By Myprotein Writer George Studd: Ex-professional rugby player with a degree in Sports Performance who is currently completing an MSc in Strength and Conditioning, and an intern with the Newcastle Falcons Strength and Conditioning team.
Everyone knows you have to train to be a good rugby player – it goes without saying. To be the best you have to work hard, put in the hours and push yourself out of your comfort zone.
What people often forget about however, is the other key side of performance: Nutrition.
Without proper nutrition your energy levels will be low, your recovery will be slow and your overall performance will be severely limited. What you are about to read are the 5 most important nutrition tips that you MUST be putting in place to get the most out of your performance.
1. Get Enough Protein
This one isn’t usually a problem for you guys. Rugby players love protein. It’s all we talk about!
But do you know how much protein you should be having? AT LEAST 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight (pounds= kg x 2.2). For you guys who are training regularly I’d consider pushing it up to 1g per pound of body weight. That’s why supplements are so popular with rugby players, we’re big guys! Work out how much 1g of protein per pound of body weight you have is… I’ll wait!
Now divide that number by 21. Got it? That number you have is how many chicken breasts you would have to eat PER DAY to hit that goal! Do you want to be eating that much chicken every day?
Protein is the building block of everything we are, even DNA is made up of protein. But what we care about is muscle growth and repair, therefore from a purely performance aspect, protein may be the most important aspect of your diet. Of course you can go and eat all of those chicken breasts, and for some people that might be preferable. There are obviously other protein rich foods as well, but especially for big guys I find supplementing with protein shakes is the easiest way to hit that protein goal.
2. Don’t Diet
To perform at its very best, your body needs to be properly fuelled. While body composition changes are encouraged in the off and pre-season which may lead to dieting; during the season you should be completely focused on playing as well as you can week in week out. That means having the energy to play at your best for a full game, not feeling sluggish or tired on the morning of a game and being able to recover as quickly as possible after a game.
You can’t do these things if you are depriving your body of the food it needs by dieting! You need high amounts of protein for muscle repair, you need the right amounts of carbohydrate and fat for energy and again, muscle repair! You aren’t going to be building any muscle without your carbs!
Repeatedly trying to perform on low energy levels will cause your body to get more and more tired, each session building on top of the next until you get injured or crash. Making sure your body has the energy to train and play regularly will help ensure that your training is building you up, not tearing you down.
3. Carbohydrates are not the enemy
Low carb or paleo diets are massively popular at the minute. You can see the appeal: lose weight fast, eat like the cavemen did, you know the drill. They might work for the public, people who aren’t eating and training for performance, but that’s not you.
First of all I don’t believe you should cut out any food group from your diet unless you have allergies or intolerances, but you guys who want to be better rugby players definitely shouldn’t be cutting carbs out of your diet.
Carbohydrates give you the easily available energy to run, tackle, repeat for the whole game, making sure you’re out lasting and outperforming the other team.
Carbohydrates easily pass through the blood-brain barrier allowing you to think and react faster. Making the right decision in a split second can determine whether you win or lose a game. Carbohydrates are necessary for muscle growth. Rugby players want to be big, lean and ripped. Don’t make it any harder on yourself than it already is! If you are looking to control your weight during the season try carb cycling.
4. Carb Cycle to Make the Most of Your Food
Put simply, carb cycling is the practice of earning your carbohydrate. It is eating more carbohydrate on or around the days you do more exercise, and eating less on the days you don’t.
Following this simple idea can help you control or even lose weight while maintaining high levels of performance. Been to the gym or training? Eat more carbohydrate than you would on your day off. How much carbohydrate to eat differs from person to person and you will be able to find the right balance for you with some practice. Feeling full and sluggish or putting on more fat than you want? Cut back a bit. If you find yourself running out of energy or feeling sore and recovering slowly then it might be worth increasing your carb intake.
Carbohydrate timing in relation to meals isn’t as important as overall carbohydrate intake for the day or week. This means that you don’t have to be springing home from the gym to eat something before you go catabolic and ‘lose your gains’. Relax, take your time. Filling up during your next meal or later that day will be fine!
5. Drink more (and less)
5.1 – I bet you are sick and tired of hearing that you need to drink more water. That is because almost nobody is drinking enough.
Fruit juice doesn’t count, tea doesn’t count, coffee doesn’t count and soft drinks don’t count.
We’re talking about plain old water. It is vital for a huge number of internal processes but what you need to worry about is the fact that dehydration is extremely detrimental to performance and increases your risk of injury. Get yourself a 2 litre bottle of water, fill it up and make sure you’ve finished it by the end of the day. You’ll thank me later.
5.2 – On the other side of drinking, is the (alcoholic) drinking culture in rugby. It’s an unavoidable part of life for most rugby players. Here’s the thing though, drinking alcohol after a game or training is one of the worst things you can do in terms of performance. Alcohol is a diuretic so will further dehydrate you, which will impact on your recovery. Your body also sees it as a poison and will halt other internal processes such as muscle repair, muscle growth, blood clotting and your sleep pattern until the alcohol is out of your system.
So when it comes to alcohol, if you absolutely HAVE to drink it after a match or training, keep it light and in moderation. Don’t give your already knackered body even more to do.