What do you eat when you spend half your days sprinting up and down an indoor icebox, throwing your body between a small net and bulking guys with sticks paid to get past you no matter what? The answer for Brenden Dillon is antithetical to hockey stereotypes. The Dallas Stars defenseman prefers rice cakes to bread and keeps his fridge stocked with a sour-tasting tea concoction more popular with vegans than 220-pound NHL athletes. “I’m really open to trying new things, whether our trainers are telling us about new supplements or I’m reading about something on my own,” the 23-year-old British Columbia native says. “But I definitely do my research first.” Whatever fieldwork Dillon is doing appears to be working, as he remains one of only two defensemen in the NHL to score multiple shorthanded goals this season. “I would say my diet is probably one of the better ones among the guys I know,” he says. “Any time you can get a leg up… And eating [well] can definitely do that for you.”
Rice cakes: The 6-4, 225-pound Dillon may worry about keeping on weight, but that doesn’t mean he loads up on bread, pasta, and subs. “The whole thing about being gluten-free that’s come out over the past years, everyone wants to be as healthy and toned as they can, and I think cutting down on bread can help with that,” he says. So in lieu of a sandwich, Dillon often has two rice cakes spread with peanut butter. “I like the taste of it,” he says of his low-calorie creation. “It’s high in protein and low in fat, and it’s a healthier alternative to bread.” When Dillon does get a hankering for a hoagie, though, he’ll layer turkey and cheese over just one slice of bread. “It’s just a way to cut back on unhealthy extra calories that everyone’s interested in doing now,” he says.
Nutri-Greens: This, er, puke-colored powder doesn’t look or smell particularly appealing, but Dillon won’t make his protein shakes without the dried vegetable blend. “I think it’s an easy way to get in all the greens you should be eating on a day-to-day basis,” he says. But adding a scoop of supplement to what would otherwise taste like a milkshake is a labor of love. “It tastes like grass—it doesn’t taste very good,” Dillon says of Nutri-Greens. “I try to use honey or some fruit just to cover the taste.” He also puts whole milk, peanut butter, and protein powder in his shakes, drinking at least one a day, typically before bed. “I just feel like if I get extra protein before I go to bed it helps keep my weight up,” he says.
Kombucha: A fermented tea drink made from yeast and bacteria, kombucha isn’t particularly well-known among NHL players—or among anyone, for that matter. “When my family was in town for Christmas, my sister opened my fridge and saw it,” Dillon says of the drink. “She thought it was bottled juice and took a sip and thought she was going to puke!” But Dillon says he likes the taste and, more so, that it’s packed with healthy bacteria called probiotics. “I know it’s really good with digestion, so I started to use it this year,” Dillon says. “It’s definitely refreshing.”
Cap’n Crunch: A bowl of Peanut Butter Crunch is Dillon’s dessert, not his breakfast. “I feel like it’s one of the best, worst desserts ever,” he says. In other words, “it’s not super good for you, but it’s better than chocolate cake.” The left-handed shooter says he treats himself to an after-dinner bowl with whole milk several times a week. “I’m a big cereal guy with getting my milk in there for protein and calcium, but it’s also just a sugar rush,” he says.
Red wine: Dillon says he was too busy playing junior hockey with the WHL to develop a real taste for drink stronger than his kombucha. “I don’t even know if I’ve ever tried white wine,” he says. Dillon doesn’t keep any booze in his fridge at home, although he does have several bottles of red wine in his kitchen. “I heard red is better for you, so I maybe, tops, have a glass once a week,” he says. “If I’m out with the guys, I’ll have a beer or two. But I’m definitely not a heavy drinker.”
Cheese: Keeping with his high-dairy diet of whole milk and Greek yogurt, Dillon also eats a lot of cheese, estimating that he’ll have at least two to three sticks of string cheese a day. “For athletes and guys like myself, we like to eat a lot,” he says. “And with how much we work out and sweat, I think it’s important that we do. Cheese is little extra protein, and I like the taste.” Dillon’s favorites are provolone and Swiss, both of which he’ll shred over home-cooked meals or slice onto his open-faced sandwiches.
Spinach: “My dad always told me to eat more greens, and now that I’m living on my own, I make a conscious effort to do so,” Dillon says. He says he tries to eat at least one salad per day, usually with spinach, berries, and walnuts, when he’s at home. “It definitely makes me feel better about my eating habits,” he says of his daily salad. “When you’re on the run as much as athletes are, it’s tough to stay as healthy as you want. Adding salads and fruit helps—it’s a good diet for digestion and gives you a balanced nutrition.”