Rugby Game Day Nutrition- What to eat before a Rugby Game.

You can eat what you like throughout the week as long as your nutrition is on point on game day you’ll be fine. 

Wrong!

Every day counts if you want to perform your best on a Saturday.

Jonny Wilkinson famously talked about everything he did in the week that fed into his performance on a Saturday. 

https://youtu.be/iAnXi2GmR2A

He says, if he knew that he prepared properly leading up to a game, the performance would take care of itself.

I’m not saying you need to go to that level of preparedness.

After all, you are amateur rugby playing for the love of the game and Jonny was one of the greatest players to ever play this glorious game and was getting paid handsomely.

It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

No, I’m talking about doing what you can around your other commitments like work, wives, kids and DIY. 

And one of those things is nutrition.

When I was playing rugby.

My idea of game day nutrition was a full English breakfast at 9am that my father would cook for me.

He’d say almost without fail;

‘This is the perfect pre-game breakfast, it’s got everything you need; fats, carbs and protein. A balanced breakfast’.

Or something along those lines.

No wonder, my performances were not as consistent as I would have liked.

I’d turn up some Saturdays, feeling lethargic, tired and leggy. Whilst other Saturdays I’d feel like I could take on the world.

I wish I knew then, what I knew now.

Game Day Nutrition Doesn’t Start on Meal Day

As you might have already established, game-day nutrition doesn’t start on the day. 

It doesn’t even start the day before a game. 

It starts 2-3 days before and if you want to get fancy, Game Day Nutrition starts on a Sunday after the last game.

Let’s talk about why carb-loading the day before doesn’t work.

Why Carb Loading the Day Before a Rugby Game Doesn’t Work

Carb loading is a strategy used by endurance and athletes from across the athletic spectrum to maximise the number of glycogen levels that are ready to use in muscle in preparation for competition. It commonly revolved around consuming endless amounts of pasta the day before the competition.

It’s inefficient and as you’ll see below commonly misunderstood.

A player I used to play with telling me that before a game you can eat anything you like because you’ll use it as energy during the game.

That was his justification for having a couple of pints and a Chinese on a Friday

That was his carb loading.

At first, I thought that’s interesting.

Then, I thought, you’re on the wing, you don’t need that much energy (jokes).

The reason why carb-loading the day before a game doesn’t work is that it makes most people feel lethargic.

A good rule of thumb is that if you feel leggy on game day then chances are you’ve mismanaged your diet.

If you do tend to feel leggy on game day, I recommend that you eat a steady amount of carbs over the week. 

This could be the same amount each day throughout the week, or you could cycle your carbs to be higher on training days and lower on non-training days.

By consuming a steady amount of carbohydrates throughout the week, you will only need a ‘top-up’ on game day.

This may be important if you struggle to eat on game day through nerves. This strategy gives you some leeway because you haven’t got to consume as much when you are unable to.

Another way to ensure that you have eaten correctly throughout the week is to track your weight throughout the week and then again on game day.

You don’t want to be lighter on game day than you were 2-3 days before. If you are  “lighter in the morning of the game, then we will check their hydration. If they are hydrated, it would likely be a glycogen store issue, so we’ll increase carb intake over the next couple of hours

To work out many carbs you should be consuming on a daily basis visit our macronutrients for rugby players article.

To find out how to structure your diet throughout the week visit the macronutrients for rugby players article.

Game Day Nutrition

If you have done everything right leading up to the game day you should be feeling tip-top on game day.

If you are then great.

If not then see above.

For most people, games start at 2-2:30. So for the purposes of this article, I’ll talk in hours, as opposed to times so I don’t have to repeat myself.

Pre Game Nutrition (6-7 hours before the game)

If your kick-off is at 2:30 then this meal will be your breakfast and should be eaten around 8-8:30 in the morning.

Should consist of low GI food (for more info see this article), of protein and minimal fats.

If we want to get specific then this should contain between 1-3g/kg(bw) of carbs, 30-40g of protein and minimal fats.

The reason we consume low fats on game days is that they take longer to process and digest. Carbs are easier to digest and readily available to use and thus optimal foods for competition day.

This food can come in the form of food or drinks. A typical example could be;

Scrambled egg/omelette, wholemeal toast, bacon and possible beans.
Porridge with protein and fruit
Breakfast smoothies.

See more breakfast ideas.

Pre-Game Nutrition (3 Hours Before the Game)

This should be a similar composition of your pre-game breakfast with the make-up of the meal being mainly carbohydrates and protein with minimal fat.

For this kicking off early, it’ll be entirely up to you if you want lunch foods at 11 am or breakfast foods.

To be specific you should be consuming1-3g/kg(bw) of GI carbohydrates and 30-40g protein and minimal fats.

This could be breakfast items for an earlier kick-off or

  • Baked potato with tuna, mince fillings
  • Pasta bolognese, greek yoghurt and fruit.
  • Rice, fish/meat, veg and fruit

Or, any other combination of carbs and protein that you can think of.

Pre Game Snack (Dressing Room)

Now is the time to start consuming those high GI foods to top up those glycogen stores ahead of kick-off.

It all depends on what you can consume in the environment you are in. I’d recommend between 50-70g of carbs at this point. These can come in the form of isotonic drinks, oranges, grapes, or energy gels.

During the game

30-60g/h high GI carbs in the form of sports drinks (6% glucose are preferable) or gels.

As an amateur, this may not always be possible during the game which is fine but you should try and consume during halftime.

Other foods that you can consume are bananas, cereal bars, oranges and energy gels.

Try not to miss this opportunity to replenish your energy stores.

It’s a long old slog between warm-up, game time and stoppages not to replenish.

This is where lots of amateur players go wrong.

Time of DayMacronutrient QuantitiesMeal Idea’s
6-7 Before Game1-3g/kg(bw) Carbohydrates,
30-40g protein, minimal fats
80g oats, 150g greek yoghurt, 80g berries, cinnamon, 1 scoop protein powder.
3-4 Hours Before Game1-3g/kg(bw) Carbohydrates,
30-40g protein, minimal fats
Medium, baked potato with 1 tin tuna/ 250g beef mince. Flavourings
200g wholemeal pasta, 1 serving bolognese, greek yoghurt and fruit.
200g rice, 100-150gfish/meat, veg and fruit. Add flavourings as you see fit.
Pre Game Snack50-70g high GI carbs500ml Lucozade sport + handful of grapes or cereal bar + handful fruit or MyProtein energy gel.
During Game30/60g per hour of high GP carbohydratesIsotonic drinks, energy gels, grapes. Plenty of fluids
Post Game1-2g/kg(bw) of high/low GI Carbs,
30-40g Protein, low fats
1l Chocolate flavoured milk, energy gels, sugary sweets, protein shake. Super smoothies
3-4 hours after the game1-2g/kg(bw) of high/low GI Carbs,
30-40g Protein, low fats
Medium, baked potato with 1 tin tuna/ 250g beef mince. Flavourings
200g wholemeal pasta, 1 serving bolognese, greek yoghurt and fruit.
200g rice, 100-150gfish/meat, veg and fruit. Add flavourings as you see fit.

Conclusion

That it. That’s game day nutrition in a nutshell.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.

If I’ve missed anything from the article, let me know in the comments, I’ll be sure to include it.

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