By: Kimber Rozier, CSCS, Pn1 – Think of all that goes into preparation for a successful rugby season- contact work, tactical decision making, kicking, gym sessions, passing, conditioning, timing of support, scrummaging… the list goes on. You wouldn’t dare take the field in a championship game without the necessary preparation. Because you’re a champion, and champions do extra.
But all of that work takes energy, and it doesn’t matter how much practice you’ve put in, if on game day, you don’t have the energy needed to compete at 100%. Power production, speed maintenance, cognitive awareness and the ability to grind through every minute of the match are directly affected by what you eat. In order to maximize all of your hard work and dominate the competition, take care with what fuel you put in that well-oiled machine.
Nutrient dense foods
The more nutrients you can get per calorie, the better bang for your buck. Nutrient dense foods not only give you solid options for your macros (carbs, protein, fats) but also contain lots of micro and phytonutrients that help fine tune your metabolism, immune system, brain function, bone/joint health and more.
Nutrient dense foods act as a contrast to energy dense foods – foods that are highly caloric but offer basically no nutrition. Examples of nutrient dense foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, mixed nuts, and beans. Energy dense foods, in contrast, are items such as potato chips, candies, boxed sugary cereals, fast food and more.
In short, in order to make sure the majority of your food is nutrient dense, do the following:
Focus on whole foods
- Imagine it growing – chances are if you can envision where it came from, it’s nutrient dense
- Limit the ingredients – the more ingredients, the more fluff they’ve packed in (not nutrients)
- Limit processing – the more processed a food gets, even if it was once nutrient dense, the more it’s stripped of the good stuff
The other macronutrient, that often goes overlooked when considering one’s eating lifestyle, is water! Water is especially important for athletes, as it’s involved in muscular contraction and energy production, not to mention the bevy of other activities of daily living. Athletes are often chronically dehydrated due to sweat loss, and most of this is “voluntary”.
I doubt anyone is trying to get dehydrated, but often rugby players will turn down water during breaks or not drink enough due to lack of thirst. When really, before, during and after training are times when water replenishment is critical to performance.
How do you know if you’re dehydrated? The quickest way is to check your urine. If it’s clear, you’re in the clear! But the darker it gets, the less water it contains, meaning your body is more dehydrated.
A general guideline for daily intake is 1ml/kcal of food intake. Meaning if you’re eating 3000 calories a day, that’s 3 liters of water.
But wait – there’s more. The extra sweat loss from training requires extra intake. If you can measure your body weight before and after practice (especially on a hot day) chances are you’ll lose a few pounds in just that session. Refuel your water supply with ½ L per pound of sweat loss. So if I’m eating 3000 calories a day to fuel training AND lost two pounds in practice, I should be drinking 4 L of water daily, with one of those liters around training.
Sometimes eating healthy can drain your bank account. Organic foods, whole grains, fresh, grass-fed meats and cage-free eggs all come with a heavier price. And no one wants to be stress eating because they’re living paycheck to paycheck on their parents’ couch.
- Canned/frozen foods can be just as good. Just because they’re packaged doesn’t mean they weren’t once fresh. Just make sure to de-salinate if you eat a lot of canned stuff, as those are packed with sodium so they keep longer. Athletes don’t typically need to worry about sodium, but if you’re getting all of your nutrients from canned foods, chances are it’ll be too much. You can pre-soak canned vegetables in water to remove some of the sodium before eating. Also double check with frozen fruits/veggies for the no-sugar added variety or those that don’t contain added sauces.
- Buy in bulk, share with a teammate, or choose cheaper less popular items (collards over kale/spinach, farmer’s market veggies over store bought produce, skinless chicken thighs over breasts, etc). One of the benefits of being on a team is that you have others to work with, and they’ll need all the healthy fuel they can get. Combine efforts to buy in bulk, get a CSA or shop together at the farmer’s market. Maybe you can even start your own garden.
For mass gain/maintenance/loss – learn your body type, caloric and macronutrient needs.
*From Precision Nutrition:
Heavy training days
Weight Gain calories/day: 20-22 times body weight
Maintenance calories/day: 16-18 times body weight
Weight loss calories/day: 14-16 times body weight
Light Training Days
Weight Gain calories/day: 18-20 times body weight
Maintenance calories/day: 14-16 times body weight
Weight loss calories/day: 12-14 times body weight
Ectomorphs (naturally thin with skinny limbs) – 25% protein, 55% carbohydrate, 20% fat
Mesomorphs (naturally muscular/athletic)- 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate, 30% fat
Endomorphs (naturally broad and thick) – 35% protein, 25% carbohydrate, 40% fat
An example pre-competition day might look like this…
- Goals: Refuel and rehydrate from a night’s sleep
- Whole grains and oatmeal
- Eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt or other lean protein
- Spinach, tomato, mushroom, or other breakfast vegetable (great in omelets) or fresh fruit
- A big glass of water
- Coffee/tea optional if you regularly drink it
- Make sure to avoid foods that are high in both fat and sugar, fried foods
- Goals: priming for training, hydration
- Quick-digesting carb such as a piece of fruit
- Carb/protein drink (diluted)
- Goals: energy maintenance, hydration, performance
- A solution with electrolytes, sugars, potentially amino acids
- Avoid eating anything heavy or hearty, voluntary dehydration
- Make sure to drink water at every opportunity, even if it’s just a sip
- Goals: Restore, recover, rehydrate and rebuild
- A big glass of water, or more based on water loss
- Recovery shake with carbs/protein, like chocolate milk or protein in a recovery drink mix (gatorade, Powerade, coconut water, etc)
- Avoid high fat foods, as they will blunt absorption of the proteins and carbs needed for recovery
- Goals: Refuel and build/restore muscle after training
- Veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, good fats
- Lots of water
- Avoid not getting enough protein; foods that are high in fat and sugar, and fried foods
If training multiple times per day…
- Pre, during, and post-training again: same as above
- Goals: Wind down for sleep, recovery
- Refuel and build/restore muscle after training
- Veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, good fats
- Lots of water
- Avoid not getting enough protein, foods that are high in fat and sugar, and fried foods
NOTE: Often at dinner, as we’re tired, possibly still a bit dehydrated and may be looking to “catch up” on calories, it’s easy to overeat or treat ourselves here. It’s okay to eat a little more as you’re trying to build and restore overnight, but take care not to overeat. If you find this difficult, you could probably use another snack or bigger breakfast/lunch.
Pre-bed snack options
- Goals: Facilitate sleep, provide nutrients to enhance recovery
- Protein, small number of good carbs, and good fats
- Ex: Peanut butter and apple, cottage cheese with fruit, a protein shake with fruits, veggies, nuts
- Avoid high sugar and carb “junk” foods
Kimber Rozier is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and Precision Nutrition nutritionist who holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Exercise and Sport Science and Spanish from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spends her time traveling the world as an international rugby player for the USA and her career in 7s and 15s has taken her to places such as Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Dubai. She earned a bronze medal in the 7s World Cup in Moscow and played fly half for the squad throughout 15s 2014 Rugby World Cup in Paris. Kimber has recently played overseas in Ireland, furthering her career with Railway Union, and now has returned home as an athlete with Scion Rugby Academy out of Washington, D.C.
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