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Nutrition for Rugby players

There are a number of factors that contribute to rugby performance; genetics plays a part, training, the right mind set, but the role of nutrition should not be understated. The development of rugby players now begins at a young age, and the competitive space in the first XV is a testament to how serious it is.


Having worked in the rugby development space for a number of years I have seen first-hand the transformation of young men into developed players, both in skill and physique. Strength, power, speed and endurance are important aspects of the game of rugby. By marrying the correct nutrition we can amplify, or increase, the adaptive response from training. One doesn’t need supplements to do this. Food works just as well, and Rugby New Zealand has a food first policy with its players. Use food rather than supplements. So what are some of the basic food rules to apply to your rugby training?


It is important to get your baseline diet right, the stuff you eat every day. You don’t need to be absolutely perfect with food, but even if you are eating well 80% of the time you’ll be ok.


Eat regularly. I see far too often players who skip breakfast, snacks, or meals through the day, who then eat massive portions at dinner and later. This results in poor body composition and training adaptation. Aim to eat every three to four hours at times that fit around your training, work/study/school schedule. This takes a bit of planning but is easily achievable. An example would be breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea (which also serves as a pre-training snack), dinner (recovery meal post training).

Try to incorporate both carbohydrate and protein in your meals and snacks. Smoothies are a good example, the milk and yoghurt provide the protein, and berries and bananas the carbohydrate. Other good snack options are cottage cheese, sliced tomato and avocado on some vitaweat crackers, or a pottle of yoghurt and a piece of fruit. Just get the carbs and protein going together.
Your baseline diet needs colour. Take a moment to think about the food you eat through the day more often than not the predominant colour is beige. Include fruit and vegetables throughout the day to get fibre and important vitamins.


Dinner is an easy fix if you use the performance plate model. A third of your plate is vegetables, a third protein (fish, chicken, red meat, etc), and a third carbohydrate. Using this model allows you a great deal of flexibility in your eating but correctly portions the food.


Other standard nutrition recommendations should be practised too. Avoid frequent consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods, minimise take-aways, drink milk and water, and avoid fizzy drink, juice, and other high energy drinks.


Driving recovery post training is important. As mentioned before, one can use a meal for recovery, otherwise be organised and carry your recovery snack to training with you. Aim to get 20g of protein post training. We know from research that this drives muscle hypertrophy (growth) and adaptation. How do you get 20g of protein? A big glass of orange top milk, or 600 ml of standard milk, 3 eggs gives approximately 21 g of protein and 100 g of Greek yoghurt will also give 20g. The carbohydrate in the recovery snack is dictated by how hard the session was and how long it went for. The harder the session the more important carbohydrate is in the recovery snack. If you have a morning session and then another later in the day, then carbohydrate needs to be included in your morning recovery snack. I would also suggest having a glass of milk before bed. This helps promote recovery overnight.


Plan and be organised. It is usually busy lifestyles and trying to fit training in with other commitments that makes quality eating difficult. Think about your training day ahead and plan for it. Take snacks and lunch with you. Have a drink bottle with you. A little organisation and discipline goes a long way in helping you recover between sessions and get better consistency in your training. Best of luck for the upcoming season.

About the author

Lillian Morton is a performance nutritionist and senior academic staff member. She holds an MSc in sport and exercise science and is currently working towards her PhD.