By Hannah Kosh
Every summer, the San Diego Gulls players make their way to Southern California and settle into their home for the next nine months. The journey is different for every player, some are packing up their new families and some are leaving home for the very first time.
Whether they are coming from Canada, Florida, Long Beach, Calif. or even Sweden, adjusting to San Diego can be difficult. On top of a new home and a new environment, players must remember the reason they are here: to be elite athletes in the Anaheim Ducks organization.
Along with practice and conditioning, the food to fuel their bodies is equally important. To learn more about sustainable foods and fitness, the entire San Diego Gulls team took a trip to Catalina Offshore Products for a crash course in food education to prepare themselves off the ice.
“Catalina Offshore Products has been a family owned and operated company here in San Diego for 40 years,” said fishmonger Tommy Gomes, “We like to tell people that we educate, promote and have fun while teaching about seafood. The nutritional value of it, what to buy, where to buy it and to know your source. It is very important to know where your food is coming from.”
Gomes is a leading voice in seafood education in San Diego, and he helped the players understand more of what they needed to compete at the highest level and maximize their performance. “I was super stoked to be able to talk to these young athletes about the protein and nutrition to get the best performance out of their bodies,” said Gomes, reflecting on the team’s visit. “These are future stars of the NHL so we need them to eat properly.”
For a lot of athletes, thinking and planning about sustainable meals is a foreign concept.
“These guys are young and living on their own,” said Gulls Head Coach Dallas Eakins, “We want to try and equip them with the best strategy to fuel their bodies. It was great of Catalina Offshore to bring us in and teach our guys a lot about fish. What type of fish to be looking for and to buy, but most importantly how to prep it and cook it.”Gomes prepared three meals for the players to taste during their visit to the
Gomes prepared three meals for the players to taste during their visit to the restaurant. First, he took the abductor muscle of the opah and block cut it, seared it and served it with balsamic vinegar and a little bit of olive oil. He also took the same piece of fish and put it through a meat grinder to give it a burger-like texture. He then put it in a wok with vegetables, taco seasoning, salsa, brown rice and turned it into a Mexican flare.
The final dish had the same ingredients except he put in a Japanese dressing and mayo to create an Asian stir fry. The fishmonger showed the Gulls multiple ways to use the same ingredients to get a variety and dimension into their everyday meals.
“It was definitely a valuable experience for all of us,” said Gulls defenseman Jaycob Megna. “We all have to put a conscious effort into eating better. We are definitely still learning a lot since the landscape is changing so much. You can always learn something coming to a place like this. For example, finding new foods that are healthy and sustainable that you can add into your daily meals.”
“Quality protein and the right type of fats are critical,” said Nick Brune, Executive Chef at Eco Caters. “It is important to stay away from saturated fats that aren’t helpful in recovery. As far as rejuvenation, there are a lot of spices that do great things for your body.”
Eco Caters is the primary catering company that provides post-game meals for the players and hockey operations staff. The local company is dedicated to providing the highest quality catering with handcrafted foods made 100-percent from scratch while minimizing the impact on the environment. As much as fish was discussed and shared during the trip to Catalina Offshore, the classics are always meals that chefs enjoy serving.
“One of my favorite dishes for the guys is a nice roasted chicken breast like broccoli,” added Brune. “The sweet potatoes can be mashed but I like to cook the broccoli to leave some integrity there to it. Plus you have the good protein from the chicken as well.”
In addition to learning about meals that can help boost performance, Brune shared stories that can help players recover from the physical grind of a 68-game AHL season.
“Turmeric is great for joint pain. It cuts down inflammation that a lot of these guys have after games,” added Brune. “The most essential thing is eating the right carbs and avoiding processed flours to ensure their bodies remain in top shape.”
Eco Caters does so primarily by using local organic food bought from farms and ranches that raise produce and animals in a sustainable and humane way, and they work directly with the farms to guarantee a very high quality and fresh product that is sourced right here in Southern California
Megna, a 23-year-old native of Florida, is learning to ply his trade in hockey while living on his own in Southern California. In addition to trying to maintain healthy cooking habits, Megna is taking his food intake to a new level to increase his performance on and off the ice.“I eat a lot of pasta and chicken, I try to throw veggies in sometimes too,” says the 6’-6” defenseman. “I try to mix it up as much as I can. So coming here and experimenting with different types of fish helps to expand what we should be eating.”
Megna reflected on what it’s like postgame after a hard-fought battle on the ice in terms of recovery and taking care of your body.
“After games it is critical to refuel and be careful about what you are putting in your body. What you refuel with after games makes a huge impact throughout the season.”
The Gulls, young and old, are learning every day what makes them a better player, athlete, and competitor. The messages from Eakins and those with years of experience performing at a high level know that diet and sustainability are integral.
“We want our guys fueling their bodies at a high level and it is little trips like this that back up that message,” said Eakins. “It all starts with your diet. We can play any system we want or use any equipment you want, but if you aren’t fueling your body right you are done.”
Competing every day as professional hockey players, Eakins said that the players must realize it all starts with their diet.