Nutrition

Diet, Nutrition and Fitness

Nutrition is an essential component in achieving optimum performance in your game of rugby.

Diet plays a vital role in fuelling and refueling your body correctly so as to ensure optimum training and match performance, improved concentration, a reduction in recovery time, reduced fatigue and injury prevention.

It is important as a rugby player to understand the basic principles of nutrition and the part it plays to improve your game. Understanding the fundamentals of diet, will help you make informed choices, benefiting your performance and recovery as well as your overall health. This knowledge can be used in your everyday life, implemented both during training, matches and at home.

Food Groups

There are three main food groups that should make up your diet

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates should make up a large part of every meal you consume. They are essential for fueling your muscles for training and helping with recovery after a training session.

Good sources of carbohydrates are whole meal bread, brown rice, brown pasta, sweet potato, yam etc. These should be eaten at every meal. They are released slowly, often referred to as low GI and therefore supply a slow, constant release of energy.

Other types of carbohydrates are fruits and vegetables. These should also be eaten on a regular basis and at every meal. Fruit and vegetables contain lots of vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins A, C and E, needed to maintain healthy cells within the body. Go for variety and color when eating fruit and vegetables and try to include new types into your diet.

Protein

Protein is essential in your diet to help repair damaged tissue and rebuild new ones. However an excessive amount is not required. Protein should be consumed at each meal but should not make up the majority of the meal, this should be carbohydrate.

Aim to eat good quality protein sources such as lean cuts of meat, chicken, turkey, fish and reduce red meat products such as bacon, sausages- as these are high in fat.

Other good sources are eggs, pulses, lentils, nuts (unsalted and unroasted) and dairy products.

However, be careful when opting for dairy produce as individuals from the South Pacific region tend to have a high incidence of being lactose intolerant, which means they cannot break down and digest dairy produce. If you find after eating any dairy produce you feel un-well, try removing it from your diet and use other protein sources instead.

Fat

Fat is needed in your diet to provide energy, for cell communication and to help reduce injury. You need to be aware there are two main types of fat.

Saturated fat also known as “bad” fat and unsaturated fat known as “good” fat.

You need both in your diet, fat should make up 25% of your daily diet but the “good” fat needs to make up a larger proportion around 15% and the “bad” fat 10%.

Saturated fat is found in many processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate, fast food etc. A high intake of this type of fat in the diet can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and affect your performance. These foods should be eaten sparingly.

Unsaturated fats are found in oily fish such as mackerel, wild salmon, unsalted nuts and seeds, walnuts, almonds, avocado and olive oil. Aim to eat 2-3 portions of oily fish a week and eat unsalted nuts as a snack to increase your “good” fat intake.

These fats contain the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6, which are anti-inflammatory and can help prevent injury and improve concentration.

Framework of eating patterns

It is important your body is fuelled correctly throughout the day to provide the correct amount of energy required for training and recovery. Even on non training and match days it is still important to fuel the body effectively.

Eating three meals a day plus two snacks will sufficiently fuel your body.

Breakfast is a key component to any diet and should never be missed. If you find it difficult to eat first thing in the morning opt for a shake. It is crucial you are fuelling your body at this time.

Base your two snacks around pre and post workout/training. They should be a mixture of carbohydrates and protein.

You should aim to eat a pre workout snack about 1-2 hours before you start.

Examples of a pre workout snack are

  • bananas roll and sports drinks
  • shake
  • fruit and yoghurt

It is essential to include a post workout/training snack which is high in carbohydrate and moderate in protein. This is to be taken after a workout within 45 minutes of the session finishing. If you find eating this soon after a session is difficult, a shake is another good option.

Examples of a post workout snack are

  • cereal bars
  • fruit, yoghurt
  • sports drink

An example of a post workout shake is Whey protein powder mixed with water and a high GI carbohydrate (grape juice)

Hydration

It is important to be well hydrated as dehydration can lead to fatigue and poor concentration. Studies have shown just 2% loss in body weight through dehydration can lead to a 20% loss in concentration.

To ensure you are well hydrated always bring a bottle of water to training and carry one in your sports bag and in your car. Take every opportunity to have a drink.

Don’t leave all your hydration until training. Regularly drink throughout the day, at meal times and in between sessions. Aim to consume 250-500mls with every meal.

Water, sports drinks and watered down fruit juice are all good choices of fluids. Try to stay clear of caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee, fizzy drinks, energy drinks and alcohol as these are diuretics and can lead to dehydration.

Summary

Nutrition is a vital part of obtaining optimum performance in your game of rugby.

There are 3 main groups you should be aware of carbohydrate, fat and protein.

All of these groups should make up your diet.

You should aim to eat three meals a day with two snacks. These snacks should be pre and post workout.

Hydration is key to avoid poor performance.
Ensure you are always well hydrated throughout the day by carrying water with you. Sip fluids throughout sessions and ensure you drink enough after the session to replenish what you have lost.

References

Greenway, B. Pelly, F (2004) “Fuelling fitness for your sport-rugby league”, Sports dietician Australia

Ivy. J, Portman. R (2004) “The future of sports nutrition”, Nutrient Timing

Kleiner, M. S, Greenwood-Robinson, M (2001) “Power eating”, Build muscle, boost energy, cut fat, 2nd edition, Human Kinetics

 

Hydration

Ensuring you are correctly hydrated is a crucial part of preparation for a match. From a nutritional aspect in rugby, hydration plays a key role in a reduction of both fatigue and concentration levels. Numerous studies have shown a decrease in body weight through fluid loss during playing results in a 20% drop in concentration, the difference between losing and wining a match in the last crucial minutes of the game.

Good hydration habits should be built in to training and maintained on non training days to prevent the onset of dehydration consequently effecting performance.

Dehydration commonly occurs within athletes due to poor preparation and fluid choices. However this can be easily avoided if the correct protocols are put into place as this article identifies.

Back to basics, what is water and why is it needed in the body?

Water is a vital nutrient within the body accounting for about 60% of body weight and serving many vital purposes within the body.

Water is the main transporter around the body making up the majority of blood and consequently transports minerals, vitamins, amino acids etc around the body and excretes waste products.

Water also acts as a medium for chemical reactions within the body and therefore is vital within our cells.

Therefore a regular intake of water is required especially during exercise to maintain blood flow, reduce body temperature and reduce stress on the heart.

What is dehydration?

Dehydration is simply a loss of fluid from the body. During exercise and hot weather the rate of dehydration is increased and further advanced by a reduction of intake of fluids.

As a result fluid loss in exercise is very high and if not replaced correctly will lead to fatigue, poor concentration and an overall noticeable reduction in performance.

Symptoms

The best detector for dehydration is your urine through observation of colour and smell; a strong colour and smell indicates dehydration. There are other more obvious signs such as dizziness, light headedness and headache. If you are feeling thirsty you are already dehydrated.

How to avoid dehydration

Preparation is the key to correct hydration.

Getting into good habits of taking fluids on board throughout the day at training, match days and on off days will set a good grounding for regulating your fluid intake.

It is important to train your body to have a ‘little and often’ attitude to fluid intake by having bottles of water with you in your training bag, in the car and when you are away from home. It is important to take every opportunity to incorporate fluids into your daily routine.

A constant intake keeps your fluid levels high rather than leaving long periods between drinks. It also helps your body adjust to fluid in the stomach and gives you a better indication on how much you can drink before you need to go to the toilet.

Before a match and during training diuretics such as caffeine drinks tea, coffee should be avoided as well as alcohol.

What should I be drinking?

Water is a great choice of fluid intake and should make up the majority of your intake however when you sweat your body is not only losing water but also electrolytes such as potassium, calcium, sodium etc.

These electrolytes are essential on a cellular level and therefore for optimum hydration need to replaced.

Therefore the best choice of drink during training and matches is a sports drink containing electrolytes and a high GI carbohydrate such as grapefruit juice as well as water.

How much should I be drinking?

Fluid requirements vary person to person and are dependent on a number of factors such as rate of sweat loss, intensity of exercise, temperature conditions and individual body composite i.e. muscle to fat ratio.

It is recommended that you aim to drink at least 2-3 litres of water per day, which includes food sources of water such as fruit and vegetables. During periods of heavy training and match days it is advised to consume 400-500 ml of fluid before and 600-1000ml after.

It is important to begin training or matches in a hydrated state and maintain this state by regularly sipping fluid at every opportunity rather than waiting which by you may have already become dehydrated.

By setting it as a priority to ensure you are always adequately hydrated will help contribute to achieving your optimum performance within your game by reducing fatigue, concentration and impaired decision making and skilled movements.

 

References

Burke. L, Deekin. V (2002), Clinical Sports Nutrition, 2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Australia Pty Limited, Australia

Kleiner S. M (2001), Power Eating, 2nd Edition, Human kinetics

Ivy, J, Portman. R (2004), The future of sports nutrition, Nutrient timing, Basic Health Publications Inc

Mann. J, Truswell A. S (2002), Essentials of Human Nutrition, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press

 

Supplements

Supplements can be of great benefit in your diet and are recommended for the majority of professional athletes as a way to aid performance and recovery. However with a vast majority of supplements available on the market it is important to recognise which are both safe and are of benefit to your specific needs, as many make claims based on little or no scientific research.

What are supplements?

Supplements are used to enhance particular aspects of your diet and athletic ability such as nutrient support, performance, recovery and concentration. They should be taken as a tool to help you improve certain areas of your diet or performance and used in conjunction with healthy dietary and lifestyle habits, not just on their own. Supplements come in many different forms; tablets, powders, shakes, drinks and bars. They can be divided into two categories:

Dietary supplements

  • Nutritional Ergogenic aids
  • Dietary supplements

These groups of supplements allow you to meet a specific nutrient requirement if it is not met through the diet. For example a multi-vitamin, protein powder, sports drink or bar. In these forms it is a convenient and practical way to receive every day nutrients.

Nutritional Ergogenic aids

These groups of supplements allow you to enhance your performance and recovery. There are a lot of supplements on the market which focus particularly on this area for example creatine, caffeine, amino acids, essential fatty acids.

Creatine is probably one of the most well known supplements on the market. Primarily its use is to increase performance during high intensity training through improving muscle strength and delaying the onset of fatigue. It can also contribute to an improvement in power, strength and lean muscle mass. The majority of research supports evidence in improving recovery and reducing oxidative stress with limited evidence to support long term use.

Amino Acids

Protein and amino acids supplements generally refer to the essential amino acids i.e. the ones that cannot be synthesised in the body. These supplements usually contain individual amino acids as their sole ingredient or are fortified with a specific amino acid.

The timing of the intake of amino acids is essential; to be effective it should be taking immediately after training, within 45 minutes post workout with a High GI carbohydrate.

There is no benefit of taking an excess of protein in the diet either through food intake or supplements as there is only a certain amount of protein the body can utilise. High amounts will not be converted to muscle mass instead it will be excreted or converted to fat.

Branched chain amino acids(BCAAs)

Branched chain amino acids are specific amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are seen to enhance recovery after exercise by reducing the development of central fatigue i.e. central nervous system fatigue.

Research does suggest BCAAs can help to reduce muscle damage. Similar to amino acids the timing of intake and ingestion with a high GI carbohydrate will increase their effectiveness.

Caffeine

Caffeine can be found in natural dietary sources such as tea, coffee and chocolate. Its effects have been seen in athletic activity to predominantly stimulate the central nervous system, cardiac muscles and epinephrine release activity. As of yet, there is no clear mechanism how caffeine enhances performance but taken pre event in combination with a high GI carbohydrate have shown a positive benefit.

However, caffeine can affect individuals on different levels with some experiencing headaches, increased heart rate and tremors. Therefore it is encouraged to experiment with caffeine supplements during training to understand your body’s reaction.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs)

Essential fatty acids relate to the good fats in your diet, more commonly known as Omega 3 and Omega 6.

There has been mixed research in their role in an athlete’s diet but primarily it is to help combat inflammation and increase fluidity in the cells, promoting both increased recovery rate and reduced injury. Omega 3 is predominantly taken in the form of fish oils however the quality of these can vary and it is important to assess the quality of the supplement before it is taken.

Other supplements include:

Antioxidants

During periods of heavy training and games, cells within the body can potentially be damaged as a result of free radicals produced through exercise. These free radicals are capable of producing a high level of cellular damage consequently affecting performance and recovery.

Anti oxidant supplements on the market include Vitamins C and E.

Although little research supports their ability to increase performance, strong evidence suggests both help to reduce oxidative stress and minimise cell damage caused by free radicals. Taking together their effect is shown to be even more effective than on an individual basis.

Overview of supplements

From the overview above of only a handful of supplements on the market it is clear a general understanding of what supplements can do for you and what is in on the market is required to make an informed decision of what is right for you.

Supplements are there to both support and enhance your performance and are an important aid in your training however a lot of supplements are misleading and make all kinds of claims.

Before you begin a supplement program it is important to know exactly what you want to achieve and which is the safest supplement to help you do this and not to be mislead into supplements which could potentially not only damage your performance but your long term health.

Remember; Supplements cannot replace or improve bad nutritional habits. A healthy well balanced diet is needed for a good foundation in which supplements can be incorporated.

 

References

Burke. L, Deekin. V (2002), Clinical Sports Nutrition, 2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Australia Pty Limited, Australia

Kleiner S. M (2001), Power Eating, 2nd Edition, Human kinetics

IRFU Performance Nutrition (2007), “IRFU recommendation, Sports supplements and the young rugby players”

Ivy, J, Portman. R (2004), The future of sports nutrition, Nutrient timing, Basic Health Publications Inc

Mann. J, Truswell A. S (2002), Essentials of Human Nutrition, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press

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