Rugby is a sport for many different shapes, sizes, qualities, skill sets and mindsets. Made up of 15 positions just on the field, body shapes and compositions are inevitably going to be vastly different.
As a result, so too can be the nutritional requirements required for each position. However, there are certain evergreen foods that all rugby players can incorporate into their diet. The health benefits of the foods below are universal no matter your body type and position on the field.
Consider each of them in your pre-and-post match diets to ensure you're playing at an optimal level every time you hit the rugby pitch.
7 Perfect food and beverage choices
1. Steak and eggs
Time to ditch the sugary cereals in the morning. Red meat and eggs are much better sources of energy first thing than sugar-rich cereal.
Sugar distributes it's energy sources much less evenly than protein and fats (think the instant high and subsequent lows of eating sugary sweets) ensuring energy spikes and troughs throughout the day.
Protein and fats on the other hand are much better at utilising energy sources. The body is much more able to maintain a high level of energy throughout the day.
Aside from energy, a breakfast of steak and eggs brings all the benefits to recovery and performance you'll need to optimise your game. Red meats and eggs are some of the finest sources of protein you can get your hands on. Cook yourself some steak and eggs in the morning and help muscle growth and repair.
2. Sweet Potato with a maple syrup glaze
Often we find that sports people’s blood sugars can drop dramatically after matches due to the loss of nutrients through sweat. The glucose levels of your blood are important to your long term health, so after a match you're looking to replenish the glucose that has been lost throughout the game.
To reverse that and top up your glucose levels, you'll need a carbohydrate-fuelled meal. Top of the list should be sweet potato glazed in maple syrup. It's an amazing way replenish your body, and is also a good source of Vitamin C – a nutrient that wards off colds and flus, helping you to stay fit and firing more often.
3. Sticky rice with mango
Pre-match preparation starts the night before the big day; so it's important to choose wisely when selecting your pre-game meal.
When you are out on the field, your body needs to dip into different energy sources to perform on a consistent basis. Due to the longevity of a rugby match, you will mostly be in an aerobic state therefore using glycogen as your priority energy source.
So, your priority should be a meal that's crammed full of glycogen, thus ensuring you've got enough energy in the tank to last the whole 80 minutes.
One such example is a meal of sticky rice with mango chopped into it. As well as the insane taste value it also offers everything you are looking for in a meal the night prior to match day. The rice brings the carbohydrates, whilst mango is crammed full of antioxidants such as Vitamin A and C – which are vital to overall good health.
4. Black coffee
Coffee sometimes gets a bad name. Given the very noticeable effects it can have on our alertness, and subsequent come downs we have from not getting our morning coffee, we might be forgiven for assuming it's a little unhealthy.
On the contrary, the coffee bean is a very strong and healthy antioxidant that can play a significant role in your pre-training diet plan.
As long as you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day you are only going to reap benefits from drinking coffee. Plus, it's natural source of caffeine isn't necessarily a bad thing. Providing us with energy and cognitive improvement, a well timed coffee 40 minutes or so before training can provide a timely boost to your performance.
As far as potential pitfalls to performance are concerned, dehydration is right up with the biggest and baddest. A dehydrated body leads to mental deterioration, dips in energy levels and muscle cramps – a three stage process to damaging your output on the field.
There is only one true way to prevent this, and that's through the power of water. For those undergoing daily intense sporting activity, drinking 3 litres of water per day is around the correct figure to ensure your body and mind don't become dehydrated during training or match days.
For some rugby players that may be a little heavy. Forwards are always going to be more able to consume large amounts of liquid than backs (you've probably witnessed this during the post-match pub trip), so find a level that suits you and your physical requirements on the pitch.
6. Snack on chia seeds
For a food stuff that's so packed full of good nutrients yet comes in such a small size, look out for the quite frankly amazing chia seeds.
They're crammed full of stuff you need for recovering from sporting activity, and can help you perform at your best game-in-game-out. Chia seeds are high in Omega 3 (more on that later), fibre and calcium, and have a higher amount of protein compared to other seeds.
All of which adds up to one epic superfood. These little gems are, much like other seeds and nuts, are an excellent guilt-free snack – or you could add to some yogurt for a nutrient-rich breakfast.
7. Spinach wherever you can throw it
As superfoods go, spinach is the absolute gold medal winning start-and-end of outstanding entries. It includes a number of essential ingredients that can help you perform to the best of your ability out on the rugby field.
Firstly, iron. Spinach is full of the stuff, and that can have a number of positive effects on the quality of your blood, and thus the energy levels that fuel your performance during a game. Iron has an important influence on your vitality, i.e. the feeling of strength and energy – helping you perform better.
Aside from physical benefits, spinach (and other leafy greens) have been proven to regularly decelerate mental deterioration as well as improve mental focus. Many sports, rugby included, are as much in the mind as they are in the body. Spinach can help maintain mental strength throughout an emotionally draining 80 minutes of competitive rugby.
Spinach has been shown to be one of the best leafy green along with kale, Swiss chard and romaine lettuce with high levels of iron as well as vitamins A and K which help reduce inflammation, improve bone health and reduce feelings of fatigue.
You'll actually find a number of other health benefits to spinach – two of which are reduced inflammation and improved bone health. All-in-all, try and throw it in as much of your food as you can, such as curry, salads and lasagnes.
3 Essential nutrients and where to find them
8. Omega 3
Omega 3 has a whole swathe of excellent benefits - meaning you can't pass up the opportunity to get stuck into as much of it as you can.
Among them is greater cardiovascular health. As a rugby player haring up and down the pitch, good cardio is vital. Fatty acids found in omega 3 are linked to a healthy cardiovascular system, helping you perform better for longer.
Elsewhere, Omega 3's antioxidant boosts your defences against illness, as well as improving joint and bone health.
In food, you'll find Omega 3 in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, walnuts and chia seeds. Alternatively, you could take 6g Omega 3 per day with 3 different meals, spreading it out with 2g per meal.
High levels of testosterone are vital to outstanding sports performance. Linked to higher energy levels, better concentration and an increase in muscle mass, it's vital you get as much surging through your body as possible in the build up to a big game.
One natural way you can do that is via zinc. Zinc is one of the most effective methods for balancing hormones through increased testosterone levels, and comes with a series of other benefits alongside. A powerful ally in the fight against the common cold, it can reduce your chance of getting ill or help you recover if you do catch a cold.
In foods, spinach should be your first zinc-boosting port of call. Elsewhere, garlic, kidney beans and pumpkin seeds are all rich in zinc.
As a supplement, take 30mg per day.
10. Creatine monohydrate
Particularly powerful to players who are looking to increase their strength through gains in muscle mass, creatine monohydrate is one of the most popular nutrients for sport and fitness fanatics.
Scientifically proven to increase muscle mass and endurance (when partnered with the correct physical programme), a number of the more hefty members of your team probably already add it to their diet to increase strength.
In foods, wild game such as venison is your best bet, but chicken, turkey, lamb and veal are all other natural alternatives.
As a supplement, Take 0.2g per kg bodyweight for 5-7 days and then 0.02g per kg bodyweight there after.
Just remember supplements should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet of whole foods, not instead of.
*Any suggestions made in this blog are recommended as part of a healthy, balanced diet.