All rugby players need to be on top of their game and on the ball and nutrition obviously plays a huge part in optimising health and performance. With an intense and varied training schedule incorporating strength, power, speed, ball carrying, passing, tackling and evading skills they need all the performance-enhancing, immune-boosting nutrients they can get from food and dietary supplements can help support that aim. Richard Chessor, Scottish Rugby’s former Lead Nutritionist, has singled out 6 great supplements for rugby players.
Here’s how they could help enhance performance:
- Multivitamin and Mineral
While most rugby players are conscious of eating well and are generally getting most of the vitamins they need from their diet sometimes life has a habit of getting in the way of those good eating intentions. Elite players tend to use up their stores of nutrients quicker than sedentary folk so taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement such as MultiVitamin Gold A-Z can fill a small, but crucially sometimes critical, nutritional gap. A mineral deficiency can impair performance – for example, correcting an iron deficiency will improve aerobic endurance performance. As Richard Chessor says, ‘The first role of any nutritional supplement should be to address dietary deficiencies and the humble daily multivitamin can be a very convenient and effective “insurance policy” against the times when a player’s diet is inadequate or disrupted.’
- Vitamin D
‘There is a significant body of evidence indicating that UK athletic populations have insufficient Vitamin D levels and growing evidence to suggest that levels may be suboptimal for athletic performance,’ says Richard. The reason players might not have enough of this vitamin is because Vitamin D is found in low quantities in the diet and it is produced in the skin via exposure to sunlight. If you train indoors (or outdoors anywhere in the UK between the months of October to March) you are unlikely to be getting optimum levels of this ‘sunshine’ vitamin which helps with bone health, muscle recovery and supporting immunity. Research from the University of Newcastle has shown that athletes given extra vitamin D experienced less in the way of muscle fatigue (2) . A 2015 study of US footballers found those with higher levels of this vitamin were more likely to be selected for the team and also had a reduced risk of bone injuries. (3) Healthspan Elite have a 1,000iu Vitamin D3 tablet, the perfect maintenance dose, or they also have 4,000iu Vitamin D3 available in a capsule or an easily absorbable spray, which is a great way to start correcting a deficiency.
- Whey protein
Any professional athlete needs to be serious about their muscle-mending, immune-boosting protein intake but as Richard points out, ‘With rugby players, often the recommended protein intakes of ~2g/kg/d can be difficult to achieve without a frequent eating plan and/or large protein intakes at a single sitting.’ This is where whey protein shakes come in: providing a convenient way of players meeting this requirement. Research has shown whey protein supplementation helps athletes build lean muscle mass and help with muscle recovery. This type of protein, found naturally in milk, is rapidly absorbed and contains a high percentage of amino acids including cysteine and leucine. Leucine is an important player in muscle protein synthesis, the process in which the body repairs and regenerates muscle, helping to stimulate the body’s own muscle-enhancing enzymes. After exercise, your body needs enough leucine levels to enable this muscle-building process. Try mixing one scoop of Healthspan Elite’s Essential Whey Protein Concentrate, providing 20g protein per serving, with water or milk and take straight after exercise. Or for a more concentrated protein hit go for their Whey Protein Isolate (90%) providing a hefty 32g of protein per serving.
One of the most popular ‘ergogenic’ or physical performance aid supplements, creatine is according to Richard, ‘a perfect match for rugby given the high intensity intermittent nature of the game and training.’ This naturally-occurring organic acid has been the subject of extensive research and evidence shows it not only improves exercise performance but can help with muscle recovery by delaying muscle fatigue, helping to prevent or reduce injury, encourage recovery from injury and increase tolerance to heat when exercising in hot weather. (4) It shouldn’t be used in place of a healthy, balanced diet, more as an adjunct to it but as Richard says, ‘with raised muscle phosphocreatine stores the player can experience increased power output, increased high-intensity exercise capacity and increased lean mass in response to training.’ He adds there is an emerging body of research suggesting creatine might have neuroprotective effects ‘which has relevance in contact sports.’
- Buffering agents
When high amounts of lactic acid are produced in the muscles during high intensity exercise and rugby matches certain products including sodium bicarbonate (most commonly known as baking soda), sodium citrate and beta-alanine have been shown to help neutralise or ‘buffer’ the acidic environment of the muscle. The body naturally produces small amounts of these but levels tend to be low and research suggests introducing more into the body before vigorous exercise can help enhance performance and reduce fatigue. (5) As Richard says, ‘In a high intensity repeated effort sport where lactic acid production is fast and remains elevated, these supplements can help attenuate the drop in muscle and blood pH that is associated with reduced performance.’ Often taken in conjunction with creatine there are, however, some reported side effects associated with these buffering agents including stomach upsets, headaches and the feeling your skin is ‘prickling’ so it is worth trialling with lower dosages in a safe environment to see how your body tolerates them before introducing into your regular routine.
- Caffeine Everyone benefits from a kick-start and a stimulating hit of caffeine delivers just that. Not surprising then that caffeine often puts in an appearance as part of a pre-match ritual when it has been found to increase alertness and improve endurance performance. A 2005 study actually monitored the effects of caffeine in a simulated rugby game – giving some players 6mg/kg of caffeine and others a placebo. The players given the caffeine were shown to significantly improve sprint performances as well as increased accuracy when passing the ball (6). Richard says, ‘With numerous formats and dosages available, it’s an easy strategy to trial and integrate into the pre-training or pre-match routine.’ You can drink strong coffee or use energy drinks but for ease you can’t beat tablet form like Kick Start Caffeine Tablets – each one provides 50mg of slow-release caffeine. For a more immediate caffeine jolt Kick-Start Caffeine Gum supplies you with 100mg of caffeine which is absorbed within 10 to 15 minutes providing the perfect pre and half time match boost.