Lifestyle for Rugby
Eating for Sport
Dr D O’Brien
You are what you eat; that is totally true. Every cell in your body has come from the food, which you have eaten, so logically the quality of the food dictates the quality of your body and for sportsmen and particularly for rugby players, the choices you make in diet and lifestyle are most important. I must stress that these are my own ideas presented here and not necessarily in conformity with all opinion, however they are based many years of experience and interest in this area.
In addition to water, there are three basic groups of food:- proteins, carbohydrates and fats. There are of course trace elements; minerals and vitamins, which make the whole body machine run smoothly. The main thought I wish to get across is, good sense in eating and how important this is to your success on the field.
2 Main Food constituents
Proteins, and their constituent parts, the amino acids, are the building blocks of the body and are essential for a strong vibrant body. It is protein that makes up muscle fibres and other tissues. However, a well balanced diet ensures sufficient protein for all and most amino acid supplements are expensive and usually an unnecessary waste of money, except in exceptional circumstances or taken over a specific period for a specific goal. However, a diet for a rugby player must have a sufficient supply of good protein to keep muscles and other tissues in top condition. Protein is found in fish, chicken and other fowls, red meat and liver (also rich in iron, other vitamins and minerals), and pulses such as Soya, and other beans and peas and some vegetables.
Fats are treated with distrust by most, as they are what they are- fats- and so need no conversion to fat in the body, but they are an excellent source of energy, if part of a mixed diet and in small amounts. I do not think there is any need to point out where fat is found but it is worth noting that red meat has a considerable quantity of fat as have most ready made meals and snacks such as crisps and everything that is fried in oil has added fat for of course oil is liquid fat. So, the problem is going to be keeping down the amount of fat taken rather than adding it to your diet.
Carbohydrates are the fuels of the body and as with all fuels there are different quality ones and different machines need different fuels. Tractors will not run on high performance fuels and F1 motorcars do not perform on low-grade petrol, likewise an athlete requires a different food regimen than a sedentary person. New designations of carbohydrate types are constantly appearing, such as the present popular glycaemic index, however it all amounts to slow breakdown complex carbohydrates, such as starches, mid carbohydrates such as sucrose (table sugar) and fast breakdown simple sugars, like fructose and glucose. Glucose is a basic carbohydrate (C6 H12 O6) unit and is burned in muscles and other tissues for energy. Foods with complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly in digestion to release energy over a period and the unused remainder is stored, simple sugars release energy immediately in an energy spike, which quickly dips to an energy deficit. Both types have their places, but spikes should be avoided when ever possible as they put pressure on insulin and sugar storage.
The potential energy of these carbohydrates is stored in muscle and in the liver in a form of carbohydrate known as glycogen (i.e. muscle glycogen and liver glycogen). Glycogen is the form that can be used by the body as a source of immediate energy. The aim is to have as big a store of glycogen as possible before a game. Normally glycogen stores are depleted after an hour or so of exercise, so increasing the store is the objective. Heavy storing of that glycogen is known as carbohydrate loading and is done over the previous five or six days. It entails eating larger than usual amounts of complex carbohydrates, up to 70% of the diet, starting immediately after the game.
Water constitutes over 70% of our bodies, which should give an indication of how important it is to our existence and every action taking place there. This importance cannot be over emphasised. About six to seven pints should be consumed daily in one form or another. However, the continuous consumption of water during a game is not necessary and can be a distraction, unless you are performing at very high temperatures. In Ireland, it should be enough to take on water before the game, at half time and at the end. Some may like to take on more during breaks, but it should not be necessary. Excess water intake ends up as excess weight to carry. Concentrate on the game not the water. Beverages are made up of water mainly, but when drinking tea and coffee remember the caffeine they contain is a diuretic (causes excretion of water through the kidneys), so the full effect of the water is lost.
A general diet for a rugby player should be varied, with some protein, some fat and a considerable quantity of carbohydrate, both complex and simple. It should have plenty of green vegetables and fruit both of which are rich in nutrients, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants; which are products that mop up free radicals (toxic body waste) and help the body run smoothly and prevent cancer and other diseases. A multi vitamin and mineral supplement may be taken after the main meal but be wary of taking iron supplements as these can cause problems, as can excess fat soluble vitamins, A, D and E. However, iron is part of the oxygen-carrying portion of the blood, haemoglobin, and is vital for performance and general health (liver is high in iron, other minerals and vitamins and should be taken once or twice a week, if not a vegetarian). Recently vitamin D3 has been shown to be a most important nutriment with major effects on metabolism and cardiac function and has potent anticancer effects, recommended intakes are far below what they should be. Many players take creatine and although it occurs naturally in the body in small quantities, as part of the energy cycle, it is not recommended as it can cause kidney damage and is not necessary, if a good mixed diet is taken. A supplement called Co Enzyme Q 10, which naturally enters into cell energy biochemistry can be used, but again is not really necessary. When taking vitamins and trace elements it is important to remember that they are like oil on a door hinge; a small amount helps a lot, excess runs off and is a waste. Selenium is one element, which is often undersupplied, as European soils are low in selenium. This mineral is a strong anti-oxidant. It is plentiful in Brazil Nuts, which of course also contain good quality protein and carbohydrates. Players should remember that genuine fruit juices have three times more available basic sugar (energy), in the form of fructose, than other drinks and have added benefits. You might like to vary juices, apple, orange, pear, pineapple, mango, etc. each one having its own special extras.
It is good to eat four or more modest meals a day rather than two or three very large heavy ones. All will have their own favourite foods so I will only lay out a general guideline, but precede it with a warning on a few things to avoid if at all possible. Excess salt, as there is already too much salt in most ordinary foods such as bread, soup and all processed and snack food, even those with a sweet sugary taste. It is used as a cheap food preservative and appetiser. However, salt puts pressure on the internal environment of the body, as the sodium of the salt uses the available potassium when it is being excreted and unbalances the sodium-potassium system. Bananas and some vegetables contain useful amounts of potassium. Crisps are full of fat and salt and should be avoided, as should most snack foods, if you are serious about your rugby and your health. Likewise, chips and fried foods should be treated with caution or maybe even distain. Unsalted nuts are a valuable snack unless you have a nut allergy. Heavy fried breakfasts on the days of matches should never be eaten. It should also be borne in mind that gorging of any food is detrimental.
A general idea of what to eat.
Breakfast might consist of Juice (or juiced fruits, carrots, celery etc.), porridge with added sunflower and linseeds (add linseed after cooking to get best effect) and some toast or bread and preserve and/or eggs (eggs are excellent food but add cholesterol), followed by a piece of fruit (apple or pear or such).
Mid-morning, juice, two bananas and an orange or carrot with a cereal bar.
Lunch could consist of sandwiches with beverage, or an omelette with cheese (cheese and milk are good sources of protein, fat, calcium for bones and some vitamins) and two pieces of fruit.
Mid-afternoon soup or pasta, cheese and an apple or such.
Evening meal, chicken or fish with potatoes, or rice or pasta, a mix of green vegetables such as peas and broccoli and carrots. Dessert may be rice pudding or fruit salad or fruit tart.
Light supper, a bowl of cereal or rice pudding or glass of milk.
Match Day It is essential not to eat heavily prior to a game, it takes several hours to digest food and no solid food should be taken within three hours of playing, as that food will be lying in your stomach acting as added weight to carry. Take a light breakfast of beverage, cereal, toast and a banana, mid morning another banana and a pear may be taken; and lots of fruit juice and water drunk right up kick off.
After the game, take lots of water, two bananas and bread or pasta, all of which are rich in complex carbohydrates. Later an evening meal can be eaten.
Lifestyle and Attitude
To ensure that you get the most from your training and healthy nutritional regimen your lifestyle, attitude and interaction with teammates must be optimum, any disharmony in any of these elements will take from your performance while enhancement of these will greatly improve it.
It is true to say that you must have fun (training games can be good) and you must have time to relax and enjoy yourself, however sleep is a critical means of re-vitalising your mind and body so ensure that if you miss sleep one night, you make up for it the following one. Alcohol is a toxin (it is also depressive and diuretic) and although over history our bodies have learned to deal with it pretty effectively it remains a serious insult to our systems, especially if taken in quantity and really any player who aspires to play to his potential and give his best to his team mates and club should consider not drinking alcohol at all, and if that is not possible then formidable restraint must be exercised; with no heavy drinking and no alcohol at all for a week before a game. It takes 48 hours to eliminate alcohol completely from the system and if damage has been caused by a heavysession, which it will, it takes a further four or five days to repair this.
As part of your expert exercise regimen you will be stretching frequently, however it has been shown recently that it is wise not to do vigorous stretching until well warmed up and most stretching should be done after matches and training. Stretching is most important for flexibility and avoidance of injuries but cold stretching can cause damage rather than help.
When I mention attitude I have in mind several aspects of attitude and these are really essential parts of what I believe makes for enjoyment, happy fulfilled winners and a successful vibrant club for everyone’s participation.
Attitude: Individual attitude means developing an internal pride, discipline and love of your sport. To do this you must take time to look at all aspects of your game and preparation critically and honestly, and be willing to see failings, make changes and monitor the improvement and the increased enjoyment achieved from the work done. It may be difficult to be generous in your appraisal of other players’ performances and abilities, but it is essential if you are to get the most from your own participation and help develop team spirit, which is a must for winning enjoyment.
Learning attitude is being able to accept criticism from your coaches, mentors and peers and trying not to do what you have done or failed to do previously. If for instance, you have taken your eye off the ball looked up and thought you were over the line, only to drop the ball, you must learn not to do this again; with an attitude of not so doing. You must learn in your mind as well as your body and having practised a move or technique, frequent visualisation of these and your game generally helps when you have to execute them in a match. The value of these visualisation exercises cannot be over emphasised and should be part of your pre match routine.
Concentration attitude requires putting extraneous and trivial thoughts out of your head and being in a state of relaxed but fixed attention to the task at hand. This is one of the most difficult things to achieve but gives the highest of rewards and is one of the things that most separates the great player from the ordinary. If you look at the actions of these great players they seem to have more space and time than any other, they do not get flustered and execute with deadly efficiency. You can do that if you have the will, and when nerves come before matches, if you have worked hard on these techniques, you will be able to change the nerves to cold determination. However this form of concentration must be maintained for the entire match.
Loyalty attitude means having allegiance to your teammates, to the squad to the management and to your club. If you do not love your club and your team and have pride in them, then you are a negative to the overall team performance and final success outcome. When newly joining a club or team, it may take some time to develop this top priority need, but with help and generosity from your teammates, you can attain it relatively quickly. Confidence in each other on the field makes for success and getting to like and trust all around you brings a spirit and will to win for each other that can become indomitable. Teams will never win unless there is loyalty throughout the squad; and clubs will falter and shrivel unless a generous and brave loyalty courses through the veins of the playing membership. This is one of the factors, which used to make rugby clubs the envy of many and the bedrock of the sport. A final personal thought, if you think about what is written above and feel that the work required is worth it for everything you will get out of it, then please feel that your club is worth paying a modest membership subscription to, in recognition of your pride in it. St Marys College RFC is an admirable club and deserves that loyalty which it will return a hundred fold to you.