 5-2 loss to the Flames on Saturday, Lucic has 12 factors (5 objectives, seven assists) in 48 video games this season.

He’s not alone, although, in believing that further weight could be an asset, no matter what the remainder of the NHL is doing.

“We’ve had this conversation with (defenseman Torey) Krug,” Cassidy stated. “He’s top-heavy, strong, loves to lift. It’s like, Torey, what do you think? He says, ‘I just feel better at that weight.’ That’s one he stayed at. Time will tell over his career which way he’s going to have to go.”

For his half, Krug (5-9, 186) was confused by the request to shed kilos. He performs a recreation comparable to that of teammate Matt Grzelcyk (5-9, 174), a fellow puck-moving, offensive-minded defenseman. And on the similar time they have been asking if he would lose weight, the Bruins have been encouraging Grzelcyk to achieve some.

“I think their mentality was if I get a little bit lighter I could probably skate up and down the ice a little bit more,” stated Krug, who has performed at each 183 and 188 kilos. “If you’re carrying a few pounds less over time, it obviously goes a long way. Less weight to carry, less weight to move.”

But that is not what feels greatest to him. He believes he wants the extra heft for energy later within the recreation, for battles within the nook, the place he is already at an obstacle, given his height. That was what he discovered when enjoying on the decrease weight.

“I would like to hope that it’s a good balance of player’s preference and what the team wants, but ultimately as long as you perform, it doesn’t matter,” he stated.

Defenseman Torey Krug and ahead David Krejci have seen the Boston Bruins start offering more healthy meals for players. 

Still, it isn’t all the time a simple dialog to have. Weight is a difficult matter for the typical individual, and in some methods it is thornier for the typical NHL participant. And so with the Bruins having raised the subject with numerous players, they know that they could see acceptance, as with Backes, or resistance, as with Krug, or they could see denial solely.

“It’s hard,” Cassidy stated. “Sometimes it’s immediately construed as a negative, right? I’m fat or I’m this or I’m out of shape. It’s not necessarily that way. It’s how do you keep your pace up, how do you recover quicker, and sometimes just being lighter will help.”


“I think it’s an absolute myth,” Krug stated. “Just because you’re lighter, you probably lost muscle, now you’re not as explosive. It’s something that has to be balanced at some point.”


The Bruins apply at Warrior Ice Arena, their state-of-the-art facility in Brighton, Massachusetts, on the western fringe of Boston. They are three seasons faraway from working towards at Ristuccia Arena, a high-school-level facility north of the town, the place the one lunch choice was for players to order in takeout, often pizza or subs.

“I kind of miss it every once in a while,” Cassidy stated, smiling.

That’s straightforward for him to say, not having his livelihood depend upon his quickness, agility and, typically, a quantity on a scale.

“It wasn’t good but, at the time, everyone was doing that,” Krejci stated. “You didn’t feel like you were doing anything wrong. But it’s different. The League is faster and younger, so you’ve got to keep up. You’ve got to take care of your body.”

Now all the Bruins — these wanting to slim down, keep, and even achieve weight — are greeted with chef-prepared, nutritionist-designed meals for breakfast and lunch on follow and recreation days, the ice cream sundae bar from TD Garden lengthy gone, the food perfected to optimize efficiency and, in some instances, reduce weight, all organized by Nicoletti, in her fourth season with Boston.

Nicoletti stated she serves “whole real clean food in as close to its natural state as possible, as often as possible,” whether or not it is for guys like Backes wanting to drop kilos or somebody like Grzelcyk, all the time making an attempt to achieve.

Because although the NHL is getting smaller and lighter, that is nonetheless not the case for each participant. McDowell tells of Danny DeKeyser (6-Three, 192), the Red Wings defenseman who has a lot hassle preserving on weight that he is typically tasked with consuming two or three avocados every day. 

“I think the weight is overrated,” Spezza stated. “I think really the number is overrated. Too much gets made of the number because it’s something we can quantify. For me, it’s just eating properly and eating fats at the right time, eating carbs at the right times.”

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser has a tough time holding weight on; Dallas Stars ahead Jason Spezza thinks ‘weight is overrated.’

Even consuming pink meat on the proper occasions.

Spezza reduce out all pink meat at one level. He did not really feel fairly proper on the ice, maybe due to a psychological difficulty, maybe a bodily one, and ultimately added it again into his food plan. But he did not add in the identical jumbo cuts of ill-chosen beef, as an alternative choosing smaller parts, for grass-fed, higher-quality meat.

It’s all a part of discovering the stability. Finding the weight that works, the weight-reduction plan that works, the combination that may permit a dinosaur to nonetheless exist in a world of cheetahs. Much of the culling has already occurred, one thing that may be seen within the dwindling variety of massive our bodies on the ice.

The relaxation? They aren’t prepared but to be pushed out of a league that was as soon as their area.

“When I got to the League, even five years ago, it was kind of, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to just do it harder than you,'” Backes stated. “It was stare across at you at the face-off dot, look the guy in the eye and say, ‘I’m going to just do this game harder than you tonight.'”

That’s not what the sport is anymore. It’s about who can get even a single step on the opponent, and who can use his velocity to get to the puck, to get to the spot, to make the play. It’s about gaining a foot the place as soon as it was about gaining an inch. 

Players not want the identical bulk to give you the option to stake out an area and maintain it as a result of that area is not there anymore. It’s shifting, quicker than they will keep up with, whether or not they’re 5 kilos lighter or 10. 

“You’ve got to be able to get in first on the forecheck and you’ve got to be able to get back on the backcheck and if you’re carrying extra weight, it makes it a little harder to do,” Lucic stated. “So in five, 10 years, is there going to be a guy that’s 6-3, 235 pounds? I can’t answer that for you.”

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