When Zach Parise first arrived in the NHL in 2005, he was just 21 years old.
Like most 21-year-olds, he ate whatever required the least effort. For Parise, that often meant dining out at the closest restaurant.
"When I first came in, I didn't really know a lot about nutrition. I was just out of college, and I was living on my own. So it was honestly what was easy and what was most convenient. I ate at restaurants a lot," Parise told STACK.
Parise was still able to produce on the ice, but he had no idea how much better he could feel if he paid more attention to what he was putting in his body. That all changed when Alisha, his girlfriend at the time who has since become his wife, moved in with him about three years into his NHL career.
"She had just graduated college with a dietetics degree, nutrition, all that stuff. So it kinda opened a whole new world to me about eating healthy and eating better than I was. It's amazing how much better I felt on the ice once I started to pay a little more attention to it," Parise said.
Indeed, Parise's year-by-year point totals show marked improvement roughly three seasons into his career:
2005-2006 (rookie season): 32 points
2006-2007: 62 points
2007-2008: 65 points
2008-2009: 94 points
2009-2010: 82 points
During the 2008-2009 season, Parise was named to his first NHL All-Star game. While his improvement can't be wholly attributed to his nutrition changes, there's no doubt they played a major role. So, what kind of changes did Parise make?
Perhaps the most important one is that he drastically cut back on his meals out. Restaurants want their food to taste good. Often the easiest way to make food taste good is by adding a bunch of salt, butter, sugar, etc. By cooking at home, you have total control of what you put in your food—a huge advantage for any health conscious person.
"I think a lot of it has to with just eating at home. You know what you're putting into it, it's healthier," Parise says. "I try to get a lot more veggies into my diet. It's not an easy thing because we all like what we like. We all love the big bone-in filets and big sides and everything. But I've just found you feel better. I'm not saying we've cut out certain things—cut out this, cut out that. But it's just paying more attention. It's not just for the hockey side of things, either. It's for everyday living and health."
When it's time to recover, Parise chooses chocolate milk. Low-fat chocolate milk contains the perfect mix of protein and carbs to refuel the body after a game, practice or workout. A surprising amount of research supports chocolate milk as a highly effective recovery beverage.
"It's kinda become my go-to recovery drink after practices or games or training. You're always looking for something—any type of edge you can get—in sports. And it's so important after training or after a game or practice to be able to bounce back for the next day. Even in the summer, it's important to be able to come back and train hard again the next day. It's not just something that tastes good, it's got the science behind it. It's got all the important nutrients you need to help you recover and be on top of your game the next day," Parise says.
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Photo Credit: Norm Hall/National Hockey League/Getty Images