IN DETROIT, the hockey team wears red, but the hockey players dine on a colorful cuisine that helps prevent injuries, promote recovery and maximize performance. Through lab testing, Red Wings dietitian Lisa McDowell tracks organ function, blood counts, muscle function and vitamin levels to detect a player's deficiencies and problem areas. Based on the results, she provides a range of foods to help players bounce back from hard-hitting games. Unlike artificial, processed ingredients, the naturally occurring phytochemicals found in McDowell's list of multicolored foods deliver performance benefits as varied as the spectrum.
Rainbow of Power Foods
Watermelon is a source of hydration, and it has L-citrulline, a powerful antioxidant that when converted to the amino acid arginine can support wound-healing, as with sore muscles and bruises. The team also partners with a Michigan orchard to produce 30-ml bottles of tart cherry juice, "an anti-inflammatory and natural source of melatonin to aid sleep."
The players eat sweet potatoes and carrots for beta-carotene and vitamin C, but to help heal bruises, McDowell suggests pineapples, which contain a contusion-clearing enzyme called bromelain.
"There's a reason Popeye ate spinach," says McDowell, who pushes leafy greens that contain nitric oxide, which delays fatigue and improves circulation. Other favorites include asparagus and, to boost testosterone levels and support muscle health, monounsaturated-fat-rich avocados.
The deep pigments in blueberries, grapes and red cabbage carry antioxidants. McDowell, who worked with Team USA at the 2012 Olympics, offers mixed berries regularly with oatmeal and salads.
McDowell's favorite on-the-go snack for the team is Greek yogurt, topped with flax seeds, spices (like cinnamon and nutmeg) or walnuts for additional nourishment. Garlic and onions also contain immune-stimulating allicin, she says.
Dried fruits, oatmeal, quinoa, nuts and seeds are among the most efficient foods available. "They are nutrient powerhouses, and sources of protein and fiber," McDowell says.