Like most things in life, in sport you get out what you put in. And that goes for your nutrition too – when you’re playing and training hard, the right nutrition will give your game the edge.
It’s no good trying to play 80 minutes of top-notch rugby if you simply don’t have the right fuel on board. And that’s what food is; it’s fuel, pure and simple. In other words, you can’t play your best if you fill up on junk food. Nor can you expect to make it through the game if you haven’t eaten enough.
Hydration is just as important. Our bodies are between a half and three quarters water, and just think about how much you sweat during a game? That water must be replaced.
What you eat, how much and when will depend somewhat on:
• The physical demands of your sport
• Environmental factors (is it cold, hot or humid?)
• Individual factors.
Maintaining ideal hydration and nutrition levels is important before, during and after exercise, especially if you’ve got a big game on. That will help reduce fatigue so you’re less likely to get tired during the game and you’ll recover better after it.
We are all different and have different nutritional requirements depending on our body types, size, metabolism and what activity we’re doing. For sports people, the most important foods to eat for energy levels as well as muscle strength and recovery are proteins and carbohydrates.
• Protein is essential to build, maintain and repair the body’s tissue. Foods high in protein are eggs, chicken, fish, red meat, legumes (such as dried beans) and dairy products.
• Carbohydrates are generally used for energy during moderate to high intensity activity. High-carbohydrate foods include bananas, fruit, pasta, bread, rice, potato and breakfast cereals. Very refined carbohydrates (such as in white bread or processed foods) should be avoided.
Very fatty food that has low nutritional value (burgers, fish and chips, KFC etc) should be shunned altogether or only eaten very occasionally.
Stocking up before the game
Here are some tips to help you stay on top of your game.
• Ensure that over half your food intake comes from carbohydrate-based foods and increase your carbs a few days before playing.
• Ensure your diet contains at least 15% protein.
• Eat six smaller meals spaced throughout the day rather than three big ones.
• Remember that supplements do not replace a balanced diet, so keep them as exactly that – supplements!
Eating after the game
Protein and carbohydrates will replace lost energy stores and help your muscles and body tissue recover after activity. Your body readily absorbs energy in those first one or two hours after playing, so eat as soon as possible. And again, eat the right food! Don’t resort to junk!
Good food to eat immediately after the game includes:
• Chewy lollies like jet planes or jubes
• Carbohydrate drinks such as Powerade or Replace
• Muesli bars.
Good food to eat 20 minutes after the game includes:
• Plain bread rolls, bananas and flavoured milk
• Ham or chicken filled rolls (for both your protein and carbohydrates)
• Muffins and yoghurt.
Thirst is not a good indicator of your need to rehydrate. You must drink before, during and after a game, whether you feel thirsty or not. Remember, dehydration can lead to reduced concentration, fatigue, cramps and poor performance.
Carbohydrate drinks (like sports drinks) are good because they’ll hydrate you and boost your energy levels. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks – these will only dehydrate you further.
Here are some hydration guidelines:
Before the game: Drink half a litre two hours before exercise.
During the game: Small amounts (about 120-150mls) during breaks. Remember to drink more if it’s hot and/or humid.
After the game: Drink one litre per hour, for the next three hours. You’ll keep sweating, so you need to keep drinking.
Rugby players are high-performance athletes, and like any athlete they need to pay close attention to their bodies’ nutritional requirements.
Eat and drink right! Fuel the machine to improve your game!
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