As Rugby players, we spend hours on the training pitch perfecting our play, and in the gym putting our body through the toughest strength sessions. And to perform at our best, we also need to focus heavily on what we cook up in the kitchen and consume to support these efforts.
Putting time and thought into what you eat can have great benefits for your game. Good rugby nutrition fuels your training, giving you the explosive energy you need for optimal performance, helps build powerful muscle and aids recovery after a match or tough training session, so you’re ready to go again. If you’re serious about your rugby performance, then it pays to think about nutrition
At Veloforte, we’re experts in sports nutrition. We obsess about creating powerful and tasty real-food fuel. So whether you’re in the midst of heavy training or want to ensure you’re creating good habits in the off season, we’ll give you everything you need, to develop your own simple but effective rugby diet plan.
Here’s what you need to know about the best food for rugby players and how to create a rugby nutrition plan.
Important nutrients, vitamins and minerals for rugby
When you’re thinking about what makes a well-balanced rugby player’s diet, it’s worth brushing up on the basic nutrient building blocks, the important macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins and minerals that will fuel your training and aid your recovery and form the backbone of any nutrition plan for rugby.
Here’s a basic guide to the cornerstones of a good rugby player’s nutrition.
Carbohydrates are vital for rugby players. Your body’s preferred fuel for exercise, this important macro is converted into energy, which can be used immediately or stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen.
The exact amount of carbohydrates each person needs varies, but as a rough guide, England Rugby recommends that rugby players should aim for 5-7g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight on intense training days and between 3-5g per kg body weight on easier days.
The body can store enough glycogen for 60 to 90 minutes of exercise so it’s important to ensure you have a full fuel tank to get you through a match or tough training session. If you’re starting to flag, a quick hit from an energy gel at half time or sports drink containing carbohydrates could give you the extra burst you need.
Veloforte’s Energy gels pack 22g from natural sources, work fast and don’t cause the tummy troubles some traditional gels can. Our Vivo hydration powders also provide 22g of carbs plus essential electrolytes to support hydration.
Depleted glycogen stores also need replenishing after exercise, too and the harder you work, the more glycogen you’ll burn through. England Rugby suggests taking on between 60-150g of carbohydrate within three hours of a light training session and 100-300g after a tougher session.
Protein is an essential part of any healthy diet. But for rugby players it’s particularly important as it helps build muscle and supports post-exercise recovery, aiding the repair of microtears in your muscles caused by high-intensity sprints, jumps and tackles.
How much protein you need depends on a number of factors such as sex, weight and how active you are. As a rule of thumb, England Rugby recommends players consume between 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg bodyweight.
Your protein intake should be spaced out across the day – every three to four hours is ideal – so try and include a protein source with each meal.
After a hard training session, try to consume around 20-30g of protein with a meal and eat it within three hours of hanging up your boots.
You can also try a snack such as a powerful and delicious Veloforte Mocha or Forza protein bar, or our Vita and Nova protein recovery shakes which provide the perfect 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein for optimal recovery.
While the trans fats and saturated fats found in biscuits, cakes, crisps and fatty red meats should be limited, good fats are an essential part of a rugby nutrition plan.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in oils, avocados, nuts, seeds and fish, help your body function properly and allow it to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E.
Eating good fats can also help reduce inflammation in the body, lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and provide insulation to protect your organs when your body gets hit as you play.
The nuts in Veloforte’s recovery and energy bars make them a good source of the happy fats.
Electrolytes are salts and minerals found in the blood that conduct electricity when mixed with water. They’re essential for normal bodily function, help keep you hydrated, regulate nerve and muscle function and regulate your blood pressure and PH level. Vital for hard-working rugby players, they also help rebuild damaged tissue.
The key electrolytes you should be aware of as a rugby player are sodium, potassium and magnesium.
- Sodium: Found in salt, this is the main electrolyte lost through sweat. On hot or humid days when you sweat more, you may find it helps to top up your sodium levels alongside other electrolytes during training. You should also make sure you replace lost electrolytes after a match or tough training session.
- Potassium: Helps with muscle contractions – including the heart and digestive system – and aids energy production.
- Magnesium: Helps you maintain a regular heartbeat and regulates the use of nutrients for energy. It can even aid sleep, to help you recover when you’re training hard.
All of which are found in Veloforte electrolyte powders.
Best food for rugby players
- Lean protein sources
- Sweet potatoes
- Protein bars and shakes
- Energy gels and chews
- Energy bars
At Veloforte we’re big believers in real food and we think that should flow into any approach to nutrition for rugby players. Eating a diet rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, good fats and plenty of fruit and veg should be the foundation of any rugby player’s diet. To ensure you’re getting all those essential vitamins and minerals.
Fast-release carbohydrates, such as those found in things like honey and sports nutrition products also play their part. They give you the immediate, explosive energy you need on the pitch so are best consumed pre-training.
Consider adding some of these foods to your diet plan for optimal performance.
Bananas are nature’s perfect portable food and come complete with their own wrapper. Snack on them during the day or throw one in your kit bag for some energy on the way to training or as part of your rugby match day nutrition.
Bananas contain fast-acting, easily-absorbed carbs to give you instant energy as well as potassium to support muscle function. They can help reduce muscle cramps and soreness, too so could come in handy for recovery.
Oats are a great breakfast choice for rugby players. They’re a complex carbohydrate, which means they provide slow-release energy and help regulate blood sugar so you don’t get spikes and slumps throughout the day.
Oats have more protein than most grains so can help with recovery, too. To up the protein levels add a dollop of nut butter or go all out like Northampton Saints player James Haskell who has protein porridge for breakfast on training days – as well as eggs, toast, chicken sausage, two litres of water, coffee with whole milk and a probiotic drink!
Lean protein sources
Lean protein is essential to help you build and maintain muscle and aid recovery. Chicken, turkey and fish are all good sources of animal proteins. Vegetable sources include tofu, legumes and nuts – a favourite snack of England International Jonny May.
Another great protein-rich foodstuff, two large eggs provide around 15g of protein, vitamin D for healthy bones and muscles, and 100% of your RDA of vitamin B12, which contributes to the normal function of your immune system and helps you unlock energy from food. Hard-boiled eggs also make a healthy, protein-packed snack.
Sweet potatoes are a delicious, versatile foodstuff and are lower GI than white potatoes so they release carbs slowly – great for eating a few hours before training or a regular part of your rugby nutrition before a game. They’re a good source of iron, too, which helps keep your energy levels high.
Protein shakes and protein bars
If you’re trying to up your protein intake or want to kickstart recovery, protein bars or shakes are a good post-training choice.
Veloforte’s protein bars and protein recovery shakes have the optimal 3:1 carbs to protein ratio for recovery and are made with all natural ingredients. Forza contains egg white and almonds, while the Mocha bar has hazelnuts and plant-based pea and brown rice protein.
Energy gels and chews
For a pre-game boost or a shot of energy mid-match take on an energy gel or energy chew for a quick shot of fast-release carbs.
The dual-carbohydrate format of Veloforte’s all-natural energy gels are designed to be gentle on the stomach using ingredients found in nature, such as date, beetroot, lemon and ginger.
Our maple, coffee and guarana Doppio gel, also contains 75mg of fatigue-fighting natural caffeine.
An energy bar is the ideal pre-training snack to avoid hunger and mid-game slumps. Veloforte’s energy bars are all-natural and contain the perfect balance of essential proteins and dual-source carbohydrates for sustained energy. Experiment with the whole range to find your favourite.
Importance of hydration for rugby
It’s important to make sure you’re well hydrated before training sessions if you want to perform at your best.
Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, feelings of dizziness, muscle cramps and increase your rate of perceived exertion (RPE), making play feel much tougher. Studies show dehydration can affect your cognitive performance in team sports, too, impairing your ability to react quickly and think tactically.
The NHS recommends drinking around 1.2 litres of fluid a day to replace normal water loss but if you’re exercising and sweating heavily, you’ll want to increase that.
Your individual needs vary depending on a number of factors such as age, weight, exercise intensity and the weather, but as a rough guide, aim for one-and-a-half litres of fluid for every kilogram of body weight you lose during a tough exercise session.
Remember, as you sweat you lose essential electrolytes too, so add some Veloforte electrolyte powder to your post-game water bottle. The fruity blends offer real fruit, botanicals, pure electrolytes, energy and natural caffeine to keep your electrolyte balance on an even keel.
Rugby nutrition and diet plan
When it comes to a rugby nutrition and diet plan, what works for one person may not work for another. The intensity of your training, how often you train, your weight, sex, genetic factors and what position you play can all affect your intake.
It can be a case of trial and error to find what works for you, but these guidelines are a good place to start.
Rugby nutrition before a game
It’s important to be well fuelled before a big match or heavy training session. Start fuelling with a carbohydrate-rich meal the night before.
On the day, eat a pre-game meal around three hours before play or a smaller, lighter meal 1-2 hours before. Make sure it’s high in complex carbohydrates to give you slow-release energy and include a small amount of protein to keep hunger at bay and help with recovery.
Avoid anything too spicy, fatty or high in fibre, which could cause GI issues on the pitch.
Around an hour before kick off, you might want to take on a snack to top up your energy – practise this in training to make sure it works for you.
Make sure you’re well hydrated by sipping on water in the hours before training, rather than glugging down loads of water just before, which can leave you feeling uncomfortably full.
During a match or training
Your match-day nutrition doesn’t stop when the game starts. During a match or high-intensity training session take on water when you can to ensure you’re hydrated. If you need an extra burst of energy at half time, a gel or sports drink will give you some fast-release carbs.
On days hot or during intense sessions, an electrolyte drink replaces the electrolytes lost through sweat.
Post-match or training nutrition
After training or a match, your glycogen stores are depleted, you’re dehydrated and there could be some muscle damage, too. It’s important to take on carbs and protein to begin the recovery process. A protein shake or Veloforte protein bar, which has the perfect 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein for optimal recovery, are a handy snack to have in your kit bag for immediately after your session.
You can replace lost electrolytes and rehydrate with an electrolyte drink and aim to have a meal containing carbohydrates and protein within three hours of finishing.
How to create your own rugby diet plan
When you’re creating your own rugby nutrition plan there are a few things you’ll need to think about:
What do you want to achieve in the game and how can nutrition help you get there? If you want to build muscle mass you may need to increase your calorie intake, if you want to lose fat, you might need to reduce it slightly. Think about any good habits you want to get into, too, such as taking on protein with every meal or ensuring you fuel well before training.
Frequency and intensity
How often you’re training and the intensity of your sessions plays a big part in your nutritional needs. In the off season or during lighter periods of training, you’ll likely need less calories but it’s still important to eat well to maintain muscle mass. If training increases, your energy needs will go up.
Where and when you’re training
If you’re training at night and feel too tired to cook when you get in, or you’re at work all day with no kitchen facilities, reaching for fast food and unhealthy snacks becomes the easy option. Make sure you stave off temptation by prepping your meals and snacks in advance so you always have something healthy and nutritious to hand.
Getting started with rugby nutrition
1. Write it down
Think about what you’re going to eat to fuel your training and recovery and jot it down so you can ensure you’re taking on enough calories, protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients.
Make a note of how certain foods make you feel, and see if the time you eat them makes a difference to your energy levels, then adapt your plan as you learn more about what works best for your body.
2. Create your rugby hydration strategy
Pay attention to thirst by monitoring the colour of your wee and checking how much sweat you lose in hard training sessions by weighing yourself afterwards. This gives you a good idea of whether you’re getting enough fluids.
Experiment with electrolyte drinks after training sessions or during breaks in play and see if it makes a difference to how you feel and perform.
3. Prep for performance
Invest in some Tupperware so you can prep meals and snacks – batch cooking at the weekend will save you time when you’re busy during the week. And stock up on energy bars, electrolyte drinks, gels and sports nutrition products to see what works for you.
Veloforte’s range of all-natural, real-food bars, nectars, electrolyte powders and chews offer carefully balanced, powerful and delicious options for every rugby player’s needs.