Nutrition & Enhancing Sports Performance
Understand the Role of Nutrition in Maintaining Health and Enhancing Sports Performance
The role of nutrition in enhancing sports performance is being increasingly appreciated by coaches as it can complement natural talent and dedicated training to produce optimum performance.
Rugby is branded by high-intensity episodes of play spread with low-intensity moments including standing, walking and jogging. Players depend on their instant muscle fuel sources during short bursts of play, while the aerobic energy system is important during sustained phases of play and during the recovery phase in a game.
Games usually consist of two 40-minute halves and include many informal breaks for substitutions, injury stoppages and law infringements. Peak performance is determined by a complex and variable mix of physical and skill-based talents. Players not only need to be able to run to the section of play, but must also be able to execute specific skills including tackling, kicking, passing, jumping and lifting other players. In addition, they need to be alert at all times to enable them to read and anticipate the play and make tactical decisions.
As rugby involves contact, players need strength and speed to be able to apply and endure tackles, rucks, mauls and scrums. The characteristics of different positions within a team can vary markedly, meaning players may face different nutritional issues and challenges. Forwards are typically heavy with a large muscle mass and a relatively high body fat level. In comparison, backs are typically lighter with lower body fat levels.
The daily demands of training are best met by a consistent approach to adequate fuel intake and not just on fuelling up only on the day before a match or in the pre-event meal.
Players need a variety of foods and should aim to include:
• Fruits and vegetables every day – aim for a variety of colours
• Breads and cereals – pasta, rice, oats, wholegrain bread, breakfast cereal, kumara, new potatoes and noodles
• Low fat dairy products – including milk, yoghurt and reduced fat cheese (e.g. Edam)
• Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs and other protein rich foods like tofu and pulses
• Healthy fats like olive oils, nuts, seeds, peanut butter and avocado
Carbohydrate is the fuel of choice for training. Players should try to base their meals and snacks on slowly digested carbohydrate rich foods.
This includes oats, wholegrain breads and wholegrain crackers, pasta, rice, noodles and starchy vegetables like new potatoes, kumara and corn.
Just before intense training sessions or matches, additional carbohydrate rich foods and drinks can be helpful to provide extra fuel. Afterwards sports drinks, lollies, baked bars, ripe yellow bananas and white bread with honey and jam sandwiches are digested quickly for fast recovery.
Bagels, wraps, cereal bars and creamed rice are some ideas.
Sports drinks may be helpful to top up carbohydrate during training, particularly in hot conditions when sweat and fluid losses are likely to be high.
The protein requirements of rugby players are greater than for those who live a more inactive lifestyle.
As rugby is a contact sport giving rise to a high level of muscle damage, and with resistance training being a regular component for rugby players, it is important to consume adequate amounts of protein rich foods each day to promote adaptations to training and recovery from games.
Foods high in protein include lean meat, chicken, fish, low fat milk and yoghurt and eggs. Aim to include a protein rich food at each meal and snack. Make sure they eat every 3 hours through the day to meet their energy and protein needs.
An Accredited Sports Nutritionist or Dietitian can provide further guidance.
A high energy (calorie/kJ) intake is important to maintain lean body mass and size, especially
during periods of growth such as adolescence or intensive resistance training. Poor quality
saturated fat will not help fuel the type of exercise undertaken by rugby players and can slow an athlete down with dead weight.
Therefore, rugby players should limit their consumption of high fat dairy foods, fatty meats, high fat takeaways and snack foods, fried foods and creamy sauces. A moderate intake of good fats contained in foods such as nuts, seeds, peanut butter, olive and canola oils, fish, avocado and plant oil table spreads are important to help maintain good joint, muscle and heart health.
The high intensity of exercise can create large sweat losses. If players are very thirsty in the game, or lose more than 2kg body weight in a game, too much fluid has been lost.
This severely impairs performance by approximately 10-20%. Players should aim to start exercise well hydrated by drinking water with meals and snacks and sipping on water bottles. Aim to pass copious amounts of lemonade coloured urine and to replace fluids as they are lost during exercise. Good fluid choices through the day include water, tea, trim milk and one glass of fruit juice per day.
Thirst is not a good indicator of fluid needs during rugby. For your players to be at their peak, you should ensure that they are aware of, and observe, the following hydration guidelines:
• Drink 200-500ml during warm-up
• Drink 120-150ml during game breaks
• Drink 200-500ml during cool-down
• After game drink another 1L per
Use sports drink in hard sessions that last more than an hour and in games. Poor fluid choices that damage performance are alcohol, soft drinks and energy drinks.