Rugby Nutrition & Sports Supplements for Rugby Players
The speed and intensity of the modern games of rugby union and rugby league, at least at a professional level, have made it increasingly difficult – but ever so important – for players to retain peak physical fitness at all times.
Whereas in the past rugby was deemed to be a winter only sport*, the influx of more and more international, knock-out and sevens competitions, as well as overseas tours, means that it can now be a year-long activity.
Amateur rugby players on the other hand have an advantage in that they can still utilise their summer breaks, which they currently retain, in order to recuperate and use to work on their strength, speed and fitness levels in the run up to the start of pre-season training.
Energy demands of a rugby player
As rugby is a “stop and go” kind of sport, with multiple forms of activity ranging from standing still, walking, jogging, sprinting full-on, tackling, scrummaging, jumping or kicking, it is clear that a players muscles have to respond quickly to these changing demands.
Such varied forms of game play require an athlete to utilise several alternative forms of energy whilst playing the game.
combining the right kind of training with a well balanced nutritional programme is essential if rugby players are to optimise their match performances
The first of these energy requirements allows a player to create explosive movements for short bursts of activity like sprints.
The second form of energy allows a player to take part in intense action for several minutes at a time; whilst the third form of energy delivers fuel for all other activities of low to medium intensity for between two or three minutes up to several hours.
It is possible to estimate the energy demanded by athletes by calculating their basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of energy required when the body is fasting or at complete rest, then calculating the energy cost of their daily activities or physical activity level (PAL).
For the serious young rugby player monitoring height, weight, body fat (in older teenagers), fitness tests and overall performance in training sessions and matches is an acceptable way of checking that their energy and nutritional requirements are being met.
Combining the right kind of training with a well balanced nutritional programme is essential if rugby players are to optimise their match performances.
The use of sports nutrition and protein supplements is widespread in rugby union, and for good reason.
Players who include protein and carbohydrate at all meals, are better placed to maintain a constant bodyweight and refuel with enough energy to meet training and recovery demands placed on their bodies.
However, apart from the quantity and quality of protein in the diet, the timing of its intake is also equally important, particularly before, during and after intense weight training sessions.
Rugby players who wish to increase muscle mass are generally advised to consume between 10 to 20g protein just before a resistance training session and a similar amount (together with carbohydrate) immediately afterwards.
This kind of carbohydrate intake can again be achieved with the consumption of a chicken or tuna salad sandwich and a sports drink.
It is important to note that you should look to consume protein sources that include moderate to large amounts of saturated fat, such as chicken, turkey, and other lean meats, tuna in brine and milk or milk shakes.
One has to be very careful here, though as eating foods high in saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, and having high cholesterol raises your risk of heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.
Omega-3 and oily fish
However, there is one form of high fat food which does have a very positive nutritional role to play and that is oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, fresh tuna and trout.
We would therefore strongly recommend that this type of oily fish be included in your diet at least twice a week.
So what’s so special about oily fish? Oily fish species contain omega-3 fatty acids which not only have a beneficial impact on heart health, but – and this is of particular interest to rugby players – can also help in relieving stiffness and joint pain.
The primary source of fuel for muscle contraction in an athlete with regard to endurance, strength and speed is carbohydrate, but, as the body can store carbohydrate (in muscles and the liver) in only limited quantities, effective refuelling after all training sessions and rugby matches is of the utmost importance.
If this refuelling is not carried out correctly players will often find it harder to recover and will fail to get maximum benefit from tough training sessions.
The most effective time to restore carbohydrate in the muscles is during the first hour after training finishes and the best way to do this is by eating carbohydrate rich foods such as chicken or tuna salad sandwiches and suchlike, and rehydrating with a specially formulated sports drink.
The recovery phase
After a game, exercise or training has been completed, it is always advisable to follow the correct recovery procedure as, in many instances; this stage is just as important as the initial preparation stages, especially during periods of intensive training or competition.
There are three golden rules to a rugby players successful rehabilitation; and we refer to them as the three R’s:
Therefore your ideal recovery meals and snacks must contain carbohydrate (for fuel), some protein (for muscle repair and/or gains) and plenty of fluids to replace sweat losses.
It is also important that you stay correctly hydrated, and in order to achieve this, fluids should be consumed before, during and after routine training and competition.
Specially formulated sports drinks are a particularly good way of supplying both fluid and carbohydrate at the same time and are therefore highly recommended.
Bodyweight, gender, genetics, intensity of exertion and environmental conditions are just some of the factors that influence sweat rates for any given activity.
One way of obtaining an indication of the level of dehydration is by weighing players before and after training or competition, taking into account the volume of fluid consumed during that time.
It has been shown that a loss of body water corresponding to two per cent of body weight will start to impair performance on the field and a player will start to tire prematurely.
Dehydration affects mental as well as physical functioning, which means that players will find they are making poor decisions, reacting slower, failing to concentrate and seeing their overall skill factor falling considerably.
A Position Stand, published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in 2007 included the following recommendation: “Consumption of beverages containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can help sustain fluid-electrolyte balance and exercise performance.”
Taking all this into account, rather than relying on your sweat rate or feeling of thirst to determine fluid needs, a much more reliable method of assessing body fluid losses is a “weigh-in” before and after competition or training.
For each kilogram of body weight lost, you should be encouraged to drink approximately 1.5 litres of fluid.
Players who prefer to use water as their fluid intake would do well to consider the additional merits of a formulated sports drink, which will hydrate more effectively, replace salt lost in sweat and top-up flagging energy levels.
*Super League which began in 1996, replaced the old RFL Championship and switched from a winter to a summer season.
Want to get involved in rugby?
If you’re not currently involved in rugby (union or league) as a sport and are keen to learn more about taking part then read on. Here we’ve brought together a number of useful links to rugby organisations from both codes that may be able to help you.
Want help with nutrition?
Get in touch now for more information about rugby nutrition and the use of our sports supplements to improve player strength, fitness, speed, endurance and on-field performances. Our team of sports scientists and nutritionists are always happy to help.