Rugby pre season is an intense period with very high training volumes to ensure peak fitness before official games start. This is the time to provide the body with the best fuel in the form of food. If players want to be the best, they need to provide their bodies with the best fuel. Most players and coaches make the mistake of focusing on eating large quantities of protein and carbohydrate, misunderstanding why a multitude of other nutrients are fundamental to reaching peak fitness. 90% of the time my brief from a coach is, “just make them bigger, faster, stronger and leaner”. For a performance nutritionist, this usually translates to:
- more muscle = stronger
- weight gain = heavier and more powerful
- less body fat = more efficient around the pitch
Telling a player to “eat more” or “have an extra protein shake” is not good enough. The nutritional quality of the food (the ‘micronutrients': vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants etc.), as well as the ‘macronutrients’ (protein, carbohydrate and fats) are pivotal to reaching these ‘bigger, faster, stronger’ goals. All the elite teams take food provision and advice very seriously, emphasising real food over supplements, with vegetables, fruits and healthy fats given as much importance as meat and protein shakes. Here are further factors that are directly affected by high quality nutrition. Each one of the following points is backed by scientific research:
- Strengthening the immune system – 70% immunity is in the gut, treat it well with good nutrition and sickness from flu and stomach bugs are less likely. Individual players, and teams, cannot afford to be unnecessarily sick. The right food protects you from illness. It is the players with poor diets who are frequently sick.
- Faster recovery – any training session, whether on the pitch or in the gym provokes muscle damage. What you eat before and after has a significant impact on how fast and how well recovery happens.
- Feeling ‘better’ and more energetic – heavy training volumes will inevitably cause tiredness, but this will be made worse if the best fuel is not being made available. Carbohydrates are often overlooked in favour of protein, but are essential to prevent fatigue.
- Promoting better sleep – a happy ‘side effect’ of improvements in diet
- Improved brain function – for faster mental processing and split second decisions on the pitch – the brain is made up of healthy fats which come from the diet
5 simple tips to get bigger, faster and stronger:
- Eat more: to increase weight and muscle, you need to eat more calories than are being used up in training. It is not unusual to need 4000kcal+. These need to be ‘good quality’ calories, not junk food.
- A good protein intake is needed for muscle growth: daily lean protein from chicken, turkey, pork, fish, eggs, yogurt, milk, nuts, seeds, peanut butter etc., rather than sausages, bacon and ham. How much you need depends on the individual.
- Good quality carbohydrates are also necessary for muscle growth and recovery: Wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, granola, muesli, oats at each meal and snack
- Your mother was right. Eat vegetables at each meal. Frozen, fresh, raw, boiled, microwaved, stir fried, in a smoothie, vegetable soup, tomato pasta sauce; it doesn’t matter in what form. Just eat more.
- Eat salmon, sardines, mackerel or fresh tuna twice a week
Other considerations: omega 3 supplements if you don’t like fish; possibly creatine, protein supplements and probiotics (seek advice on dosage protocols)