Rugby Nutrition: learn from the professionals

The Rugby Blog is proud to bring you a special feature from Matt Lovell, the sports nutritionist for England Rugby. As players and supporters everywhere strive to get in shape for the summer or for the start of next season, here are a few things you can learn about your diet.

Matt Lovell

An extra pound of body fat can make the difference in making a try-saving tackle in the corner or conceding a last-gasp try. Excess fat slows everyone down.

When I ‘m working with professional rugby players I regularly monitor their body composition. What we look at when meausuring the players is their body fat percentage and lean muscle mass.

Professional players need to ensure their body fat % is within acceptable parameters – there are obvious differences between positions, with the front row forwards allowed to have an extra pound of fat or three.

You might think that it’s easy for a professional player to get in shape and stay in shape throughout the season – it’s not. It requires continual vigilance and the formation of good habits. What makes it more challenging is that we are all surrounded by foods that look yummy but ultimately are going to impair performance. Sweets, cakes, chocolates, pies and pastries – everyone has their weak spot.

Any extra food consumed that’s not burnt off through exercise WILL get converted to fat, so bearing that in mind, the professional rugby player has to monitor his intake and match it to the level of training.

If you were to follow a player around for a day there are two things that would strike you.

‘Do they ever stop eating?’

A professional rugby player probably eats 6-8 times a day. They’ll have something before and after every training session and smaller meals spaced throughout the day. Believe it or not everyone should be eating 4-5 times every day as eating more often can help you manage your weight and can even help you burn fat.

If you look at how the majority of people eat, it’s easy to see why obesity levels are rising in the western world. Generally we skip breakfast or have a small one, such as a bowl of cereal or some jam and toast. We arrive at lunchtime famished and usually end up overeating by having a couple of sandwiches and maybe even a cake.

Then there will often be a huge gap before the evening meal, maybe punctuated by a chocolate bar or bag of crisps. As evening approaches, we are now really hungry – getting hungry is a real mistake as it turns on your fat storing hormones.

Our fat storing hormones now turned on, we then have a huge evening meal. When we overeat, the excess energy which is not used to replenish our energy stores gets converted to fat.

If you were to eat the same quantity of food and space it out over the course of the day into 4 or 5 smaller meals instead of 2 or 3 bigger meals you’ll be continually topping up your energy stores during the day instead of overwhelming them and having the excess energy converted to fat.

I’ve explained this concept among others in a document you can access for free at

Why are they eating so much protein?

The professional rugby player will eat up to 300 grams of protein in a day – that’s the equivalent of about 10 tins of tuna, 8 Chicken breasts or 50 eggs.

When anyone exercises, ‘damage’ is done to the muscles, and exercises like weight training and scrum practice are more strenuous and cause more ‘damage’. The body requires protein to help repair that damage and help the muscles increase in size if that is the goal.

The other reason that protein is important – and this has implications for everyone – is that protein requires more energy to digest than energy-dense fats and carbohydrate. It’s not quite like celery that requires more energy in chewing it and digesting it than is actually contained in it, but protein is headed in that direction.

My recommendations to help ANYONE manage their weight more effectively are to:

– eat 4-5 smaller meals evenly spaced during the day
– eat protein with every meal

Matt Lovell has been the Sports Nutritionist for the England Rugby Team for the past 6 years. He currently also works with Saracens, Wasps, London Irish and Leicester and consults with companies looking for an edge by investing in their staff’s health and well-being.

He’s developed a fat loss program that can be used by anyone to lose weight rapidly you can find out more about it at and for specific rugby nutrition information, he has a Sports Nutrition Blog.

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