Playing rugby requires physical strength for fierce, full-contact play—as well as high levels of energy to endure the rigorous 80 minutes of most matches. Rugby players can increase their muscle mass and energy levels by eating a balanced diet that is high in protein and quality carbohydrates, low in fat, and includes plenty of water.
Protein is essential for building and maintaining the muscle mass needed in a scrum. Health24.com outlines a two-phase eating plan for rugby players. The first phase focuses on building muscle mass in the early months of rugby training. During this first phase, player diets should follow a 50:40:10 ratio of protein to carbohydrates to fats. Health24 also suggests that athletes need 1.8 grams to 1.9 grams of protein for each kilogram—or 2.2. pounds—of body weight to increase muscle mass. This means that a rugby player weighing 100 kilograms—or 220 pounds—should consume 190 grams of protein a day. To do this, according to Health24, a player should consume about 949 grams of chicken or lean red meat, or 1 kilogram of fish. Other protein sources include cheese, milk and eggs.
Carbohydrates provide the energy needed for speed and endurance during a rugby match. The second phase of the diet outlined by Health24.com emphasizes a higher carbohydrate intake during competition seasons. During this phase, Health24 advises a protein-carbohydrate-fat ratio of 45:45:10. Jonny Wilkinson of the English national rugby team and a key player in England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup win, told the Guardian newspaper that his diet includes such carbohydrates as toast, porridge, pasta and potatoes. He added that he avoids high carbohydrates in the evening because they release energy that can affect sleep.
Rugby players must be careful to limit their intake of high-fat foods. The challenge is getting enough protein without too much fat. Health24.com cautions that it is not possible to increase your protein consumption without increasing your fat intake as well. To avoid this problem, many rugby players consume protein supplements such as creatine, to prevent their fat intake from being too high. Wilkinson told the Guardian he likes avocado as a healthy source of unsaturated fat. The Pacific Nations Rugby website identified the following sources of unsaturated fats: oily fish, unsalted nuts and seeds, avocado and olive oil. Players should avoid the unhealthy saturated fats found in processed and fast foods.
A good diet for rugby or any sport includes drinking plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. Dehydration can cause fatigue and reduce concentration. The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking 1.5 to 1.9 liters of water a day—the equivalent of about eight 8 oz. glasses. The Pacific Nations Rugby website advises players to keep a water bottle handy during training. Sports drinks and fruit juice diluted with water are other sources of hydration. Avoid caffeinated beverages, sodas and alcohol because they can lead to dehydration.