Getting your recovery nutrition right within rugby is a key factor in ensuring players are ready to train and/or play well in the days following an intense session. Read on to find out why recovery is so important, why it is often overlooked and how you can easily implement recovery nutrition strategies into your routine.
Whether its recovery from the last training session or a number of strong tackles on the field, consuming the right nutrients can help enhance overall performance, by improving adaptation; the body’s response to exercise ‘stress’, whilst also reducing the likelihood or extent of muscle soreness and fatigue experienced.
Since rugby is an impact sport, players often carry multiple injuries throughout the season thus making tissue repair and full body recovery even more important to the ongoing development of a player.
Yet, within all levels of Rugby Union it’s the one area that’s often overlooked. Whether it’s due to:
- A lack of nutrition knowledge – are fresh orange wedges still given to players after a game? I’m aware of a team that have are given doughnuts post match!
- Poor preparation – there is so much for players to think about before a big game, the last thing on their minds are postgame nutrition strategies.
- Accessibility – elite teams have the luxury of support staff that offer them protein containing shakes, snacks and fluid after the game. Followed up by a hearty meal in the player’s canteen. However players in lower leagues need to cater for their own recovery needs.
- Conflicts between recovery strategies – such as ice baths or massage, elite teams need to ensure a seamless routine post match to ensure players include recovery nutrition within the full recovery plan.
- Cultural habits – Many players enjoy celebrating/commiserating with fans in the clubhouse after a game over a few pints. This isn’t the best plan for recovery since excessive alcohol intake can have a negative impact on a players sleep and resultant nutritional intake in the days following, but can also ‘blunt’ muscle protein synthesis and therefore adaptation, as recent research has shown.
- A lack of appetite – In my experience, many players report a lack of appetite or feeling nauseous after a match, a ‘lighter’ food/drink alternative for these players is a way of satisfying recovery needs without causing digestive discomfort.
Whatever the reason, one way to directly improve a player’s performance and game form is to ‘be prepared’ and practice effective recovery nutrition after each training session and game.
Research has demonstrated that elite rugby union players often finish a match with a mean weight loss of 0.94kg this is equal to approx. 1 litre fluid loss. To effectively rehydrate after the game, a player should drink with the aim to replace 150% of the fluid weight lost during the game.
1 kg = 1 litre
So, if you start the game weighing 100kgs and your post game weight is just 99kgs then aim to consume 1.5 litres of fluid within the hour after the match. Combine this with a sodium containing snack or as a commercially available sports drink (check that it contains electrolytes) to replace the electrolytes lost in sweat further supporting rehydration.
Reduce ‘Breakdown’ with Protein
Muscle tissue damage occurs during a game of rugby following, since muscle is made up of protein it makes sense that a high quality complete source of protein is consumed afterwards. Rugby players have higher (than average) protein requirements, owing to their heavier mass and hypertrophy (muscle building) goals. However, the optimal amount of protein required post match to satisfy recovery and stimulate muscle protein synthesis is about 20-25g. A complete protein source is one that’s higher in the essential amino acids (the amino acids the body cannot make, thus is required from diet), one of the branched chain amino acids considered particularly important for muscle recovery is Leucine. In this instance and in my experience, dairy foods and drinks provide the easiest, most accessible and palatable source of complete protein to satisfy a players recovery needs post game.
‘Use it or Lose it’ – Replenish with Carbs
A full game of rugby may not completely deplete a player’s glycogen stores (muscles energy stores). However this will vary from player to player, depending on playing duration, effort level, as well as individual glycogen stores level at the start of the game. Plus the added muscle damage caused by impact, and the isometric contraction in the scrum may increase a players need for a carb recovery source. Players should consider consuming carbs very soon after a match to help optimise glycogen replenishment, in preparation for their next training session or game.
‘SCRUM’ptious Recovery Options
Post-match options need to be affordable, accessible, convenient and palatable for players to consume and coaching staff to provide. Here are a few suitable suggestions:
Keeping it ‘Real’
- A pint of milk and a slice of malt loaf
Provides: 444 calories, 67g carbs, 25g protein, 11.1g fat, 523 mls fluid, and 400 mg sodium/1g salt
- A large flask of homemade chicken and sweet potato soup, see our recipe here
750ml serving provides: 353 calories, 51g carbs, 33g protein, 3.4g fat, 650 mls fluid and 974 mg sodium/2.4g salt
Convenience at a Price
Maxinutrition’s – Protein milk
330mls Provides: 193 calories, 16.5g carbs, 30g protein, 0.7g fat, 277 mls fluid, 231 mg sodium/0.6g salt
MyProtein’s – One Promilk
330mls Provides: 251 calories, 19.5g carbs,3 8g protein, 2.3g fat, 277 mls fluid, 208 mg sodium/0.5g sodium
Kinetica – 100% Recovery
75g serving Provides: 267 calories, 41.3g carbs, 24.8g protein, 400mls fluid, 0.3g fat, 40 mg sodium/0.1g salt (you could add a small pinch of salt to this to increase sodium content)
- Banana ‘Blitz Defence’ shake – recipe available here
550ml serving provides: 345 calories, 39g carbs, 20g protein, 13.3g fat, 476 mls fluid, 397 mg sodium/1g salt
Ingredients can be easily blended with a hand blender in a jug the morning before the game. Store in a shaker (without the gauze) and in a cool bag for after the game.
Take Home Message
Whether you are a rugby coach or player, encouraging your team to practice effective recovery nutrition strategies is easier than you think. Just by being prepared and choosing the option that’s affordable and convenient to you means that you are ensuring optimal recovery, adaptation, reduced soreness and ultimately readiness to play.
AIS Sports Nutrition (January 2014), Rugby Union. Australian Sports Commission. Retrieved from: http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/sports/rugby_union
Burke, L., Kiens, B. & Ivy, J. Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. Journal of sports sciences 22, 15–30 (2004).
Churchward-Venne, T. et al. Leucine supplementation of a low-protein mixed macronutrient beverage enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis in young men: a double-blind, randomized trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition 99, 276–86 (2014).
Fahey, T.D and Chico, C.A (1998). Adaptation to exercise: progressive resistance exercise. In: Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science, T.D. Fahey (Editor). Internet Scociety for Sport Science: http//sportsci.org. 7 March 1998
Meir, R. & Halliday, A. Pre- and post-game body mass changes during an international rugby tournament: a practical perspective. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 19, 713–6 (2005).
Moore, D. et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. The American journal of clinical nutrition 89, 161–8 (2009).
Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, et al. (2014) Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88384. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088384
Prentice, C., Stannard, S. & Barnes, M. The effects of binge drinking behaviour on recovery and performance after a rugby match. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia 17, 244–8 (2014).
Stensel, D. Exercise, appetite and appetite-regulating hormones: implications for food intake and weight control.Annals of nutrition & metabolism 57 Suppl 2, 36–42 (2010)