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Game Day Rugby Union Nutrition Guide

05/06/2020
JD
Josh Dyson

Josh Dyson

If you are a rugby union player, professional or just playing for your local team on a Saturday, you cannot overlook the importance of nutrition for game day performance. If you don’t have a nutrition strategy in place you are seriously being left behind by the competition.

Throughout this article I want to lift the lid on what it takes to fuel rugby performance. Nutrition is an area of rugby performance capability that is not down to skill, fitness or game awareness and is therefore an easy win for players to ensure they are giving themselves the best opportunity to support their performance. This guide shall therefore highlight some key themes rugby players may wish to consider.

SECTION 1 – PREPARATION
  • CARBOHYDRATE
  • HYDRATION
  • SUPPLEMENT CONSIDERATIONS
SECTION 2 – PERFORMANCE
  • CARBOHYDRATE
  • HYDRATION
  • ERGOGENIC AIDS
SECTION 3 – RECOVERY
  • REPLENISHMENT
  • REPAIR
  • REHYDRATION
  • RECOVERY AID
 
PREPARATION
(1) CARBOHYDRATE

The Day Before Game Day

Preparation actually begins the day before a game. This is a simple step that many players may miss out on. With the repeated high intensity efforts needed within a match, simply relying upon your dietary intake on the day of a game will leave you short changed and struggling to optimise your performance. You may not be running a marathon, but an increased carbohydrate consumption based upon the required rugby union expenditure should be a strategy you consider having in place. 

As I like to give readers an evidence-informed approach, what does the research suggest regarding acute fuelling strategies? One view put forward in preparation for events less than 90 minutes recommends a carbohydrate intake of 7 to 12g per kg of body mass per 24 hours as for daily needs – quite a range though right?! For example, a player who weights 100kg, that would be 700g to 1200g. Now you don’t need to be a nutritionist to see that this could be excessive.

However, one important thing to remember with such a recommendation is that such intake guidelines are based upon athletes of lower body mass. Interestingly, research upon the carbohydrate intake for rugby league match day performance suggested that rugby players, who carry higher body mass, base their carbohydrate intake upon absolute, rather than relative to body mass (further research upon this approach is still needed). So what do they suggest a rugby player eat in the lead up to a match? A target put forward is around 600g carbohydrate per day for the 36 hours prior to a game. So for example, 600g the day before a game and 300g on game day (based on a 2pm to 3pm kick off). This roughy equates to an intake of around 6g per kg of body mass the day before a game and 3g per kg of body mass on game day.

A carbohydrate loading strategy could therefore incorporate carbohydrate source(s) within all meals and snacks the day prior to a match. Below are the carbohydrate contents of example food sources that a player may consider consuming within their strategy. If players struggle to take on board sufficient carbohydrate due to limited appetite, then considering fluid carbohydrate sources could be a possible solution. Players opting for high fat, low carbohydrate diet will be putting high intensity performance at risk.

So for a typical kick-off time of 3pm a 600g (day before game) to 300g (game day) split could be implemented. Distribution can change based upon personal preference e.g. some athletes may have limited appetite at breakfast or pre-match meal on competition day and struggle with large volumes of food. Although I shall not mention in depth the other macronutrients, you will typically find that protein intake would be around 2 to 2.2g per kg of body mass (some professional rugby union players have been found to consume more than this) and daily fat approximately 0.8 to 1g per kg of body mass.

“When loading up on carbohydrate does it matter if intake is via high glycemic index (HGI) or low glycemic index (LGI) foods?”

First, let me give you an example of both. Common LGI options are wholegrains and vegetables, whereas HGI choices may be white rice, white bread or sugary items. Research has shown that within a 24 hour period greater glycogen storage may be achieved with HGI foods. Opting for solely consuming LGI options may result in greater fibre intake than compared to HGI options. This could influence carbohydrate absorption and potentially reduce overall carbohydrate consumption due to the satiating effect (feeling of fullness) of fibre. Opting for LGI options in day to day training diet is obviously beneficial for health, but don’t think this would put health at risk integrating HGI options in for competition preparation or during recovery.  Personal preference may include integrating a mix of both HGI and LGI, but the important message is not perceive HGI as an unhealthy option within your pre-match fuelling strategy. Side note: Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, therefore do not over consume protein as this could suppress appetite resulting in reduced total intake of carbohydrate. 

Game Day

Now that we have addressed the day before the match, our attention now turns to competition day. The big day has arrived and it is time to top up the energy levels at breakfast. Liver glycogen will have reduced overnight, so this will need to be topped up, as well as the final top up of muscle glycogen. Therefore, the primary focus of the breakfast meal will be a carbohydrate top up of energy stores. This will also be a similar theme throughout the day with carbohydrate snacks and  the pre-match meal. Guidelines suggest the consumption of a pre-match meal containing 1 to 4g per kg of body mass of carbohydrate in the 1 to 4 hours prior to competition. From experience the pre-match meal will be between 2 – 3g per kg of body mass. 

A focus at meals should be upon easily digestible carbohydrate sources. Example sources are included within the above infographics. Opt for sources that you know that you handle well and cause no gastro-intestinal discomfort. It is not advisable to try new foods around competition time.

So for a typical kick-off time of 3pm a 600g (day before game) to 300g (game day) split could be implemented. Distribution can change based upon personal preference e.g. some athletes may have limited appetite at breakfast or pre-match meal on competition day and struggle with large volumes of food. Although I shall not mention in depth the other macronutrients, you will typically find that protein intake would be around 2 to 2.2g per kg of body mass (some professional rugby union players have been found to consume more than this) and daily fat approximately 0.8 to 1g per kg of body mass.

“When loading up on carbohydrate does it matter if intake is via high glycemic index (HGI) or low glycemic index (LGI) foods?”

First, let me give you an example of both. Common LGI options are wholegrains and vegetables, whereas HGI choices may be white rice, white bread or sugary items. Research has shown that within a 24 hour period greater glycogen storage may be achieved with HGI foods. Opting for solely consuming LGI options may result in greater fibre intake than compared to HGI options. This could influence carbohydrate absorption and potentially reduce overall carbohydrate consumption due to the satiating effect (feeling of fullness) of fibre. Opting for LGI options in day to day training diet is obviously beneficial for health, but don’t think this would put health at risk integrating HGI options in for competition preparation or during recovery.  Personal preference may include integrating a mix of both HGI and LGI, but the important message is not perceive HGI as an unhealthy option within your pre-match fuelling strategy. Side note: Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, therefore do not over consume protein as this could suppress appetite resulting in reduced total intake of carbohydrate. 

Players may then continue to top up energy levels en route to competition likely via a carbohydrate snack around 60mins pre-match (e.g. granola bar, flapjack or sports drink) or intra-warm up (sports drink and/or energy gel). If appetite is suppressed (e.g. pre-match nerves) sports drinks and gels can be a convenient source of carbohydrate with minimal chewing required.

It is also important to comment on the other components of pre-competition meal (e.g. early lunch for a 3pm kick off), as it is unlikely the individual will solely be eating carbohydrate. Although a high quality protein serve is recommended for daily muscle growth and repair, this serving is to be moderate. Over consumption of protein will suppress appetite and potential lead to the underconsumption of the required carbohydrate for fuelling. Furthermore, high protein, fat and fibre intakes may slow digestion which poses the risk of gastro-intestinal discomfort during the match – no-one wants this! The inclusion of colours within the meal via fresh fruit or salad is encouraged to aid general health, as well as aiding the top up of carbohydrate stores. 

Struggling for meal or snack recipe ideas? Then check out the recipes page

 
(2) HYDRATION

Although not as expansive as the other sections it is still just as important. In the preparation period players should look to maintain hydration in the build up to competition. Good habits may include accompanying meals with a fluid source (e.g. glass of water), being mindful of hydration throughout the day (e.g. keeping fluid sources on the work desk/in your bag), replenishing electrolyte losses (especially if active) and considering the consumption of carbohydrate fluid sources to aid the topping up of carbohydrate energy stores if required. 

With regards to a target daily fluid intake, the required intake for the individual may vary from player to player. This can be dependent upon activity duration, activity intensity, environmental conditions and clothing worn, as well as individual characteristics such as body weight, genetic predisposition, heat acclimatisation state and metabolic efficiency. If individuals consume fluid with all meals and are mindful to drink throughout the day then they will typically maintain hydration. Urine colour could also provide some approximate feedback upon hydration status when inactive (see below).

For individuals that regularly consume coffee, this can contribute also to fluid intake. However, it is advisable not to consume caffeine greater than 4mg per kg of body mass, as higher than this may impair hydration status. Additionally, consider the timing of caffeine ingestion so as not to impair sleep the night prior to competition. A solution is potentially limiting caffeine consumption from mid-afternoon. Also, consider avoiding the consumption of alcohol prior to competition due to its diuretic effects. No-one wants to be out there playing rugby with a hangover – and no you are not kick starting your recovery with the antioxidants in that bottle of red wine!

 

(3) SUPPLEMENTATION CONSIDERATIONS

Before we get into discussing potential considerations, let us first define what a supplement actually is:

“A food, food component, nutrient, or non-food compound that is purposefully ingested in addition to the habitually consumed diet with the aim of achieving a specific health and/or performance benefit” – IOC Consensus Statement (2018)

Prior to even considering the use of supplements an individual should look to optimise their dietary intake first. Then, if the need for supplementation has been identified, it is important that an individual opts for evidence-based supplements. No, not what is the latest claim in your fitness magazine or on social media, but supplements that are backed by scientific research. Finally, when selecting a product ensure that it contains no prohibited substances and abides by the WADA Anti-Doping Code. It is not only professional athletes that must abide by anti-doping rules, but all athletes. Here is an example of the UK anti-doping sanctions (data compiled May 2019). As you can see a large number are within rugby union. So if considering supplementation work your way through the SENr supplement decision tree (opposite).

Informed-Sport is a quality assurance programme for sports nutrition products. The website displays all products that have undergone anti-doping testing. This is the place therefore to check that any product you consider is listed along with its product batch number. If the product and the batch number are not listed, do not consider using this supplement.

So, if an individual were to supplement where does science stand with regards to what might be useful for the rugby union players during the preparation period prior to competition. Please note acute supplement considerations (day of competition) will be considered in the performance section.

If considering supplementation, first trial the supplement within training to ensure that there are no negative side effects. Do not trial a supplement strategy for the first time during competition! If no side effects are noted during training, consider whether to implement this within the competition strategy. Additionally, you do not have to integrate all supplements discussed below. I am simply highlighting evidence-based supplements that may be considered. Any options implemented should be upon an individual basis, taking into account the needs of the individual.

Note: Under 18 players should focus on optimising dietary intake instead of utilising supplements. Once over 18 years old, consult the advice of a nutrition professional regarding supplements.

WORK CAPACITY
CREATINE MONOHYDRATE

This supplement is one of the most researched supplements and has been shown to be effective for performance when athletes are engaging in intermittent bout activity (repeated short-term, high intensity activity). Why is this? During intense exercise phosphocreatine (PCr) stores become depleted, which reduces the ability to maintain high-intensity effort, as energy (ATP) cannot be created rapidly to maintain performance. Supplementing with creatine monohydrate increases muscle creatine content, therefore aiding the resynthesis of phosphocreatine (PCr).

Creatine is produced naturally within the body and can also be consumed through dietary intake via meat and fish. However, such methods may not be optimal to fully saturate muscle creatine content. To rely on muscle saturation from dietary sources would require a great amount of meat/fish consumption, which could require excessive protein intake, and not to mention some financial expense! Therefore, this may not be considered a practical creatine loading strategy. Instead to saturate muscle creatine stores an athlete may opt for creatine monohydrate supplementation. This would require consumption to commence prior to competition, where the individual would consume creatine monohydrate over a period of time.

There are typically two loading approaches utilised:

  • Fast Load

The consumption of 20g creatine monohydrate for 5 days split into 4 doses per day (e.g. 5g x 4 doses per day) to saturate the muscle. Following this loading phase a daily maintenance of 3 – 5g per day is consumed.

  • Slow Load

Consumption of 3 – 5g creatine monohydrate per day. This will take approximately 4 weeks to achieve muscle saturation.

Does it matter which loading strategy you implement? No, one approach will just achieve muscle saturation quicker than the other. However, both approaches will eventually lead to muscle saturation.

BETA-ALANINE

Benefits of beta-alanine consumption have included an increased work output of high-intensity intermittent bout activity lasting 30 seconds to 10 minutes. This can therefore be of potential benefit to rugby union players during multiple phases of repeated high-intensity efforts.

First, we must appreciate the role of carnosine. Carnosine within the muscle plays an important role in buffering, as during intense activity the muscle will decrease muscle pH (increase in acidity) due to the accumulation of hydrogen ions. However, a limiting factor in the synthesis of carnosine is beta-alanine. Therefore, by supplementing with beta-alanine an improvement in intracellular buffering capacity is brought about via increased carnosine muscle content.

Supplementation strategy:

3.2 to 6.4g per day via a split dose approach. For example, daily intake may be based upon the consumption of 0.8 to 1.6g beta-alanine every 4 hours. This would be consumed over a 4 to 12 week period.

Some individuals may cite paresthesia (tingling sensation) when supplementing with beta-alanine. To limit the occurrence, it is suggested to opt for a slow-release formula and to supplement at the lower range of the recommended protocols within the research. If the paresthesia is negatively impacting upon preparation/performance/health, then do not use beta-alanine supplementation.

NITRATE (BEETROOT JUICE)

Potentially a supplement that not too many players may have heard of or may have not of thought of integrating into their nutrition strategy. Nitrate is naturally found in food sources such as rocket, spinach, pak choi and beetroot. With beetroot being such an abundant source of nitrate, recent supplementation advancement has seen the creation of concentrated beetroot shots (e.g. Beet It -remember ensure any product considered is Informed Sport). For those interested in integrating dietary sources into their strategy, below are the nitrate contents of example food sources.

But why would nitrate help enhance performance? When team-sport athletes supplemented with nitrate research has found an improved performance in short duration maximal sprinting and high intensity running. Such an improvement is thought to be based upon the ability of type II muscle to increase force production. Supplemental strategies typically used within the research have used supplement protocols of 5 – 9mmol nitrate for 2 – 6 days. If any negative side effects are experienced then supplementation should be stopped.

Even when consuming all nitrate via foods sources an improvement in exercise performance has been noted. However, with regards to nitrate food sources around competition it is important to ensure that such an approach does not negatively impact upon gastro-intestinal comfort, as some nitrate sources may elevate fibre intake which is usually kept relatively low to moderate around competition. However, during day to day (training) nutrition nitrate via vegetables and fruit are a good consideration for health

RECOVERY
TART MONTMORENCY CHERRY

There is now a lot of interest around integrating ‘functional’ foods within the diet for exercise performance, recovery and health. As with all the above supplements discussed, initially a food-first approach is the desired strategy. Integrating a wide range of vegetables and fruits will provide nutrient density to diet. However, to achieve the desired content of certain nutrients may require excessive food consumption that simply may not be practical or appealing. Therefore certain evidence-based supplements may be considered. 

One such approach that has shown promise with regards to aiding recovery is the consumption tart Montmorency cherry juice – a high anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant source rich in polyphenols. A 30ml concentrated cherry juice product is reported to be the equivalent of 90 whole cherries. Research suggests that loading the week of competition/activity (e.g. 4 days), the competition/activity day and following competition (e.g. 3 days) has aided recovery via decreased muscle soreness and accelerated recovery of muscle function. For more upon recovery from competition via alternative dietary sources please see section 3 – ‘Recovery’.

Although a decrease in muscle soreness and improved muscle function recovery may be cited within some research, it is worth noting that the design of studies may vary which can explain the mixed results of the discussed interventions upon muscle recovery and caution is therefore required with regards to the effectiveness of potential interventions. As previously mentioned, ensuring the diet has a variety of fruits and vegetables rich in anti-oxidants (e.g. dark coloured fruits) is a sensible approach to assist recovery.

 
PERFORMANCE

The whistle has gone and our attention now turns to the influence of nutrition during the match. How can nutrition support high-intensity performance so that the rugby player can perform to their optimum? Here are three key themes to consider:

(1) CARBOHYDRATE

As we discussed in the preparation section, rugby union match play, particularly the high-intensity actions, are primarily fuelled by carbohydrate. Therefore, to maintain blood glucose and spare muscle carbohydrate stores (glycogen) carbohydrate ingestion during the match should be considered.

“Does it matter in what form of carbohydrate I utilise?”

No, as fluid (e.g. sports drink), semi-solid (e.g. gel) or solid (e.g. bar) are used for energy at the same rate. Therefore, what you utilise will be based upon personal preference and convenience. It is recommended that you are familiar with whichever option(s) you use, to minimise the risk of any negative side effects e.g. gastro-intestinal issues. To avoid such an outcome, trial your option within training first.  Opposite are some high glycemic (fast release) potential options to consider.

Due to the nature of rugby union there are limited opportunities to take on board some fuel. Therefore, once the game has kicked off there are only typically two opportunities to top up carbohydrate:

  • During breaks in play (e.g. player receiving treatment or try scored)
  • Half-Time

Research suggests carbohydrate ingestion for activity lasting 1 to 2 hours to be approximately 30g per hour.

(2) HYDRATION

Ensure you start the match in a hydrated state. The primary source of fluid loss during a match is via sweating, which is a process that aids the dissipation of heat from activity. However, failing to replenish fluids losses and maintain hydration can lead to negative effects upon cognition, performance and health (e.g. cardiovascular strain).

It is therefore important to commence your hydration strategy with breakfast by accompanying your meal with fluid (e.g. water or fruit juice). Continue to mindful of hydration throughout the day and also accompany your pre-match meal with fluid. En route to the game and during your warm up you may also be sipping on fluid to aid hydration – don’t rapidly drink the fluid as you don’t want to bring about increased urination losses. Aiming to start the match with a pale straw like urine colour is a good rough gauge of hydration status (see above).  Athletes should look to lose no more 2% of body mass loss during competition in order to avoid the negative effects of dehydration.

Sweat also contains electrolytes, with sodium being the primary electrolyte lost, with also lesser amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Therefore, when rehydrating consider the replenishment of electrolyte losses. An individual’s sweat composition is highly individual, which also makes it hard to give specific recommendations. 

Sweat rate too can be highly individual, which makes it hard to again give specific recommendations. Sweat rate can be influenced by activity duration, activity intensity, environmental conditions and clothing worn, as well as individual characteristics such as body weight, genetic predisposition, heat acclimatisation state and metabolic efficiency. Intra-match there are limited opportunities to consume fluid and players are therefore encouraged to take on board some fluid at half-time (e.g. water, water and electrolyte, sports drinks) and during breaks of play where appropriate (e.g. player receiving treatment or following a try).

As discussed during the above carbohydrate section, consideration may be given to the use of a carbohydrate sports drink during the match. This is due to it possessing carbohydrate (top up energy stores) and fluid/electrolytes (aid hydration). If fuelling prior to the match has been sub-optimal (e.g. reduced appetite, lack of accessible food options, travel issues) regularly swilling the carbohydrate sports drink in the mouth (mouth rinse), and then ingesting the fluid, potentially may provide a performance benefit via stimulation of receptors which send signals to the brain. If playing in a cup game, where extra-time is a possibility, then this is certainly an approach you may wish to consider to help maintain performance.

(3) ERGOGENIC AIDS

As the more chronic supplement considerations have been covered in the preparation section of this guide, I shall now discus acute supplementation strategies that can be implemented prior to kick off or intra-match. There are two particular ergogenic aids that may be worth considering:

CARBOHYDRATE

As previously mentioned within this performance section, the repeated high-intensity efforts of rugby union shall primarily be fuelled by carbohydrate. In order to maintain blood glucose and preserve muscle glycogen stores, it is worth considering the consumption of carbohydrate during the match. For further information, please refer back up to ‘carbohydrate’ within this performance section.

CAFFEINE

Caffeine is a stimulant that can benefit performance via an increase in alertness, decrease in the perception of effort and decrease in reaction time. A commonly consumed source of caffeine is coffee. If wanting to start the day off with your coffee and time this to have a positive influence upon your performance, then this would need to be consumed around 60 to 90mins prior to a match. For some individuals coffee may not be a practical or accessible option due to travel and team requirements e.g. warm-up. If this is the case then supplementation may be the most convenient and suitable option.

Regarding supplementation, 4 common options that may be considered. The fastest absorbed source would be via the chewing gum. The caffeine content of a UK caffeine gum product is approximately 85% absorbed within 10-15mins. The alternative caffeine options typically take a little longer for caffeine to reach peak concentration in the blood and are therefore consumed earlier (30-60mins pre-match).

With regards to total dose, caffeine consumption of around  3mg per kg of body mass has been found within the scientific research to enhance performance.There has has been some support in the research for lower dose caffeine consumption <3mg kg of body mass ~200mg caffeine, although research has typically focussed on greater amounts than this.

It is important to exercise caution with regards to total consumption. The over-consumption of caffeine can bring some unwanted negative side effects including:, as intakes greater than 6mg/kg of body mass could bring about jitters, headache, high heart rate, diuresis, nausea and in some unfortunate instances running to the toilet and not the playing field!

“Will caffeine consumption enhance performance for all that take it?”

The answer to this in short – maybe not. This is due to the influence of an individuals genes (e.g. CYP1A2 gene) involved in the metabolism of caffeine. Some individuals may positively respond, some may not. For those that have not consumed caffeine, or typically consume limited caffeine day to day, it would be sensible to maybe opt for a low dose initially to see how they react and to avoid any negative side effects (if there were any negative side effects do not use this supplement strategy). As with any strategy trial it in training before use in competition. If opting for a supplement, ensure that this product is Informed Sport.

A question I often get asked regarding caffeine supplementation is whether there is a need to reduce, or remove, caffeine intake in the lead up to competition? Some individuals fear that their habitual coffee intake will dampen down their response if implemented as a performance strategy. However, such individuals need not worry, as the beneficial performance effects of caffeine consumption are still observed irrespective of whether prior caffeine withdrawal is imposed.

 
RECOVERY

The match is now complete. You are fatigued, have put your body on the line for 80 minutes and hopefully celebrating the win! Your nutrition focus should now be upon optimising your recovery. This starts the 3 R’S:

  • Rehydrate (Fluid)
  • Repair (Protein)
  • Replenish (Carbohydrate)
(1) REHYDRATE

Players will incur sweat losses during activity (e.g. warm up and match). As discussed in section two (‘Hydration’) an athletes sweat rate will be individual. Post-exercise hydration strategies put forward suggest the consumption of 125-150% of body mass (kg) loss during activity. The 1st infographic opposite highlights such a rehydration protocol.

For example, if an individual were to lose 1kg during a match, this would require an approximate fluid intake of 1.25 to 1.5 litres (1kg x 1.25 or 1.5 = 1.25L to 1.5L). The 2nd infographic opposite provides examples of fluid intake based upon 125-150% of body mass lost during activity. It is advisable during rehydration for fluid to be consumed over a period of time, as opposed to being drank rapidly and potentially leading to increased urination losses.

Additionally, to effectively rehydrate it is important to not only replenish fluid loss, but also electrolyte loss. Sodium being the primary electrolyte lost, with also lesser amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Examples of electrolyte sources may include: electrolyte tablets added to water (Informed Sport products only), sports drinks (Informed Sport products only), milk (natural electrolyte content), salty snacks (e.g. salted pretzels) and seasoning food.

I must also point out that there are certain limitations for the above rehydration protocol (pre and post-match weighing).

  1. There is the assumption that the athlete is in a hydrated state prior to competition.
  2. Assumption that body mass loss is all fluid loss.
  3. Weighing scales may be inaccessible within the changing rooms.
(2) REPAIR

Protein plays an important role in the growth and repair of muscle, which makes it integral for adaptive remodelling of muscle. Ensuring sufficient protein intake throughout the day and after the match, as well as in the evening is a good nutritional strategy to consider.

It is important to remember though not to over consume protein at expense of carbohydrate in the recovery period. I say this as protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, and will therefore fill you up and suppress appetite. Therefore consumed in excess protein could reduce overall calorie intake, as you have no room for the other macronutrients.

Within 30mins post-match look to kick start muscle recovery with around 0.4g/kg body mass of protein. As appetite may be suppressed, and food accessibility may be impractical, the consumption of a fluid high quality protein source (e.g. milk, chocolate milk, whey protein) may be the most convenient option. This will be followed by the consumption of a similar protein feeding dosage later within your meal. Also the ingestion of a greater protein feeding, potentially derived from casein protein (e.g. Greek yoghurt) – a slow release protein, prior to sleep has been suggested due to the prolonged fasting period when sleeping to aid overnight muscle growth and repair.

Based upon research findings, professional rugby union players typically consume daily protein intakes greater than 2.0g/kg of body mass both ‘in-season’ and ‘pre-season’. Based upon the suggested protein guidelines a potentially suitable daily protein intake target at maintenance (looking to maintain your current bodyweight) would be around 2.0 – 2.2g/kg of body mass.

(3) REPLENISHMENT

Rugby union match play is characterised by repeated high-intensity efforts, separated by longer periods of lower intensity recovery. The intermittent high intensity efforts are primarily fuelled by carbohydrate. Therefore, come the end of match the carbohydrate stores (glycogen) are reduced and require replenishing.

Most players will be resting for the next 24 to 36 hours following a match with minimal activity, so there is less urgency to fully replenish stores at an optimal rate, compared to those who may be competing with short turn arounds e.g. sevens players, where the ingestion of 1.0 to 1.2g/kg of body mass of carbohydrate per hour is suggested for the first 4 hours.

Having said that, it is a good idea to consider to begin the replenishment of your carbohydrate stores post-match. Typical kick off times are around 2pm or 3pm, so matches will finish around 3:30pm to 4:30pm. So below is an example overview of what recovery may look like:

  • Within 30mins of full time: Carbohydrate snack (0.8g/kg body mass) – Note: protein will be consumed also.
  • 1-2 Hours post-match: Meal with carbohydrate (0.8 to 1.2g/kg body mass) – Note: protein will typically be consumed too.
  • Evening Snack: Carbohydrate (1.0 to 1.2g/kg body mass)
  • Pre-Bed Snack: (0.8g/kg body mass) – Note: protein may be consumed also.

The form of carbohydrate (solid vs fluid) does not seem to influence the rate of muscle glycogen recovery. For those with reduced appetite and may typically struggle to take on board food during recovery, consider opting for easy to chew or fluid carbohydrate sources. Opting for HGI carbohydrate sources over LGI can facilitate greater glycogen replenishment in the short-term. However, if rapid replenishment is not needed e.g. activity within the next 8 to 24 hours, then a mix of HGI and LGI options may be preferred.

Research has also highlighted that the co-ingestion of protein and carbohydrate can be effective in aiding muscle glycogen synthesis when sub-optimal carbohydrate choices are available. If this is the case, a combined protein intake of 0.4g/kg of body mass and carbohydrate intake of 0.8g/kg of body mass can help with recovering glycogen stores.

With regards to post-match recovery, milk and flavoured milk have both been found within the scientific research to be great choices for recovery as they fit the criteria of the 3 R’S of recovery. It is not only recovery that milk can play a role, but also within health. If you are individual who fears that dairy is bad for your health, I have previously covered this common nutrition myth in a previous article.

Smoothies can provide an opportunity to supply the 3 R’S, as well as providing a decent amount of calories for recovery. Furthermore, there is the ability to enhance nutrient density of intake through the inclusion of fresh fruit, whilst frozen fruit and addition of ice can aid thermoregulation, particularly following competition in the heat. Opposite is an example infographic that works through the steps of tailoring a smoothie to an individuals demands and taste preferences.

(4) RECOVERY AID

Ever felt sore in the hours or days after a game? Silly question! Well, high-intensity intermittent activity, as seen within rugby union, results in what is called exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD). This can cause muscle soreness and a loss in muscle function. What you don’t want is for this soreness, or impaired muscle function, to linger for days and impair training ability for the next week. Athletes have therefore turned there attention to recovery modalities with nutrition playing an important role.

The first consideration is optimising dietary intake. Players should ensuring sufficient total energy intake. The expenditure of rugby union players throughout a match day can be quite high, incorporating warm-up, matches and recovery. We have already discussed the influence of exercise-induced muscle damage, but with collision sport athletes it is also important to consider the increased energy expenditure of collision-induced muscle damage, which should be factored in to the recovery nutrition and additional energy intake.

As we have already covered the role of protein and carbohydrate within this recovery section, we shall now turn our attention to alternative nutrition sources. The intake of adequate intake of fruit and vegetables will provide a source of dietary polyphenols which play a beneficial role in recovery due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as proving nutrients important for health. For example, the consumption of dark fruits (e.g. blueberries, blackberries) for muscle recovery is often promoted.

Although a food first approach is always the preferred choice, such an approach may not be feasible if access to such foods is limited (e.g. travel), or if elevated intakes of a particular nutrient are desired. This is when supplementation may be considered. An approach often used in the management of exercise-induced muscle damage is the consumption of tart Montmorency cherries, with a common supplement choice being concentrated tart cherry juice (for more on cherry juice please refer back to section one – ‘Supplement Considerations’). Other considerations may be other dark coloured fruit sources including pomegranate and blackcurrant. Further considerations put forward to enhance muscle recovery are ensuring adequate consumption of omega-3 (food-first approach where possible), optimising vitamin D status and turmeric (curcumin) consumption. Although a decrease in muscle soreness and improved muscle function recovery may be cited within some research, it is worth noting that the design of studies may vary which can explain the mixed results of the discussed interventions upon muscle recovery and caution is therefore required with regards to the effectiveness of potential interventions. Continued research is required within this field.

We have now explored some of the key nutrition themes to consider around game day with particular focus upon preparation, performance and recovery. If looking to optimise your development and performance as a rugby player, do not underestimate the role nutrition can play.

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