As we know, carbohydrates drive exercise performance and having low carbohydrate availability, i.e. low amount of carbs in the diet and carbs stored within the muscle, liver and blood can be detrimental to performance.
Carb intake is very much dependent on three main factors:
1) Intensity of session/competition
2) Duration of session/competition
3) Bodyweight. I.e. bigger people have a greater capacity to store carbs.
When it comes to team sports such as rugby, it has the characteristics of all three; big people performing repeated efforts for a fairly long time.
Therefore, competing or training under high carb availability is going to be vital. For instance, a super nice study by Rodriguez-Giustiniani et al (2018) looked at how a 12% carb solution would work when taken before KO and at half time on skill performance, sprint speed and high intensity running capacity.
N.B. the placebo was an electrolyte drink without carbs…therefore any improvements in performance would solely be down to carb intake and not hydration.
When the elite academy soccer players consumed a drink containing 60g of carbs +electrolytes in 250mL of water pre KO and half time, they were better able to maintain passing accuracy in both the early and latter stages of the simulated football game.
Interestingly, there wasn’t a significant difference on dribbling speed or sprint speed. However, there was a significant improvement on high intensity running capacity and passing speed in their non-dominant foot only (perhaps due to requiring more CNS activity and the additional carbs prevented it’s decline/fatigue?).
As I tell all the team sports/athletes I work with, the goal of game day nutrition is being able to maintain performance and work capacity throughout so you can express your skillset to the very last minute – no fading away and no drop offs.
One of the ways we do this is to ensure they are competing under high carbohydrate availability.
Carbs are king, always.
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