Rugby Nutrition: 7 Strategies To Improve Match Day Performance

Perfecting a game day strategy to improve playing performance can have a profound effect on a rugby player – Especially when it comes to nutrition. With any nutrition strategy,  there are many different ideas on how they can be successfully utilised and implemented to bring about the desired performance gains.Since personal preference plays a large role in developing a strategy, it’s important to understand how the seven strategies below can be used effectively to personalise your approach prior to a game.

So, here’s what you need to know,

  1. When it comes to match day nutrition, all the hard work is done on the day prior with regards to eating. Carbohydrate loading is a strategy used to maximise muscle glycogen stores where players significantly increase the carbohydrate content of their diet for 24-36 hours prior to kick off in order to sustain exercise capacity and athletic performance. There is evidence to suggest that carbohydrate loading prior to match day increases high intensity running by approximately 30%, but may have little influence on skill level when compared to a lower carbohydrate diet. However it should be taken into account that a players skill level does have day to day variability, therefore a carbohydrate load may make a significant difference in some.
  2. The amount of carbohydrates required for a carbohydrate load can be up to 10 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. Putting this into context, this can be approximately 1000g of carbohydrates for a 100kg rugby player. Anecdotally, it’s worth noting that consuming a kilogram of carbohydrates in one day isn’t very practical, can cause gastrointestinal issues and lethargy. Furhermore, the magnitude of the carbohydrate load should be determined by the carbohydrate status (endogenous (stored) carbohydrates) of the player first. For example. if the week of training has been tough and of a higher volume, then the carbohydrate load would need to be more aggressive than a training week of reduced training volume and intensity due to the difference in muscle glycogen content. Therefore, these carbohydrate requirements are generally adjusted downwards – especially if only playing half a game.
  3. Match day nutrition should have an emphasis on ‘topping up’ glycogen stores and staying well hydrated. Therefore, meals should be smaller in size with the largest meal at breakfast that favours well tolerated and familiar foods. The aim should be to start the game feeling ‘light and tight’ with an empty stomach. As suggested in point two, consuming a large quantity of food in a short period of time can have negative consequences which may hinder performance. Therefore trial and error is required initially to find the ‘tipping point’ between feeling hungry and satisfied prior to a game – It is advisable that carbohydrate rich snacks are available between lunch and kick off off to keep hunger at bay. If the carbohydrate load on the day prior to the game is sufficient, then there is little need for large volumes of food prior to kick off.
  4. Match day food choices are paramount, not only for performance, but to prevent gastrointestinal (GI) distress. GI distress is common in 30-50% of athletes and can impair sporting performance. To decrease the possibility of gastrointestinal distress during exercise, guidelines would suggest that players; decrease fibrous food (pre game day and game day only), avoid aspirin and NSAIDs, avoid high volumes of fructose, avoid dehydration, and only consume foods that are familiar and well tolerated. Therefore it is advisable that perfecting the pre-game strategy should be tested in training first to mitigate any problems on game day.
  5. Dietary nitrate supplements are growing in popularity within the sports performance world. Inorganic nitrate is found in leafy green vegetables and beetroot, when consumed at the appropriate dose and potentially time, can improve the oxygen cost of submaximal exercise and enhance exercise tolerance and performance. In other words, it may make intermittent high intensity exercise, such as a rugby game a little easier. For example, if you were to run a mile at 12mph and found it an 8/10 difficulty. If you were to re-run that same mile, at the same pace but consumed adequate nitrates prior, then it may feel like a 6/10 difficulty.
  6. Caffeine consumption in low to moderate dosages (3-6mg per kilogram bodyweight), either through coffee or caffeine tablets are effective in enhancing performance when taken 15-60 minutes pre exercise/game. When caffeine is consumed in the correct dose, it can improve; vigilance during exhaustive bouts of exercise, high intensity exercise and exercise capacity, along with improving performance whilst sleep deprived. Higher caffeine dosages (>9mg per kilogram bodyweight) does not appear to further improve performance, and may hinder performance by producing troubling side effects such as; GI distress, mental confusion, nervousness, nausea, inability to focus and disturbed sleep – especially with those who are not habitual caffeine consumers. Caffeine gum can be used as a viable option for players pre-game due to its rapid onset of action through increased bioavailability and absorption rates when compared to coffee/caffeine drinks. Furhermore, if a player is feeling very nervous and finds that consuming fluid in the hour before a game difficult and causes GI distress, then a caffeine chewing gum should definitely be considered. As caffeine has both positive and negative effects that is controlled by the dose consumed – it’s always recommended that you trial different caffeine dosages in training that simulate match conditions; skill based/conditioning sessions work best for identifying the effective dose to use on match day.
  7. Creatine is one of the most widely researched and popular supplements on the market. It’s known for amplifying the effects of resistance training, muscle hypertrophy, strength, aerobic endurance performance, and intermittent high-intensity exercise. Interestingly, creatine can be used as a game-day strategy to improve cognitive function to combat sleep deprivation by improving; reaction time, balance, mood state, and random movement generation. Therefore, if a player continually reports of having a poor night sleep prior to games, then creatine supplementation may be worth considering to pre-empt performance reductions during.
There you have it; seven strategies that can be used prior to a match to improve performance on the field!

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