GET THE BASICS RIGHT
Everyone has heard of calorie counting. Predominantly in the context of calorie restricting ‘fat loss’ diets. This is a pointless and potentially harmful process.
Take teenage growth spurts, hormonal changes, muscle and bone development coupled with varying levels of physical activity, and the young athletes calorie recommendations could be anywhere from 2,500 to 5000. There is simply no “one size fits all” when it comes to calorific needs.
Instead, get the foundations right, learn what the macro and micro nutrients are and make sure any calories consumed are from good, non-processed sources.
CARBOHYDRATES: FUELLING YOUR BODY RIGHT
Carbohydrates are the predominant fuel source when exercising at high intensities. Whether training or in competition, it is important we arrive fully fuelled and ready to go.
It is important to remember that carbs can help to increase muscle mass, but when eaten excessively can also increase fat mass. This is why it is important for us to consume the correct types of carbohydrates, at the correct times, and in the correct quantity.
During everyday nutrition carbs should come predominantly from LGI sources such as starchy vegetables and wholegrains, and should be consumed every 3-4 hours. HGI carbs should be reserved for consumption around heavy training days and competition. More details on glycemic index of carbs and how to structure carb intake around training and competition can be found in later sections.
The glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly blood glucose levels (blood sugar) rise after eating a particular type of food. Foods that are classified as high-glycemic (HGI), medium-glycemic (MGI) and low-glycemic (LGI) are typically those with glycemic index scores of >70, 55-70 and <55, respectively.
WHAT IS PROTEIN?
Made up of smaller molecules called amino acids, proteins provide the basic building blocks of muscle. Proteins are constantly being synthesized (created) and degraded (broken down) in the body, it is therefore important as a rugby player to ensure that you regularly ingest a source of protein to keep your body in a muscle building environment and avoid muscle wastage.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN?
As a general guide, ingestion of approximately 30 g protein, consumed every 3 hours throughout the day, will maintain protein synthesis and promote recovery of damaged muscles. This means every meal or snack should contain a decent portion of protein. Foods containing approximately 30 g protein can be seen in the table following.
WHAT KIND OF PROTEIN SHOULD I EAT?
Sources should be varied as much as possible from lean white meat such as chicken or turkey, white fish such as cod or haddock, red meat such as steak or mince, oily fish such as salmon or tuna, amongst other sources such as milk, eggs, nuts and greek yoghurt. This allows for a variety of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats to be consumed in addition to the actual protein content itself. This protein should come from high quality meat and fish from local butchers and fishmongers.
FATS: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY
WHAT ARE FATS?
Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are harmful. In fact, certain fats are absolutely vital for peak performance and simple everyday functioning. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats play important roles in controlling inflammation, supporting the immune system, optimizing brain function and boosting hormones.
HOW MUCH FAT?
Between 15-20% of your daily calorie intake should come from these healthy fat sources. This equates to approximately 1 g per kg bodyweight of healthy fats which should be consumed over the course of the day. Despite being ‘healthy’ fats, due to high calorie content, over consumption will still lead to unwanted body fat, MODERATION is key.
WHAT KINDS OF FAT ARE THERE?
‘Healthy’ fats are predominantly found in non-animal sources like avocado and nuts, but can also be found in oily fish like salmon or mackerel. ‘Bad fats’ are those classified as saturated and trans-fats. Saturated fats include animal fat, whereas trans-fats are predominantly formed when fats are fried. Although small amounts of saturated fat are essential for testosterone support, trans-fats should be avoided at all costs.
GOOD FATS: FISH, NUTS, SEEDS AND OLIVE OIL
SATURATED FATS: MEAT AND DAIRY
WHAT ARE TRANS FATS?
Artificial trans fats can be formed when oil goes through a process called hydrogenation, which makes the oil more solid (known as hardening). This type of fat, known as hydrogenated fat, can be used for frying or as an ingredient in processed foods. Artificial trans fats can be found in some processed foods such as biscuits and cakes, where they are sometimes used to help give products a longer shelf life. However, in recent years many food manufacturers have removed trans fats from their products.
DIFFERENCES IN FEMALE ATHLETES
In terms of general nutrition and energy demands, there are no major differences between the advice given to female and male rugby players. However, there are some less apparent issues we should consider:
DIFFERENT DAILY INTAKES
Although the macronutrient requirements (protein, fat and carbohydrate) do not really differ between males and females, there are some subtle differences in the vitamin and mineral requirements. Both females and males should seek advice from the NHS Choices website for their recommended daily intakes of specific vitamins and they key thing is to avoid deficiencies rather than think you need excessive supplemental intakes.
Due to heavy menstruation, females are sometimes more likely to suffer from iron deficiencies. It is therefore important that females consume iron rich foods to avoid this happening. There are two types of iron – heme (animal) and non-heme (plant). The rate in which we absorb this heme and non-heme iron is different, with heme absorbed at greater amounts and therefore where possible try to include good sources of heme iron. See the table for some iron dense heme and non-heme food sources (RDI = 14.8 mg per day).