Rugby union is a contact team sport. Matches have two 40-minute halves with a 10-minute half-time break. The playing time consists of repetitive, short, high intensity bursts of running and tackling, sudden directional changes and high impact collisions.
Performance on the pitch is determined by many factors, including nutritional strategies adopted before, during and after a match. However, the contribution that good nutritional planning and preparation can make to the training process is often overlooked. Players shouldn’t ignore the benefits of a healthy diet, from allowing them to train consistently and effectively, to increasing their strength, speed, power and endurance, and gains or losses in body mass.
Nutritional needs vary across the season, and even within the training week. Like other sports, players need to adjust their diet so it meets their training load. It is important to eat strategically all year-round, including off-season, to achieve effective weight management.
Carbohydrate and protein are both important, in addition to fluid intake. But how do players ensure they eat the right amount whilst meeting the demands of training? And how do they get to grips with personal intake goals, and the nutritional composition of common foods in their diet?
In the context of a team sport like rugby union, you can’t adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The elite level players often undergo regular nutritional assessment and individualised dietary support, to develop nutritional profiles that optimise energy and nutrient intakes. This in turn, optimises performance, whether that be on the training field, in the gym or on the pitch during match day.
We’ve taken a look at data from Irish rugby union player Chris Farrell, and Saracens’ nutritionist George Morgan, to discover the diets followed by rugby pros. We’ve also spoken to Louise Sutton, Head of Sport and Exercise Nutrition at the Carnegie School of Sports, Leeds Beckett University, and registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist Ted Munson, who shared their top nutrition tips for rugby players.
5 free range scrambled/poached eggs
Whole wheat bread
Potato or rice
Sliced turkey wrap
Greek yogurt and red berries
Water with electrolyte tablet
Before reaching for supplements, rethink your protein intake. It’s important to spread out protein foods over the day in meals and snacks, rather than ‘back-end’ protein intakes in large amounts during your evening meal. Incorporate a protein-rich bedtime snack too, as eating protein in smaller quantities more frequently is likely to be more effective.
Remember to optimise hydration and eat well throughout the week to keep glycogen (energy) stores up. Recovery from training is equally, if not more, important than recovery from matches.
Ideally aim for a pre-match meal that is light, high in carbohydrate, and contains a small amount of protein – consume this 3-4 hours prior to kick off. Suitable choices include pasta with fish or chicken and tomato sauce, chicken stir fry with rice, sandwiches, or baked potatoes with low fat fillings. This can be topped up 1-2 hours prior to kick off, with a carbohydrate-rich snack such as a banana or dried fruit.
Breaks in play for kicking and injury time provide opportunities to consume drinks to top up both fluid and carbohydrate whilst on the pitch. At the half-time interval, choices such as fruit, carbohydrate gels, and simple carbohydrate foods like sweets and sports drinks, are suitable for topping up your fuel stores.
Registered sports dietitians and nutritionists will always promote a ‘food first’ approach to meeting nutritional needs. Although there may be times where supplements can assist recovery, it is always best to choose a healthy, balanced diet.