Rugby players and coaches are often focused on nutritional and dietary manipulations in the periods around training and competition. Although this is vitally important, it is crucial that a player’s daily diet is full of highly nutritious foods, and that a player has high energy levels and a general feeling of wellbeing day to day, not just before a match.
Sports Nutrition’s main role should be to support high intensity training – supporting adaptation to and recovery from varied training-loads, which will in turn facilitate improvements in Match-Day performance.
The goals of Rugby Sports Nutrition should include –
Healthy Nutrition as a Foundation of Sports Nutrition
In order to provide the body with the optimal nutrients and fuel for recovery and adaptation, it is important that all foods are nutrient dense and reduce inflammation rather than promote it. Inflammation plays a vital role in the body to fight infection, however the majority of athletes experience inflammation to a level that promotes, rather than fights diseases.
One of the most important, yet often ignored aspects of recovery from training, and general wellbeing is gut health. All kinds of conditions can arise as a result of poor gut health, inflammation, allergies, lethargy and a weakened immune system are all consequences of an overgrowth of certain gut bacteria, and/or an increased permeability of the gut lining.
To maintain a healthy gut, reduce sugar intake. Try to consume high Glyceamic Index carbohydrates during or after exercise – consuming too many sugary carbohydrates can lead to a yeast or candida overgrowth in the body. Eat probiotic foods such as kefir, or supplement with probiotics and eat plenty of fibre.
Glutamine, taken on an empty stomach is recommended if leaky gut syndrome is suspected. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) powder is a potent anti-oxidant that can help the liver deal with any toxins and help beneficial bacteria establish themselves in the gut.
To reduce inflammation increase the amount of omega 3 that is consumed, and decrease, or at least be mindful of the amount of omega 6. Omega 3 is regarded as anti-inflammatory, whereas omega 6 is pro-inflammatory. Minimise sugar intake, fry with coconut oil and be aware of the inflammatory effects of nightshade fruits. Turmeric and ginger are amongst the best, natural anti-inflammatories. Pineapple is also a great anti-inflammatory thanks to its bromelain content.
It is important to point out that any changes in nutrition should be tested out before practice games and training rather than a competitive match.
On match-day (or before training) a rugby player should consume a high carbohydrate meal, with a moderate amount of protein in the morning. Porridge with ground almonds and a banana is a good example. In order to optimise hydration levels, a drink of water (ideally with a pinch of salt) should be consumed with every meal, and should have a volume of 300ml to 600ml.
If a match starts at 3pm, eat a high carbohydrate meal with protein at 7-8am, with a drink, and eat another meal and have another drink and 9-10am. A final meal should be consumed at 12pm, again with a drink. It is important to have the last meal before a match around 3 hours before it starts. The meal should have a base of low glycaemic index carbohydrates and some protein. Avoid high fat foods that are more difficult to digest.
Avoid eating solid food 90 minutes before a match. 90 minutes before a game is a great time to eat something like a ripe banana, but avoid food after that time. Consuming high Glyceamic Index foods after this may cause a rebound effect, lowering blood sugar by the start of the match, whilst low Glyceamic Index foods/carbohydrates will not be digested in time. During this time sip on a sports drink which contains electrolytes and maltodextrin or glucose. 30-45 minutes before the match consume any pre-match supplements like caffeine, beta-alanine or caffeine.
Consume a sports drink which contains electrolytes and is 5-10% glucose or maltodextrin. Some players choose to eat high sugar foods and sweets at half time to top up muscle carbohydrate/glycogen stores, but in some individuals this is shown to cause a rebound effect and actually reduce blood sugar levels significantly 15 minutes later. The average person can utilise 150ml to 200ml of fluid every 15 minutes. So don’t drink 1 litre of a sports drink in one go, as you’ll pee most of it out straight away.
Post Match Nutrition
Immediately after a match, a player should consume a drink containing high glycaemic carbohydrates, electrolytes and some protein. For optimal recovery consider adding creatine to the drink, as this will capitalise on the increase in insulin levels experience for 2 hours after exercise and allow more creatine to be taken up by muscle cells.
A post-match drink may consist of the following:
30g Whey Protein
50-80g of maltodextrin
1 pinch of Himalayan salt
1000mg alpha lipoic acid
Slowly drink the ‘post-match shake’ over a 10 minute period. Then eat a ripe banana.
Try and consume the drink within 40 minutes of the final whistle – if not sooner. If possible within 90 minutes of the final whistle eat an additional high carbohydrate meal, with some protein and a large drink of water.
Start with a foundation of healthy nutrition on a daily basis. Consume more nutritious, unprocessed foods and less processed carbohydrates. Before a rugby match consume high carbohydrate foods up until 90 minutes before the kick off, and drink water with each meal. Consume a sports drink before, during and after a match (and training) and consider supplementing with creatine, alpha lipoic acid, and BCAAs. HMB is a supplement that can be consumed pre-season to help maintain muscle mass, whilst leucine is great in a post-workout drink to optimise protein synthesis.