Macronutrients for Rugby Players

Macronutrients for Rugby Players

Given what we now know about the physiological impacts on rugby players the very basics of energy systems and energy transfer we can make an informed decision on what to eat for optimum performance.

On the face of it, it may seem obvious that given rugby last for 80 minutes (excluding stoppages and injury time) that we need to optimise our nutrition for the aerobic system and consume a high fat diet, given the aerobic system tends to use fats as fuel. If you made that assumption you would be wrong. 

Let me explain why.

Yes, Rugby lasts for 80+ minutes, not counting warm-up and stoppages. Yes, overall we are using the aerobic system because of this. However, there is no need to optimise for this as this will take care of itself with stores within the body. Do we really need to optimise for the glycolytic pathway or the anaerobic system?

Why the Anaerobic System?

Because, the anaerobic system is the system used during the important parts of the game like making a break, tackles, mauls, rucks, scoring a try. These almost always last between 10-80 seconds.

Think about it because I’m not sure I’m explaining this very well. How long does phase play last for? Not long right, especially in the lower leagues. Well even during that phase play, in attack or defence individual players are only involved intermittently.

Your nutrition plan needs to be optimised for these important moments so you can perform at your best.

So how do we do this? As you already know the anaerobic system depends on sugars or carbohydrates to function. Therefore, a rugby player’s diet should be high in carbohydrates and protein.

In the next few sections, I’ll explain how to make this work

Protein

The gym goers favourite macronutrient. And it’s no surprise why. Protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of life.

Amino acids are responsible for everything from our structure to our hormones, to our immunity etc. Dietary protein is critical. Not just because of the above but also because the body finds it extremely hard to maintain a consistent ratio of amino acids because we are constantly breaking down and getting rebuilding ourselves.

Seriously, we are.

In the unlikely event that this drop low enough, then our daily functioning can be compromised (malnourished). But I’m getting ahead of myself here. As a fit and healthy individual that should never happen. Not least because the recommended daily intake is that of a decent-sized steak a day.

Nevertheless, as rugby athletes we don’t just want to survive we want to thrive. And as we train, and or play rugby our body turns over more amino acids than what we do when we are resting.

Which is why as an amateur rugby player we need an adequate amount of protein and waaay more than the guys at the government tell us to eat. But way less than Johnny the Bodybuilder tells you to eat.

The issue is there isn’t much scientific evidence on how much protein a rugby players should be eating. And if there was any those studies wouldn’t be on the amateur athlete.

As a general rule professional rugby players consume between 20g protein per kg of bodyweight. And sometime more.

That’s a lot. A heck of a lot.

Yes, that’s right. Your regular 15 stone 7lb (100kg) rugby player is supposed to be consuming 220g of protein per day. 

Let’s face it though. That level of protein may be accessible to your skinny site stepping winger but it’s wholly impractical for some of the bigger lads. Props I’m looking at you.

I’m going to recommend, let’s say, a less ambitious with my recommendation for protein intake of a rugbyt player. 

After all, if you are reading this then you are an amateur athlete with occupations outside of rugby and sometimes your budget may be a restraining factor, as is your ability to chomp down epic proportions of food in work. Of course, we can’t discount your homelife dynamics either.

I’m giving you two options. 

1.5-1.7g/kg/per day, or;

Ensure that you are consuming around 25-30g protein regularly throughout the day and especially around exercise. Before and after, being optimal.

Of course, if you can afford it and you have the ability to eat more protein, then do so. More will be better as long as it’s in your caloric budget.

Of course, not all of this protein has to come from food. Some of it can come from protein supplementation. Good old fashioned whey protein will suffice for most people, but if you are intent on training fasted in the morning then a casein protein prior to bed may help retain muscle mass

Good protein sources are chicken, turkey, lean red meat, eggs, legumes and even protein powder if you are on the go. You can see more sources of protein below. Quantities are based on 100g as this is the best way to compare and contrast protein sources.

Food typeProtein content (g) per 100g
MeatChicken breast (grilled without skin)
Beef steak (lean grilled)
Lamb chop (lean grilled)
Pork chop (lean grilled)
32.0
31.0
29.2
31.6
FishTuna (canned in brine)
Mackerel (grilled)
Salmon (grilled)
Cod (grilled)
23.5
20.8
24.2
20.8
SeafoodPrawns
Mussels
Crabsticks
22.6
16.7
10.0
EggsChicken eggs12.5
DairyWhole milk
Semi-skimmed milk
Skimmed milk
Cheddar cheese
Half-fat cheddar
Cottage cheese
Whole milk yogurt
Low fat yogurt (plain)
3.3
3.4
3.4
25.4
32.7
12.6
5.7
4.8
Plant protein
PulsesRed lentils
Chickpeas
7.6
8.4
BeansKidney beans
Baked beans
Tofu (soya bean steamed)
6.9
5.2
8.1
GrainsWheat flour (brown)
Bread (brown)
Bread (white)
Rice (easy cook boiled)
Oatmeal
Pasta (fresh cooked)
12.6
7.9
7.9
2.6
11.2
6.6
NutsAlmonds
Walnuts
Hazelnuts
21.1
14.7
14.1
Protein sources per 100g

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the backbone of the rugby players diet. It provides the much needed energy to fulfil the demands of the intensity of training and games. 

Why?

Well the anaerobic system relies on glycogen which is stored in the muscle. When we exercise or play rugby, we use this glycogen to perform which constantly needs replenishing.

However, not all carbohydrates are made equally. Not that any are really that bad either. We need to choose the right carbohydrate in the right quantities at the right time.

The bulk of our carbohydrate intake pre-game and training should come from fibrous, low GI sources like vegetables, grains, legumes, fruit and whole grains. 

For those of you who are not aware, the glycemic index is the measure of how much a certain food raises blood sugar levels after eating.

Low<55
Medium55-70 GI
High>70
The basics of measuring the GI of Foods.

On the other hand, a small proportion of your rugby nutrition should contain higher GI, more refined carbohydrate sources like white pasta, packages oats, chocolates, sweets etc., They are ideal to consume before, during and after training and games as they are digested and absorbed at a faster pace.

This table, adapted from the book, the Science of Rugby helps to explain, what carbohydrates, in what quantity and when they should be eaten. The food sources are split between breakfast lunch and dinner and of course dessert.

Food Portion size (g) Typical GI kcals CHO (g)
All bran403010819
Crumpets40697115
Porridge (made with water)250 (ml)5821622
Croissants606722426
Muesli405716025
Weetabix406914030
Cornflakes407211327
Wholemeal bread40748717
White bread40759420
Bagels707219140
Sprouts801283
Green beans801202
Kidney Beans80288014
Quinoa40535510
Chapatti385212020
Baked beans1354811320
Sweet potatoes (boiled)1204610125
Egg noodles2004612426
White Spaghetti 1504915633
Wholemeal Spaghetti1504817035
Basmati rice1005813833
Pita Bread605715333
Brown rice956810622
Udon noodles955515031
Couscous1506516835
Potatoes (boiled)100787217
Potatoes (mashed)100865714
White rice1007313831
Baguettes859520743
Apricots (fresh)401761
Apricots (dried)1030194
Peanuts25141413
Cashew nuts25221535
Strawberries10040276
Oranges120434410
Apples100364712
Yoghurt (fat free)2002410514
Apple juice100413810
Orange juice10050369
Bananas100519114
Custard (with skimmed milk)1203512519
Crisps355613312
Popcorn (salted)506518523
Malted fruit loaf354710323
Honey25617518
Milk chocolate554128631
Scones509218227
Pretzels1083388
Doughnuts757625237
Waffles1507650159

Fats

Ah fats. Demonised by many. Praised by many. 

Truth is there’s no real reason to get emotional about it.

Fats, are a major macronutrient and some foods contain essential vitamins A, D, E, K, essential fatty acids and are required as an energy store during exercise which lasts longer than 90 minutes.

Fats are essential to a healthy functioning body and for high level performance and have a number essential roles in the body.

-They are the most energy dense macronutrient, providing double the energy of carbs and proteins.

-they help manufacture and balance hormones

– help to form our brain and nervous system

– helps to transport fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K

-Provides two essential fatty acids that our body can’t create by itself., omega 6 and omega 3.

See not all bad.

But,  fats are often a source of poor general health and weight control as they are more calorie-laden than the other macronutrients. See not all good.

Of course, not all fats are made equal. 

On the eat in small doses list are trans fats like margarine, vegetable oil and anything with these kinds of hidden ingredients in.

But on the eat away (in small doses) list are some healthy fats like oily fish, nuts, seeds, lean meat, good quality oils and avocados.

I recommend you try and get some healthy fats in during meal that isn’t surrounding training because they are harder for your body to process.

When you do consume fats try and consume those containing omega 3 fatty acids as they can reduce inflammation from training.

How much Fats, Carbs and Protein should I be eating?

Now we have established what we should be eating based on the physiological impacts of a rugby player, let’s discuss in what quantities we should be consuming each macronutrients.

But before we do, we’ll work out how many calories we need first.

Calories

There are many different equations on how to work out what calories we need to but the most simple one and the one is this one popularised by Alan Aragon.

Firstly, know your weight in KG’s, then work out how active you are.

  • Sedentary doing little activity- 26-30
  • Moderately Active- those involved in light to moderate activity 3-5 x per week- 31-37
  • Vigourously active with highly active jobs- 38-40
  • Athletes- Those training between 15-20 hours a week as part of their job: 41-50

Let’s get real here though. Do not overestimate your activity level.

Most amateur players will site between Moderately Active and Vigorously active. Think about how many time you train a week, how demanding your job is and be honest with yourself.

Now work out your caloric intake.

Bodyweight(kg) x number attached to your activity level.

For example a 100kg Moderately active Male should be consuming beween 3,100 – 3,700 calories a day.

Why the range? It’s for you to be able to adjust based on your activity levels, goals and real world feedback.

For example, if you are eating to the lower range and you are feeling tired all the time and not recovering well enough you can increase your calories. Similarly, if you are putting on weight and you don’t want to- to reduce your calories.

Protein

As mentioned above, you will need to consuming between 1.5-1.7g per kg of bodyweight. Although if you want to consume more, then do so.

Again I’ll work this out for an 100kg athlete.

1.7 x 100 = 170g protein per day.

Carbs

You should be consuming between 4-6g per kg per day.

Therefore

4-6 x 100= 400-600g carbs per day

Fats

You should be consuming between 1-2g per kg of bodyweight per day.

1-2 x 100= 100-200g fat per day

If you want to work this out on a per calorie basis then x each macro number by how many kcals they contain.

Carbs: 4kcals per g

Protein 4Kcals per g

Fats 9kcals per g

For our example then

170 x 4 = 680 kcals of protein

400-600 x 4= 1600- 2400

100-200 x 9 = 900- 1800

= lower end (680 + 1600 + 900 =3180 kcals per day).

It won’t always work out perfectly to you energy needs so don’t sweat it.

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