Field Hockey Canada > Q&A with Justine Branco

Q&A with Justine Branco

July 10, 2023 | Field Hockey Canada |

Experienced athletic therapist answers recovery and performance questions leading up to Nationals 2023

As twenty-two teams across the country from six provinces gear up for Nationals 2023, we sat down with an experienced athletic therapist, Justine Branco, to ask a few questions on performance and recovery. Justine Branco is a certified athletic therapist as well as a certified strength & conditioning specialist. Branco works with the Junior Women’s National Team and the Indoor Women’s National Team. In addition, Branco acts as assistant athletic therapist at Seneca College, working with 13 varsity teams. She completed her Bachelor of Kinesiology at the University of Toronto in 2014 where she also played 5 years as a member of U of T’s Varsity Blues Women’s Field Hockey Team. Branco also obtained a  Bachelor of Applied Health Sciences, specializing in Athletic Therapy in 2017 from Sheridan College.

Why is physical preparation important before the National Championships? And what are some tips for athletes to prepare properly so they are able to perform and prevent injury?

  • Physical preparation is so important heading into any tournament or season, particularly going into a tournament where you have multiple games often in a short period of time (sometimes 2 games in a day).
  • Stretching, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and the type and volume of training heading into nationals are key factors that can make or break performance.

For some teams Nationals will involve travel and adjusting to different time zones. How does sleep play a role in adjusting to the different time zone? And how important is sleep throughout the tournament?

  • Anytime you change time zones, it can impact not only sleep but also how you are feeling during the day. So for our teams travelling from the west (BC and Alberta) or the East (the Maritimes), there might be some jet lag to deal with (1-3 hour time change, depending on where you are coming from). Teams can start adjusting to Eastern Standard Time 1-2 days before travelling to Brampton by adjusting meal-times and sleep/wake times to mimic EST.
  • Sleep throughout the tournament (and in general as an athlete) is so important and often overlooked. Sleeping is when your body does the most recovery, so it’s important to make sure you get enough sleep and good quality sleep during the tournament. You should be aiming for at least 8 hours of sleep a night (this can be tricky if you have an early morning game!). Also make sure you power down or put away any electronics (phones, laptops, etc) for at least an hour before bed. Ear plugs and eye masks can also be helpful, especially when you are sharing a room with other people or your hotel is in a “noisy”/busy area. But make sure you don’t sleep through your alarm clock!

During the National Championships the athletes will be playing a high volume of games in under a week, sometimes two games in a day. Why is recovery important in this situation? What are some recovery tips for during the tournament?

  • Especially with the high volume of games during the nationals, recovery is super-important, because you need to be ready to play another game, likely at a higher intensity as you move into playoffs
  • Take time to do a good cool-down after games (in the shade!). A little bit of dynamic stretching (at a slower pace than you would during your warm-up), static stretching, foam-rolling, mobility exercises are all good options to include in your cool-down. A good cool-down should take at least 15-20 minutes.
  • Hydrate throughout the day and during games, as well as after.
  • Seek some foods with carbs and protein after games (wraps, mixed nuts, chocolate milk, fruit with yogurt are all some options).
  • Get enough quality sleep

During this highly demanding tournament, what is the importance of nutrition? What are some tips for athletes to make sure they are getting the proper fuel to perform at their best?

  • Nutrition is also important, and something that I find can be specific to individual athletes based on food preferences, dietary restrictions, and timing of meals/snacks.
  • Ensure you are getting enough carbs before games, and after your games you are eating something with carbs and proteins.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel before games, but that you’ve timed your meal/snacks properly (for example, a big pasta meal is good a few hours before a game, but not half an hour before a game – simple snacks are a better option for right before a game, like rice cakes with peanut butter or some sort of spread).
  • Gatorade/sports drinks are helpful during hot days, especially during and after games.

The topic of ice baths is always relevant during a National Championship. There are conflicting opinions between scientists and in the media on whether ice baths are beneficial for recovery. What is your professional opinion/experience on ice baths?

  • I still like ice baths, especially in hot environments which we will likely see at nationals this year. It’s important to do them quite soon after a game to get the maximum effect (within an hour – so for teams, likely as soon as they get back to the hotel).
  • We usually go for a maximum of 10 minutes, getting in at least up to your waist, with the water about 10-12degrees C.
  • It does help with muscle soreness and recovery, and can also help cool the body down after exercising in the heat. Ice immersion is actually the key management strategy for individuals with heat stroke, which is something we do not want to be dealing with at nationals – so it’s important for all individuals to hydrate throughout the day, rest in shaded/indoor environments when able to, and take sun precautions.

Based on your experience with field hockey at all levels, what is the most common injury in youth athletes? Do you have any tips or techniques on preventing this specific injury?

  • We see a lot of hip tightness/muscle strains and low back soreness (and of course turf burn!). With these, its important to ensure you are staying on top of your mobility and activation exercises throughout the season, and work on any deficits in muscle strength or movement patterns that may be going on (for example – a lot of us don’t use our glute or core as much as we should, so our body relies on other muscles to do their job, and that’s where we tend to get into a lot of chronic, nagging niggle-like injuries. A big piece of advice is don’t neglect your warm-up, activation, and cool-down exercises, as well as any prehab/rehab exercises you may also have.

After the National Championships is an important time for athletes to recover. What is your recommendation for recovery after Nationals? What is most important (I.e., sleep, stretching, nutrition etc.)?

  • I would recommend athletes (and even team staff) take a few days off from hockey and sports in general. It gives your body and mind a chance to rest physically, mentally, and emotionally – this is so important, and I think we overlook taking a “break” after a big tournament or the end of a sport season. Take some time to enjoy a bit of summer, without being at the hockey pitch.

Get to know Justine Branco a bit more with our fun round of questions!

What is your favorite tournament trip you have been on?

  • It’s tied between the most recent Junior Pan Am Championship with the junior women’s team in Barbados (great weather and we were right by the ocean) and the 2021 JPAC in Chile where we won the title.

Do you listen to music to get hyped before game time? Just like athletes would?

  • Yes! I like to listen to songs that we used to listen to before games when I was a playing (I guess they are considered throwbacks now)! Also up for any sort of dance/euromix music to get pumped up.

What sport would you say is most similar to field hockey?

  • Maybe soccer – some similarities in tactics, players on the field. But obviously way different skill sets. Field lacrosse might also be up there, although they have some restrictions on player movement throughout the field that makes things interesting.

What is your pet peeve?

  • When things aren’t taken care of or left behind for others to clean up.

What is your comfort movie or tv series?

  • The Lord of the Rings movies – particularly the extended editions!