Before the game’s switch to professionalisation, the diets of players were not exactly of the utmost concern to their coaching teams and fans, who were happy enough seeing them tuck into a pie and chips after a game or practice session.
As debate continues to rage about whether going professional is leading rugby union to a dark place, one thing that must be said is that player care has come on leaps and bounds since rugby’s formative years.
Nowhere is that more so the case than in the food and drink regimens that pro players are now beholden to, with head coaches recognising the importance of a healthy diet when it comes to everything from strength to good decision making. So, what are rugby players putting into their bodies on a daily basis and are there other food stuffs they should be taking note of?
In order for their bodies to stand up to the rigours of training, there is more onus than ever on players to ensure that they eat and drink the right things
Breakfast is All About Getting a Brain Boost
When most people think about the diets that rugby players use, they think of all the energy rich foods they must chow down on, but at the start of the day a large part of every pro’s diet is a breakfast smoothie.
These are usually packed with things like fruits, veg, and nuts. This is because while many such food stuffs have physical benefits, it is more their cognitive boosting qualities that players and their nutritionists are after.
For example, berries are rich in antioxidants which excel at clearing brain cells of toxins and have been proven to hinder the process of memory loss. With such added focus given these days to head and brain injuries in rugby, foods like these can do their part to ensure that players remain healthy. Players even have the option of tossing a couple of squares of dark chocolate into their breakfast smoothie, because it also qualifies as a brain food alongside all the others mentioned above. This is because it contains a flavonoid called epicatechin, which has been linked to cognitive benefits like memory retention and processing speed, some skills that are important for strategy games such as poker or chess.
Away from fruit and chocolate, players also need to make sure they get enough calories and protein to set them up for a hard day’s training, so other things on the breakfast menu include eggs, porridge, and even a spot of salmon, whose omega 3 is excellent for memory and other brain functions.
As well as ensuring they have the carbs and protein they need, players must have a regular intake of foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals
Lunch and Dinner
With the most important meal of the day out of the way, lunch and dinner become all about finding healthy ways to load up on lean carbs and protein.
This means that most players gorge themselves on things like chicken or turkey breast, alongside wholegrain rice and salads.
There is always a focus on staying away from fatty or fried foods, meaning that more substantial meals will be given their bulk with sweet potato, brown rice, or quinoa instead of processed potatoes, pasta or bread.
While more and more players are becoming vegetarians or even vegans, there is still a place for meat on a rugby star’s menu, although many of the vital proteins found in the likes of beef can also be sourced in pulses and beans.
Diets among a squad will always vary greatly due to the position each individual plays and the physical demands it brings to the table.
For the big men on the front row, snacks are an important way of keeping fuelled up and maintaining their weight, but this does not mean popping bags of crisps and inhaling Mars bars. Instead, things like fruit and sugar-free cereals are made available to them between training sessions.
Obviously, players are also sure to remain as hydrated as possible throughout their training as well as during their time spent at home.