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Their revelation that better food equals better performance came around the time they were skating in college. (Image: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Two Caps players embracing clean eating to prolong their careers

It’s a little after noon in a small, but pleasant locker room in Arlington. The Washington Capitals have just completed their morning practice. Thirty-one-year-old Jay Beagle emerges from a meeting guzzling down what appears to be a purple homemade liquid concoction. Dozens of little black seeds speckle the sides of the clear plastic container. It’s exactly the kind of drink you’d expect to see a health nut at Whole Foods sipping on. And for Beagle, that’s about right.

Across the locker room, a blond-haired Nate Schmidt sits by his locker dripping with sweat. He’s only six years younger than Beagle, but that’s light years in hockey. The 25-year-old is following in his older teammate’s footsteps and has become a student of nutrition, believing 80 percent of the body is built in the kitchen.

They are part of a growing number of players hoping to maximize their potential and prolong their careers by fueling themselves with the healthiest foods available. In layman’s terms, they’re fans of kale.

Their revelation that better food equals better performance came around the time they were skating in college.

“When was the last time you were in a freshman dining hall?” Schmidt asked me. “It was tough. They had taco nights and pizza nights. Actually, they had pizza every night.”

Such foods create heavy legs the next day at practice. On this day, the usually healthy defenseman from Minnesota was lamenting over the two slices he ate with his parents the previous night.

“I felt decent today, but not as good as I usually feel,” he said.

Beagle, who was turned on to clean eating by his trainer in Canada, is allowed one cheat day a week on his current diet. But even then he won’t go crazy at the buffet.

“It’s not really a cheat day, but I’m not eating as healthy as I normally would,” Beagle said. “I’m just crushing food all day and it is kind of fun.”

A splurge for Beagle consists of a bison burger with fries followed by cheese nachos topped with bison a bit later. High in calories? No doubt. But he’s quick to point out that bison is a healthier meat and the guacamole is full of healthy fats from avocados.

I confided in him that when I was 420 pounds there was no way I’d be able to have nachos one day and not the next. Like thousands of others, I was a full-blown food addict. As a student of nutrition, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

“I’ve heard that a lot,” he enthusiastically responded. “People will have a cheat day and they’ll eat a chocolate bar and then the next day the brain needs to be stimulated again… it needs that fix. But the next [candy bar] doesn’t hit the craving as much, so they need to have two.”

Beagle knows the struggle is real -- he's already thinking ahead to life after hockey. The fan favorite acknowledges if he doesn’t make some changes, his current 5,000-calorie diet will catch up to him once he hangs up his skates. But for now, he needs the fuel.

Schmidt is in awe of the way his older teammate religiously sticks to his diet. It’s easy to want to parody what he’s doing when the man six years his senior is skating as if he were the same age.

“There are guys that you can see that are getting a little bit older and maybe not watching it as closely,” said Schmidt. “You can see it’s taking a toll. You can see where their bodies are at compared to others. That makes a big difference.”

Jay Beagle’s Diet

  • 4 meals
  • 5 or 6 snacks (jerky, apples, bananas)

He’s also a fan of the green juice his two-year-old son helps make at home:

  • Kale
  • Frozen Mango
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Protein

Some days his son will be in the mood for blue juice, which is pretty much the same thing only with blueberries added in.

Nate Schmidt’s Diet

  • Low-carb
  • No candy
  • Breakfast: eggs or yogurt with fruit
  • Lunch: sandwich with half or no bun and vegetables
  • Dinner: steak or fish with vegetables and fruit
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