Today, we’re looking at some spanking new research surrounding a rugby players ability to build muscle in pre-season.
If you play in any team sport, you’ll know that the pre-season period is a prime time to pack on slabs of mass.
Well, not too fast…perhaps not.
This was demonstrated by Morehen et al (2019) where they assessed body composition changes in academy rugby league players over the course of three pre-seasons (see graph below). As you can see, there’s some trivial changes in gains in muscle mass, despite having concentrated periods to gain size.
In addition to this, you can see that there’s large variability in gains in muscle mass between rugby players, suggesting that there’s responders and non-responders within a given team.
By all means, many of these players were probably not in the optimal state to build muscle. For example, if their coach has given them a goal to drop body fat, they would naturally reduce their calorie intake to achieve this. However, we need to be in a small calorie surplus to gain size optimally, therefore there’s a conflict in goals and calorie needs.
Furthermore, the training loads during pre-season are mega, where some of the bigger boys may need to consume 5,500kcal+ to satisfy the daily demands of training and support muscle growth.
Therefore, it’s been suggested (and I’m in agreement with this) that players shouldn’t look to build size only in preseason. Instead, they should look to gain size over a long term period, especially in academy players.
It’s perhaps a different story in 1st team players as the playing and recovery demands dictate their ability to perform hypertrophy sessions. Plus, they’re more likely to have a greater training age, where the accelerated newbie gains won’t be on their side.
Although the daily demands in academy players are high, it’s not to the extent of the 1st team, and therefore can incorporate more hypertrophy sessions into their week.
When you break down muscle growth into the three fundamentals we can control; 1) training load, 2) calorie intake, 3) protein intake. If one of these three areas isn’t sufficient, then muscle growth won’t occur optimally (optimally being the key word here).
So, if you’re a youth or academy player or athlete, make your main gains now before you transition into the senior squads, as gains in size will be trivial when you’re at the top.
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