Kyle Turris doesn’t look like a guy with an appetite to clean out your refrigerator.
In his street clothes, the slightly built Ottawa Senators centre doesn’t even much look like a professional hockey player.
But truth be known, with a knife and fork in hand, the 23-year-old Turris is a trencherman of the first order, consuming between 5,500 and 6,000 calories every day. That’s about twice the caloric intake recommended by Health Canada for an active male between 19-30 years of age.
But make no mistake: Turris doesn’t eat this way because he’s a glutton. He eats this way because he has to.
It’s a fact of life for high-performance athletes. They burn so much energy every day that they have trouble keeping weight on.
And Turris is not alone.
All of his Ottawa teammates, to a lesser or greater degree, struggle with the same problem. Just to break even, they have to eat a staggering amount of food every day.
Last summer, Turris and Chris Schwarz, the team’s conditioning coach, worked at finding an ideal weight for Turris, one that would help him feel energized on the ice and one he could maintain all year. It turned out to be in the 190-pound range.
In a normal 82-game season, it would be a challenge to stay at that level.
But in a short season like this one, it’s even more difficult, because there aren’t many rest days during which the body can recover. The schedule is mostly practice-game-practice-game.
So, on a normal game day, here’s what Turris eats.
For breakfast, four eggs over easy, with four slices of white toast, with butter, then a small bowl of oatmeal with some strawberry jam.
For his pre-game meal, he’ll take two chicken breasts from the kitchen at Scotiabank Place, make a mound of pasta at home with a rose sauce, and add the chicken breasts.
For a snack before the game, he’d have a protein bar and some fruit.
After the game, he’ll have a meal at Scotiabank Place (which the team started to provide after goalie Craig Anderson cut his hand trying to slice a frozen chicken breast last season).
Then, he’ll go out with fiancé Julie Fuller and perhaps some teammates for another full meal at one of the local restaurants near the rink, for something like chicken Parmesan or a rib-eye steak, which is a dietary staple.
“Every day off, I’ll have at least a 12-ounce rib-eye,” he said.
While that’s enough food to make most of us gag, it’s only just enough to help Turris replace what he loses in games and practices.
“With the schedule we have, it’s tough to maintain my weight, so off the ice I try to make sure I get the right foods at the right times and the right amount of food,” he said. “But if we go a week and don’t have a day off, say we play four games or five games in a eight-day span, then I’ll definitely be below the weight I’m trying to maintain, and it’ll take me a couple of days to get back to it.”
When he was helping Turris sort out his diet last summer, Schwarz had to get Turris out of the habit of eating only when he was hungry.
We’re all conditioned to eat that way, of course, but Turris needed more than three meals a day to keep his weight level.
That meant sitting down for seven or eight meals a day.
“In the summer, Kyle was probably consuming somewhere around 5,500, 6,000 calories a day, which is quite a lot,” said Schwarz.
“But we also wanted to do something that he could manage, because it’s obviously not easy to eat 6,000 calories with all the meals you have to prepare.
“So what we did was put more fat in his diet to keep the calorie intake up. He’s not having saturated fats and french fries and that kind of thing, but he doesn’t have to be afraid to have guacamole and whole fat milks.
“What happens is that they try to eat so clean that they just can’t get enough calories. They can eat bushels of spinach and chicken and fish, but the problem is that they don’t get enough calories.
“We try to get them going back a little bit more to how our grandparents ate. Don’t be afraid of fats but know what are good fats and what are bad fats.”
Managing the diets of players is something that starts early in the Ottawa organization.
From their first development camps, players are gradually nudged into a nutritional routine.
In Binghamton, nutritionist Molly Morgan takes AHL Senators on tours of the grocery store to point out what they should and should not be included in their diets. She has also made available to them a smartphone app they can use when they go grocery shopping, to tell them what they should and shouldn’t be putting in the shopping cart.
In Ottawa, they have nutritionist Bruce Bonner to help them sort out the biochemistry of food, to find what is right for them.
It can be a challenge, said Schwarz, because players have developed eating habits long before they reach the NHL. So he treads lightly when he starts talking about diets.
“I don’t like to get into it and say ‘you need to eat this’ or ‘you need to eat that,’” he said. “If we have issues – and we’ve had issues before with young players who weren’t eating enough food – then we’re going to say, ‘take this home with you and you’re going to have it again in the afternoon.’
“But unless something is really glaring, we don’t jump in and sort of analyze from afar.
“You’ve got to remember that a lot of these guys are conditioned. They’ve been doing this since they’ve been 15, 16 years old. So when they make the NHL, it’s not like, ‘OK, and by the way, everything you’ve done for the last five, eight years is wrong.’
“We just try to gradually condition them into routines.”
Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch, who grew up in Burnaby with Turris and trained with him in Ottawa last summer, is a prime example of how the system is supposed to work.
After two years at the University of Denver, Wiercioch, a 2008 draft pick, signed with the Senators in 2010.
So he’s been the beneficiary of several development camps and two seasons in Binghamton, where he listened closely to Morgan’s advice.
“I think I knew the basics of it, but I didn’t really know how much it could help me,” he said. “There are certain things you can’t change. I mean, you are who you are. People have their own styles of what they eat. But there are changes you can make that will help you out.
“I started eating more greens. I wasn’t supplementing my diet with greens and she just kind of stressed to eat them daily, eat your spinaches, stuff that you don’t like to eat as often but is good in your diet.”
But good intentions can only take you so far, he said, since the reality in the AHL is that the post-game meal is pizza, burgers, or chicken on the bus ride home.
“It’s like of like, well, pick your poison,” he said.
But just as there’s an upgrade in transportation when players reach the NHL, planes instead of buses, there’s also an upgrade in food.
The pre-game meal on the road is always the same: Steak, chicken, fish as protein sources; pasta with either meat or tomato sauce; a full salad bar and a variety of different vegetables and fruits.
On the team charters, there is always a full meal that features chicken, steak, or fish. And there’s plenty of food at the rink, from oatmeal in the morning to post-game meals.
So except for about 15 meals a week, when the players are on their own, the team knows exactly what they’re putting in their mouths.
That’s part of the reason Schwarz doesn’t try to micro-manage what players are putting on their plates away from the rink.
First, he already has a pretty good idea. Second, nitpicking doesn’t work.
That’s why Turris gets away with eating white bread (though he does take shots from his teammates), and why other players, like Peter Regin and Ben Bishop, start their days with protein shakes, starting with Greek yogurt and including a variety of ingredients.
“The problem is every guy has his own routine on game days, but mentally we don’t want to over-analyze things,” said Schwarz. “You can get to a point in sports performance where you can analyze everything right down to the nitty-gritty. But the reality is you’re trying to develop confidence and routine.
“It’s a tough sport,” he continued. “In sports like football, where you have four or five days between games, you can mess around with the players and their psyches on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then get back into the regular scene on Thursday and Friday.
“In hockey, it’s hard to do that, because you’re playing the next day.
“Routine is important, because you don’t have time to fiddle around and test something to see how it works.”
For that reason, he’s loath to weigh a player on a game day.
“We don’t want them looking down and saying “Oh, no, I’m four or five pounds down. What am I doing? I’m not going to play well.’”
Once the season ends, though, the players face another challenge: Cutting back on the calories consumed.
That can be difficult to manage, and is one reason the weight of high-performance athletes often balloons when they stop playing. They’re just not expending the same amount of energy.
“In the summer you try to slow down on the carbs and not eat so much pasta,” said Peter Regin. “During the season, I eat pasta every day, at every pre-game meal and usually after games.
“With the schedule we have, it’s like we have pasta twice a day, almost, and I’m still losing weight.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge to cut back sometimes, but you’re also fresher during the summer.
“The toughest part during the season is that, for the most part, you’re always eating late, and you’re tired.
“During the summer, you have energy. You work out once a day and maybe skate, then you have all day to prepare dinner,” he explained. “You’re still burning energy, but you also have time to prepare meals and you don’t eat out as much.”
In the end, though, it’s all about performance, and in the NHL, performance equals results equals money.
So it’s important to make sure that the players are getting enough of what they need to be at the top of their games.
“My main concern with the players is finding their optimum weight,” said Schwarz. “Some guys have to have their weight up to a certain point or else their energy drops off.
“There are a couple of players on the team that, when their weight drops too low, their immune systems get weakened. They get sick, they get colds.
“But it takes work to find the right weight,” he said. “We as a staff might think a player needs to be at a certain weight to perform well, and they might feel terrible at that weight.
“It’s all about the weight that lets them perform to the best of their abilities.”