By Cary Castagna, QMI Agency
Chris Stewart couldn’t figure out why he was gaining weight. The six-foot-two power forward with the St. Louis Blues entered training camp prior to the 2011-12 season weighing around 235 pounds.
“But come the end of the year, I was 245, 247, somewhere around there. And I never knew why,” he tells Sun Media in a phone interview.
“I worked out. I tried to eat properly regularly.”
Stewart’s concern grew with his increasing girth.
He was coming off back-to-back 28-goal campaigns and expectations were running high for his fourth NHL season.
But the extra weight he was carrying left him feeling sluggish and his on-ice performance suffered. As a result, his ice time was slashed.
Stewart finished the regular season with 15 goals.
“It was probably the worst year of my career in the NHL,” he admits, noting he was determined to rectify the problem that summer.
But first he had to find out what the problem was.
The Toronto native enlisted the help of Matt Nichol, a respected strength and conditioning coach who worked for the Maple Leafs between 2002 and 2009.
“Matty thought there was something up when I explained the situation to him,” he recalls. “He got a blood test for me and we found out the results.”
Stewart, as it turned out, is allergic to rice.
Rice had been a dietary staple for Stewart — who is of Jamaican descent — since he was a kid.
He immediately eliminated rice from his diet, replacing it with other rich carbohydrate sources such as sweet potatoes and quinoa. And along with some less-drastic adjustments to his eating habits, Stewart managed to drop 20 pounds “right away.”
Stewart also “totally bought into” Nichol’s training program and last August he ended up attending the week-long BioSteel pro hockey camp run by Nichol and former NHLer Gary Roberts.
Stewart never felt better.
Unfortunately, the NHL lockout loomed.
“I didn’t want to sit around for three months and not be ready. I worked so hard during the summer, I wanted to put it to my advantage,” he explains. “I knew there was only one way to get into game shape and that was to actually go play games.”
Stewart went overseas for 10 weeks, playing in Germany and the Czech Republic, before returning to St. Louis to begin the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
“That definitely benefited me,” he says. “I was ready after the lockout and I had the best year of my career.”
Stewart — weighing a much leaner 228 pounds — led the Blues in scoring, tallying 18 goals and 18 assists in 48 games last season.
This month, he was back at the BioSteel camp, which drew more than 40 NHL players and prospective NHLers.
“They make it really easy. It’s a one-stop shop,” he explains. “You come in, you train, you get your ice, you get your treatment, you rehab — everything you need is under one roof and that’s been beneficial.”
Of course, the focus of the camp — organized by burgeoning Toronto-based sports supplement company BioSteel — is conditioning.
“We’re out there running on the track, pulling sleds, working with a medicine ball for the core,” Stewart notes. “One day we did some deadlifts, pull-ups and some bench presses for our strength. … That’s never been my problem. I’ve always been one of the stronger guys, I’d like to say. Come August I like to maintain my strength and just work on my conditioning as much as possible.”
The Blues’ training camp opens Sept. 11. Stewart expects to return to St. Louis sometime around Sept. 2 to get in a full week of skating.
The 25-year-old right-winger is confident his nutrition and training regimen will serve him well in the upcoming season.
“Once you embrace this way of life, it makes it a lot easier,” he adds, noting it shouldn’t be optional.
“The way I look at it, we’re high-paid professional athletes, and if you’re not willing to take a percentage of that and invest in your body, then I don’t think you deserve to be in the NHL.”