Nutrition for Rugby

As the festive season gets into full swing, it’s easy to over-indulge on mulled wine, mince pies, turkey and chocolate, but it’s vital to stay in shape for those big matches in the second half of the season.

Rugby fitness expert, Sam Tomkins, provides an overview of rugby-specific nutrition and a guide to ensuring your body gets everything it needs to succeed.

Everyone knows that good nutrition plays a vital role in all sports – none more so than the physical demands of rugby – but exactly what constitutes ‘good nutrition’ is a very vague and misunderstood subject.

Many myths include: Eat as much protein as possible to help build muscle! Stay away from fats! No Carbs after 8pm!

Exactly what you should be eating will depend on your metabolic type and what stage of the season you are in, and what you are doing on that particular day (gym, training, match, rest etc) but here is a rough guide.

As a simple rule our diets will consist of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat), and to a lesser yet still important degree, micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements).

As rugby players our bodies are under a tremendous amount of stress, with a huge demand on our energy system due to the nature of the sport. If our bodies don’t receive what is required energy-wise, then performance and training will suffer.

One of the many questions asked is, “What should I be eating prior to a game, or prior to training?” but just as important is what to eat throughout the day and immediately after training or a match. I’ll be drawing up some meal plans in the next couple of weeks which should help to solve these questions, but an understanding of the Glycaemic Index will give you a useful guideline to follow.

The Glycaemic Index compares the blood glucose response to certain foods and then ranks them against reference foods. The higher the GI rating of a food, the quicker glucose is released into our body and so the quicker it is available as an energy source.

Low GI foods provide a steady trickle of energy into your system and can sustain performance for longer, and this is what we should be trying to stick to as rugby players. Swapping high GI foods for low ones will keep your energy levels up and help to minimise fat gain. Try to make up meals using foods from the first two tables only.


Carbohydrates (CHO) will form the majority of your diet, as this is our body’s main source of energy. The best way of determining the different CHO content of foods is by using the Glycaemic Index (Have in a pop-up maybe).

Pre-activity – Eat between 500-600g of CHO daily > 4 hours before exercise.

During activity – CHO and electrolyte drinks help to delay the onset of fatigue, but you must ensure plenty of water is absorbed as dehydration can have a significant adverse effect on performance or training.

Post-activity – Eat 1g of CHO per kilogram of body mass every hour for up to 8 hours.

The generally agreed intake of CHO is between 60-70% of the total energy intake or 6-10g/kg of body mass per day.


Proteins supply amino acids, which are the building blocks for all protein synthesised in the body, and for bodybuilders, it is essential. So is it important for rugby players?

Yes, protein is vital for everybody whether they be sports people or not. But especially for people who are looking to build strength and using weights. The reason for this is that protein aids in the process of rebuilding muscle once it has been broken down by weight training and has been shown to speed up recovery allowing you to visit the gym on a more regular basis.

However, there is a ceiling effect when it comes to protein intake and it is not a case of ‘more is best’. This is because there is only so much protein that your body can break down and utilise. The excess can be stored as fatty deposits and lead to an increase in body fat.

Complete proteins contain the eight essential amino acids in the right proportions, and are found in red meat, chicken, fish, dairy products and eggs. The problem is that some foods that are high in protein are also high in saturated fat (not good!) – for example lean beefsteak has approximately 22.4g of protein per 100g and 28.8g of fat.

With the exception of skinless turkey and chicken, the only unprocessed animal foods that provide a good proportion of protein without large amounts of accompanying fats are egg whites, shellfish and fish.

As rugby players we should be looking at a requirement of 2.0-2.5g/kg of protein per day – around 20-25% of our total energy intake.


Fats are just as important as the first two macronutrients, as our body needs essential fats, but we have to be very careful when it comes to the type of fat we are ingesting. The fats we should be looking to avoid are the saturated fats and the trans fatty acids. The two essential fats our body can’t produce naturally are linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha-linoleic acid and these can be found in linseed, rapeseed, flax and olive oil as well as oily fish.

As a general rule of thumb try to avoid foods that have more than 20% of their calories coming from fat and those that do not show the fat content – that normally means it’s high. The daily intake of fat should not exceed 15% of total energy intake.

Keep the low GI foods in mind over the Christmas period and this will help to avoid wasting all that hard work done in pre-season, and allow you to pick up where you left off when the season resumes.

For more information on nutrition for rugby, please visit

7 thoughts on “Nutrition for Rugby

  1. What about Guinness? Where does that fit in to it? Joking apart though – great post – it’s good to see something completely different on here now and then. I shall try and stick to low GI foods over Christmas, but the precedent is not a good one!

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