The role of nutrition in enhancing rugby performance is being increasingly appreciated by players as it can complement natural talent and dedicated training to produce optimum performance.
The daily demands of training are best met by a consistent approach to adequate fuel intake and not just on fuelling up only on the day before a match or in the pre-event meal.
You need a variety of foods and should aim to include:
- Fruits and vegetables every day – aim for a variety of colours
- Breads and cereals – pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain bread, breakfast cereal, kumara, new potatoes and noodles
- Low fat dairy products – including milk, yoghurt and reduced fat cheese (e.g. Edam)
- Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs and other protein rich foods like tofu and pulses
- Healthy fats like olive oils, nuts, seeds, peanut butter and avocado
Carbohydrate is the fuel of choice for training. You should try to base your meals and snacks on slowly digested carbohydrate rich foods.
This includes oats, wholegrain breads and wholegrain crackers, pasta, rice, noodles and starchy vegetables like new potatoes, kumara and corn.
Just before intense training sessions or matches, additional carbohydrate rich foods and drinks can be helpful to provide extra fuel. Afterwards sports drinks, lollies, baked bars, ripe yellow bananas and white bread with honey and jam sandwiches are digested quickly for fast recovery.
Bagels, wraps, cereal bars and creamed rice are some ideas.
Sports drinks may be helpful to top up carbohydrate during training, particularly in hot conditions when sweat and fluid losses are likely to be high.
The protein requirements of rugby players are greater than for those who live a more inactive lifestyle.
As rugby is a contact sport giving rise to a high level of muscle damage, and with resistance training being a regular component for rugby players, it is important to consume adequate amounts of protein rich foods each day to promote adaptations to training and recovery from games.
Foods high in protein include lean meat, chicken, fish, low fat milk and yoghurt and eggs. Aim to include a protein rich food at each meal and snack. Make sure you eat every 3 hours through the day to meet their energy and protein needs.
An Accredited Sports Nutritionist or Dietitian can provide further guidance.
A high energy (calorie/kJ) intake is important to maintain lean body mass and size, especially during periods of growth such as adolescence or intensive resistance training. Poor quality saturated fat will not help fuel the type of exercise undertaken by you and can slow you down with dead weight.
Therefore, you should limit your consumption of high fat dairy foods, fatty meats, high fat takeaways and snack foods, fried foods and creamy sauces. A moderate intake of good fats contained in foods such as nuts, seeds, peanut butter, olive and canola oils, fish, avocado and plant oil table spreads are important to help maintain good joint, muscle and heart health.
A Sample One Day Meal Plan for A Rugby Player
- Natural muesli with fresh or canned fruit in juice, juice and yoghurt/low fat milk OR
- Protein rich fruit smoothie (300ml trim milk, pottle yoghurt, 3Tbsp trim milk powder, banana, drizzle honey-blend OR
- Wholegrain toast with 2 poached eggs, baked beans and a glass of fruit juice OR
- Hot oats made with trim milk and a piece of fruit or juice
If travelling, pack a combination of fresh fruit, milk drinks or fruit juice carton with yoghurt, cereal bars, creamed rice or sandwiches.
- Dried fruit and raw nuts OR
- Wholegrain crackers with tuna OR
- Yoghurt and fresh fruit OR
- MILO with low fat milk
- Wholegrain bread rolls or wrap filled with hummus, lean meat/canned fish and salad ingredients OR
- Pasta/rice with tuna and vegetables
Add a piece of fruit and/or yoghurt to each option
PRE AFTERNOON TRAINING
- Good snacks one hour prior to training may include sandwiches, fruit toast with peanut butter and jam, yoghurt or milky MILO with a banana, muesli bars or fruit. Try a smoothie 1-2 hours before if you struggle to train with food in your stomach
DURING AFTERNOON TRAINING
- Have a bottle of water on hand. You may need a sports drink if training for over 90 minutes
- After intense training consume some carbohydrates immediately e.g. sports drink, jelly beans, pikelet, crumpet, white roll, ripe banana
- To improve recovery it is recommended to consume some protein circa 20 minutes after finishing training e.g. pottle of yoghurt, glass of milk, milk based smoothie. Especially when your next meal is more than 1 hour away.
- Lean meat or chicken and vegetables with pasta and tomato-based sauce OR
- Steamed or grilled fish with homemade wedges and salad OR
- Lean meat or chicken and vegetable stir-fry with rice or noodles OR
- Lean steak, potatoes and 3 vegetables or salad
- Milk-based pudding and fruit OR
- Fresh fruit and yoghurt OR
- Protein rich smooth
KEY FOODS FOR A RUGBY PLAYERS FRIDGE
- Fresh, canned and dried fruit
- Fresh vegetables – the more colour the better
- Frozen vegetables
- Lean meats/poultry – beef, lamb, chicken, trim pork, low fat ham
- Fresh and frozen fish
- Low fat milk (yellow/green top)
- Reduced fat cheese (cheese with less than 25% fat by weight)
KEY FOODS FOR A RUGBY PLAYERS PANTRY
- Noodles, pasta, rice
- Bread – preferably grainy
- Rolled Oats
- Canned spaghetti and baked beans
- Canned creamed rice
- Wholegrain crackers, rice crackers
- MILO Energy Food Drink
- Trim Milk Powder
- Low fat biscuits and muesli bars
- Canned salmon and tuna
- Canned pasta sauce, tomatoes, tomato puree
- Light & Creamy Evaporated Milk
- Sauces and condiments e.g. sweet chilli, BBQ, mustard, relish
- Vegetable oil/spray
- Herbs and spices
- Spreads e.g. honey, jam, peanut butter (low salt & sugar)
This meal plan is an example only and not intended for individual purposes. This should be altered to suit individual energy requirements depending on age, gender and training load. For those who train at an elite level and/or twice or more a day additional pre training snacks and post training recovery food/drinks will be required.
Contact a Sports Dietitian for guidance.
Competition Day Eating
Well-planned game day nutrition keeps you running further and faster in the second half of a match. It also helps you to maintain skills and judgment when you would otherwise become fatigued. Depletion of fuel stores can become an issue when playing for longer than 60 minutes, especially for players in mobile positions or with a running game style. Including additional carbohydrate in the 24 hours preceding and consuming extra carbohydrate during the game have been shown to enhance performance. Timing of the pre-game meal is important to allow time for food to be digested. This meal should be mostly slowly digested carbohydrate rich foods, with some lean protein.
EARLY AFTERNOON GAME (1.00PM)
Have a normal breakfast followed by a light pre-game snack/meal 2 hours before the match.
MID-AFTERNOON GAME (2.30PM)
Have a normal breakfast followed by a pregame meal 3-4 hours before the match (10.30-11.30am), and top up with a light snack 1 hours prior.
EVENING GAME (7.30PM)
Have a normal breakfast, morning tea and lunch followed by a pre-game meal 3-4 hours before the match (3.30-4.30pm). Top up with a light snack 1 hour prior (e.g. piece of fruit or baked bar).
Consume water with your meals and snacks, milk drinks/ smoothies if nervous or can’t tolerate much solid food on game day and try adding a sports drink at regular intervals for a hydration and fuel boost. Practise all food plans in training sessions to determine what your stomach can tolerate.
During a game it is important to top-up fluid levels and carbohydrate to minimise fatigue and help with concentration.
You should aim to drink small amounts regularly whenever breaks in play permit and to use half-time to catch up on fluid intake. Drinking sports drinks in addition to water at breaks and half time can assist with fluid intake and help to top-up carbohydrate levels.
Poor recovery after a game can lead to decreased energy throughout the following week of training and can slow down muscle damage repair. Rehydrating with a sports drink, or water bottle and a handful of ALLENS lollies as soon as possible in the changing sheds will increase muscle refuelling rates. Drink some flavoured milk before your shower for protein to start muscle damage repair and growth.
SPECIAL ISSUES & REQUIREMENTS FOR RUGBY PLAYERS:
- For many rugby players, increasing muscle mass and strength can provide a competitive advantage and help players withstand the physical contact of the game. To achieve muscle mass gains players, need to commit to an appropriate resistance training programme and support this with a high energy diet and consume protein 30 minutes before and after lifting weights. Extra energy should come from low fat, carbohydrate based meals and snacks, which also provide protein, vitamins and minerals.
- Periods of inactivity, such as the off-season or a break due to injury, are often a time of significant gain in body fat. Players should restrict eating excess sources of ‘empty’ energy (i.e. foods which provide calories/kJs but few nutrients) yet still maintain an adequate intake of nutrient-dense carbohydrate and lean protein. Key areas to target include alcohol, high fat foods and refined carbohydrates like those found in cakes, biscuits, lollies and soft drinks. It may also be necessary to reduce the size of meals and reconsider the number of snacks consumed. The better you do here, the better you will play next season.
- In rugby, alcohol is often a large part of post-game activities. Drinking alcohol to excess can compromise recovery, resulting in slow repair of injury and contribute to excess weight gain. Players should concentrate on rehydrating and refuelling with carbohydrate rich foods and fluids before having any alcoholic drinks.
Alcohol is best avoided for 24-48 hours’ post-exercise if any soft tissue injuries or bruising have occurred.