With the Rugby World Cup in Japan reaching its climax, rugby players have been hitting the headlines for their heroics on the pitch in Asia.
They are seen a bit of a benchmark when it comes to being perceived as “big” or “athletic” but there is careful nutrition and training involved when it comes to being an elite rugby union player.
Here, we take a closer look in to what a rugby player consumes in a day to reach and maintain their peak performance.
Here’s a thought for you. The average rugby player eats DOUBLE the amount of calories we do a day.
It sounds shocking on its own, but in number form it’s a real eye-opener. Consider the recommended daily calories for a man is around the 2000-mark, a rugby player will consume up to 3900 calories and more in a SINGLE DAY.
Before we get into the breakdown of meals, let’s have a look at the components of a rugby player’s diet.
The building blocks of muscle, protein is needed when training hard and tearing down muscle tissue on a regular basis, to help it grow back stronger.
To maximise the rate at which the body builds muscle (otherwise known as protein synthesis) it is recommended to eat between 1.4g and 1.6g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day.
According to ex-England international James Haskell, good sources of protein include eggs, red meat, chicken, turkey and fish. Protein powders are also good sources, although these should never replace real food. They should only be a backup option if you are ever caught short.
A good number to aim for is between 25g and 30g of protein at each meal.
While protein works as the building blocks of muscles, carbohydrates provide the fuel to sustain them. Inside our muscles the body stores glycogen, which we use as a fuel source during exercise.
Eating good quality carbohydrates replenishes glycogen stores.
Haskell says: “It goes without saying that the higher the quality of the carbs you put in, the better results you get out. As a general rule, try to avoid the 'refined' carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, and sugar. Quality carbohydrates include potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, rice, quinoa, and oats.
“The harder you train, the more carbs you should be eating. If you're looking to put on size, between 40 and 55% of your calories should come from carbs.”
Fats play a key part in health and performance but just like carbs, there are good and bad ones out there.
Good fats include oily fish, whole eggs, avocados, grass fed beef, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and some seeds and nuts.
Bad fats are the trans fats, think vegetable oil, margarine or any foods that might be hiding these ingredients.
Haskell recommends that you “don't fear fats: although the name may sound misleading, they won't make you fat. Don't be scared to add a good portion of healthy fat to your meals. This might be half an avocado with your salad, or an egg fried in coconut oil to top your steak.”
According to Haskell “Even the hardest of rugby players eat their vegetables. They do so because they recognise how essential they are to their performance. Packed with key nutrients and antioxidants, it's important to eat your veggies at every meal.”
It’s a good idea to eat a mix of different vegetable varieties to prevent getting bored of eating the same kinds of foods, but to also get a range of nutrients.
The more colours you can incorporate into your diet, the better. Change up the way you cook them, from steaming to roasting and add different spices and flavourings to bring your veg to life!
Haskell says: “It goes without saying that if you want to add size and get big, you have to eat big. But it's also important to establish what this really means. For most people, it doesn't mean stuffing yourself at every meal.”
The best way to work out how much you need to be eating is by using a daily calorie calculator to workout your daily maintenance calories. To add size, add 10-25% more on top of it.
For a guy who weighs 80kg and who trains four times per week, with a match at the weekend, they need to consume a whopping 3350 calories per day!
Creating a meal plan
How does all this food look in practice? Well, we’ve got an idea.
This food plan is based on Haskell’s 80kg guy eating up to 3350 calories per day. If you are following something similar, make sure to adjust where necessary to suit the right amount of food needed for your body.
Example daily meal plan
Breakfast: 4 eggs, cooked in coconut oil + 2 cups of rice + vegetables
Lunch: 150g lean chicken breast + 1 large avocado + 1 large sweet potato + vegetables
Afternoon meal: 150g fresh salmon + 1 large sweet potato + seasonal vegetables
Snack: 1 handful of almonds
Dinner: 150g steak + 300g potatoes, roasted in coconut oil + seasonal vegetables
Total: 3359 calories, 193g protein, 299g carbs, 132g fat
Tracking your calories is a good way to work out the exact amount how much food you need to be eating, particularly when you’re getting started with a new meal plan.
The size gains won’t appear overnight, it is a longer process, but it comes with patience and a solid combination of the right eating and training.