WHY IS NUTRITION IMPORTANT IN RUGBY?
For my first blog post I thought I would answer the question: Why is proper nutrition important?
Have you ever been in the last ten minutes of the game and notice that you start to feel slow? Almost like you are running through mud. Those last ten minutes are important in a close game and it can be frustrating when you are not able to play your best. This is happening because your body is losing energy and many times this is from the foods you are eating.
Eating a healthy diet is important for all of us. It can help us feel good and prevent health problems later in life. For the rugby player eating the right foods is important to help us become better players and to give us the edge over the other teams. Proper nutrition can help you in three basic areas.
Think of your body like a race car. Sure, any gas you put in the tank will make the car drive down the road but you need high performance fuel to make your car go fast and perform the best it can. Just like gasoline for a car, food is the fuel for our bodies. All food gives us energy but eating the right foods and drinking plenty of water will help you perform the best you can on the field and also at school and work. For young athletes, the importance of food is doubled because you also need healthy foods while you are still growing.
Recovery and mental focus
Many of us train and exercise more than our friends and we need food to give us the energy while we train and compete. This helps us recover after we practice and play games so our bodies are healed up and can keep going for the season.
Have you ever skipped breakfast and found it hard to focus during school? Food doesn’t just help the body perform, it also feeds your brain with energy. This helps us to concentrate and focus on what we have to do every day. This is also important on the field when you have to remember what you learned in training and making the right decisions during a game.
As an athlete in a tough sport like rugby, proper nutrition is important to prevent injury. Eating right will help you train and prepare your body for the hard running and hitting in a game. The more prepared you are the less likely you will get injured. On the other hand, if you do get injured, eating the right foods will allow your body to heal quickly and will let you get back to training.
When people are asked what the most important nutrient is to improve performance in sport, they will usually mention protein or carbohydrate. Of course these are needed but it is even more important to make sure your body is hydrated before, during, and after training and games. Here are some things that water does for our bodies:
- Carries oxygen to our brain, heart, and muscles
- Removes waste
- Cushions our brain and spinal cord
- Keeps our body temperature normal
We need 2-3 litres (8-12 cups) of fluid a day to stay healthy but we also need to drink more when we are active to replace what is lost when we sweat. If we don’t drink more fluid than what we lose we will become dehydrated. Dehydration can make you feel tired, hot, dizzy, and give you cramps. This can affect your performance on the field and can even be dangerous on a hot day.
Tips for staying hydrated:
Drink fluid every day, even when you are not feeling thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated. Avoid energy drinks and high sugar drinks (pop, juice) which make you more dehydrated and stick to drinking mostly water. The best way to know if you are hydrated is to check your urine (pee) when you are going to the bathroom. If it is clear or light yellow (like lemonade) you are doing well. If it is dark yellow (like apple juice) you are dehydrated and need more water.
Because exercise makes our body lose more water you also need to be drinking fluids before, during, and after games and training. Try out this routine during practices and games:
- 2 hours before: 500-750 mL (2-3 cups)
- 15 minutes before: 250-500 mL (1-2 cups)
- During: 125-250 mL (0.5-1 cup) every 15 minutes. During games try to have water between scores and at halftime.
- After: 500 mL (2 cups) for every pound of body weight loss or as you feel you need. The weight we lose after exercise is water loss so weigh yourself before and after a game to get an idea of how much water you need.
Remember this is a guideline. Our bodies are all different and you may need more if it is a very hot day or you sweat a lot.
What about sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.)
Energy drinks contain water for hydration along with sugar to give you quick energy and electrolytes (sodium, and potassium) to replenish what you lose when you sweat. Water is the best choice for most activities but sports drinks may be helpful if you are exercising over an hour and it is very hot and/or you sweat a lot. You can also have a snack at halftime to provide the same nutrients. For example have some salted crackers or pretzels and water at halftime.