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Rugby Sevens: Nutrition To Optimise Preparation, Performance & Recovery

June 1, 2019
JD

Repeated sprints, despairing tap tackles and forwards wearing fluorescent or white boots. It can only mean one thing – sevens season. With the 15-a-side season now behind most, some players turn their attention to the shorter version of the game. This article shall talk through some of the key nutrition considerations in order to optimise performance for the rugby sevens athlete.

What will be covered within this article?

Section 1 – Preparation
  • Carbohydrate
  • Hydration
  • Supplement Considerations
Section 2 – Performance
  • Carbohydrate
  • Hydration
  • Ergogenic Aids
Section 3 – Recovery
  • Replenishment
  • Repair
  • Rehydration
  • Recovery Aid

Okay, let’s get straight into it …

Preparation

(1) Carbohydrate

Rugby sevens is characterised by intermittent bouts of high intensity activity. Such repeated high intensity efforts are predominately fuelled by carbohydrate. It is therefore important that prior to a tournament muscle and liver glycogen (your body’s carbohydrate stores) are topped up. Note: Individuals opting for high fat, low carbohydrate diet will be putting high intensity performance at risk.

Players should fuel with mindset that they are going all the way to the final. This will involve typically playing around a minimum of 6 games (see example structure below), although some competitions may have additional pool or 2nd round matches. However, in professional rugby sevens you would typically see all the pool games on day one, with the knock phase commencing the following day. This article shall primarily be aimed at individuals competing in a one day competition, although numerous parts of this article are applicable to players competing in different competition formats.

Pool Game 1

Pool Game 2

Pool Game 3

QF

SF

Final

To increase carbohydrate storage players should consider increasing carbohydrate intake the day before competition. Research suggests consuming a carbohydrate intake of around 5 to 8g per kg of body mass the day before competition to prepare for those repeated match efforts. Interestingly, previous research upon the carbohydrate intake within rugby league players around competition put forward the viewpoint that current carbohydrate intake guidelines for athletes are based upon athletes of lower body mass. It is therefore suggested that rugby players, who are of higher body mass base their carbohydrate intake upon absolute, rather than relative to body mass e.g. around 600g carbohydrate for 36 hours prior to a game.

With limited research on the carbohydrate demands of rugby sevens, we therefore have to draw upon research from the 15-a-side (rugby union) or 13-a-side game (rugby league) to help inform our judgement. Based upon the above research I mentioned, it may be suitable to look to consume a carbohydrate intake of around 5 to 7g/kg (or absolute intakes of 500 – 600g carbohydrate) over the 36 hours prior to 1st competitive match of the tournament. With rugby sevens there is also opportunity to then recover/top up energy during the breaks between matches, whereas within the 15 a-side game there is only one competitive fixture and limited refuelling opportunities. It is therefore important that any nutrition strategy implemented for the rugby sevens athlete is reviewed following the tournament to re-evaluate strategy and whether any changes are required for future competitions.

So what would look like in food terms? For example, carbohydrate intake for a 90kg player eating carbohydrate at around 5 to 7g/kg body mass be between 450g to 630g carbohydrate. Let us now look at an example menu (below) that would provide approximately 600g carbohydrate within the 36hour period pre-match (e.g. 400-450g day before and 150-200g day of competition – distribution can change based upon personal preference e.g. some athletes may have limited appetite at breakfast on competition day and struggle with large volumes of food). As a side note daily protein would be around 2 to 2.2g/kg of body mass and daily fat approximately 1g/kg of body mass.

When loading up on carbohydrate does it matter if intake is via high glycemic index (HGI) or low glycemic index (LGI) foods? Research has shown that greater glycogen storage may be achieved with HGI foods, which should be considered if doing some form of training the day before competition. Opting for solely consuming LGI options may result in greater fibre intake than compared to HGI options. This could influence carbohydrate absorption and potentially reduce overall carbohydrate consumption due to satiating effect of fibre. Opting for LGI options in day to day training diet is obviously beneficial for health, but don’t think this would be put at risk changing to HGI in preparation for competition or during recovery. Side note: Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients, therefore do not over consume protein as this could suppress appetite resulting in reduced total intake of carbohydrate. 

Struggling for meal or snack recipe ideas? Then check out the recipes page.
(2) Hydration

Although not as expansive as the other sections it is still just as important. In the preparation period players should look to maintain hydration in the build up to competition. Good habits may include accompanying meals with a fluid source (e.g. glass of water), being mindful of hydration throughout the day (e.g. keeping fluid sources on the work desk/in your bag), replenishing electrolyte losses (especially if active) and considering the consumption of carbohydrate fluid sources to aid the topping up of carbohydrate energy stores. 

With regards to a target daily fluid intake the required intake for the individual may vary. This can be dependent upon body mass, activity, climate and individual sweat rate (although the day before competition I would imagine this is a rest/low activity  day for most). If individuals consume fluid with all meals  and be mindful to drink throughout the day then they will typically maintain hydration. Urine colour could also provide some approximate feedback upon hydration status when inactive – see below.

For individuals that regularly consume coffee, this can contribute also to fluid intake. However, it is advisable not to consume caffeine greater than 4mg per kg of body mass, as higher than this may impair hydration status. Additionally, consider the timing of caffeine ingestion so as not to impair sleep the night prior to competition. Potentially, limit caffeine consumption from mid-afternoon. Also, consider avoiding the consumption of alcohol prior to competition due to its diuretic effects. No-one wants to be out there playing 7s with a hangover – and no you are not kick starting your recovery with the antioxidants in that bottle of red wine!

(3) Supplementation Considerations

Before we get into discussing potential considerations, let us first define what a supplement actually is:

“A food, food component, nutrient, or non-food compound that is purposefully ingested in addition to the habitually consumed diet with the aim of achieving a specific health and/or performance benefit” – IOC Consensus Statement (2018)

Before even considering the use of supplements an individual should look to optimise their dietary intake. Then, if the need for supplementation has been identified, it is important that an individual opts for evidence-based supplements. No, not what is the latest claim in your fitness magazine or social media, but supplements that are backed by scientific research. Finally, when selecting a product ensure that it contains no prohibited substances and abides by the WADA anti-doping code. It is not only professional athletes that must abide by anti-doping rules, but all athletes. Here are the current UK anti-doping sanctions. As you can see a large number are within rugby union. So if considering supplementation work your way through the SENr supplement decision tree:

How to check the product is Informed Sport:

So, if an individual were to supplement where does the scientific literature stand with regards to what might be useful for the rugby sevens player during the preparation period prior to competition. Please note acute supplement considerations (day of competition) will be considered in the performance section of this article.

If considering supplementation, first trial the supplement around training periods away from competition to ensure that there are no negative side effects. If no side effects, consider whether to implement this within the competition strategy. Additionally, you do not have to integrate all supplements discussed below. For example, trial one strategy first and see how this works for you.

Work Capacity
Creatine Monohydrate

This supplement is one of the most researched supplements and has been shown to be effective for performance when athletes are engaging in intermittent bout activity (repeated short-term, high intensity activity). Why is this? During intense exercise phosphocreatine (PCr) stores become depleted, which reduces the ability to maintain high-intensity effort, as energy (ATP) cannot be created rapidly to maintain performance. Supplementing with creatine monohydrate increases muscle creatine content, therefore aiding the resynthesis of phosphocreatine (PCr).

Creatine is produced naturally within the body and can also be consumed through dietary intake via meat and fish. However, such methods may not be optimal to fully saturate muscle creatine content. To rely on muscle saturation from dietary sources would require a great amount of meat/fish consumption, which could require excessive protein intake and some financial expense. Therefore this may not be considered a practical creatine loading strategy. In order to saturate the muscle creatine stores an athlete may opt for creatine monohydrate supplementation. This would require consumption to commence prior to competition.

There are typically two loading approaches utilised:

  • Fast Load

The consumption of 20g creatine monohydrate for 5 days split into 4 doses per day (e.g. 5g x 4 doses per day) to saturate the muscle. Following this loading phase a daily maintenance of 3 – 5g per day is consumed.

  • Slow Load

Consumption of 3 – 5g creatine monohydrate per day. This will take approximately 4 weeks to achieve muscle saturation.

Does it matter which loading strategy you implement? No, one will just achieve muscle saturation quicker than the other. Both methods will lead to muscle saturation.

Note: Some individuals may cite gastro-intestinal issues when supplementing with creatine monohydrate. If any negative side effects are experienced then stop supplementation.

Beta-Alanine

Benefits of beta-alanine consumption have included an increased work output of high-intensity intermittent bout activity lasting 30 seconds to 10 minutes.

What’s the science behind it?

First we must appreciate the role of carnosine. Carnosine within the muscle plays an important role in buffering – during intense activity the muscle will decrease muscle pH (increase in acidity) due to the accumulation of hydrogen ions. However, a limiting factor in the synthesis of carnosine is beta-alanine. Therefore, by supplementing with beta-alanine an improvement in intracellular buffering capacity is brought about via increased carnosine muscle content.

Supplementation strategy:

3.2 to 6.4g per day via a split dose approach. For example, daily intake may be based upon the consumption of 0.8 to 1.6g beta-alanine every 4 hours. This would be consumed over a 4 to 12 week period.

Note: Some individuals may cite paresthesia (tingling sensation) when supplementing with beta-alanine. To limit the occurrence, it is suggested to opt for a slow-release formula and to supplement at the lower range of the recommended protocols within the research. If the paresthesia is negatively impacting upon preparation/performance/health, then do not use beta-alanine supplementation.

Sodium Bicarbonate

I have included sodium bicarbonate here due to it having both acute (day of competition) and serial (days leading up to competition) approaches.

Sodium bicarbonate can be categorised with beta-alanine due to their roles with buffering, however there is a difference between the two: beta-alanine is an intracellular buffer, whereas sodium bicarbonate is an extracellular buffer. Both however work to buffer against acidity (accumulation of hydrogen ions). The outcome – allowing the individual to work at higher intensities for longer. The benefits upon performance are typically found when working at high intensity from 60 seconds to 10 minutes.

Supplementation can either be ‘acute’ (60-180 mins prior to activity/competition) or ‘serial’ in the days leading up to activity/competition. The most common method utilised is the acute supplementation approach, although some individuals may opt for serial loading. Please find below information on each protocol.

Sodium Bicarbonate: Acute Protocol

This is an approach that can be incorporated into the performance nutrition the day of competition.

Dose: 0.2 – 0.4 grams per kg of body mass – For example, a 90kg male would consume 18 – 36 grams.

Duration: 60 – 180 mins prior to activity

Side: Effects: Individuals have previously cited gastro-intestinal distress (e.g. nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea). An increase body mass may be observed due to increased water weight.

Suggestions to limit gastro-intestinal distress include:

  • Consume sodium bicarbonate capsules via a spread out protocol commencing 120-150mins prior to activity.
  • When ingesting supplement co-ingest a small carbohydrate meal (around 1.5g per kg of body mass) and some fluid.
  • Ingestion of sodium can cause an acute increase in body mass due to sodium aiding fluid retention.

Sodium Bicarbonate: Serial Protocol

This is an approach that can be incorporated if there are multiple events on the same or successive days. Additionally by spreading the daily dose over multiple servings decreases the risk of gastro-intestinal distress due to smaller amounts per serve.

Dose: 0.5 grams per kg body mass (spread the 0.5 grams per kg body mass over 3 – 4 serves during the day)

Duration: 2 – 4 days prior to competition

Side Effects: Some individuals have cited gastro-intestinal distress (e.g. nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhoea). An increase body mass may be observed due to increased water weight.

Nitrate (Beetroot Juice)

Potentially a supplement that not too many players may have heard of or may have not of thought of integrating into their nutrition strategy. Nitrate is naturally found in food sources such as rocket, spinach, pak choi and beetroot. With beetroot being such an abundant source of nitrate, recent supplementation advancement has seen the creation of concentrated beetroot shots (e.g. Beet It). For those interested in integrating dietary sources into their strategy below are the nitrate contents of food sources:

But why would nitrate help enhance performance? When team-sport athletes supplemented with nitrate research has found an improved performance in short duration maximal sprinting and high intensity running. Such an improvement is thought to be based upon the ability of type II muscle to increase force production. Supplemental strategies typically used within the research have used supplement protocols of 5 – 9mmol nitrate for 2 – 6 days. If any negative side effects are experienced then supplementation should be stopped.

Even when consuming all nitrate via foods sources an improvement in exercise performance has been noted. However, with regards to nitrate food sources around competition it is important to ensure that such an approach does not negatively impact upon gastro-intestinal comfort, as some nitrate sources may elevate fibre intake which we would aim to keep relatively low to moderate around competition. However, during day to day (training) nutrition, nitrate via vegetables and fruit is great for health.

Recovery
Tart Montmorency Cherry

There is now a lot of interest around integrating ‘functional’ foods within the diet for exercise performance, recovery and health. As with all the above supplements discussed, initially a food-first approach is the desired strategy. Integrating a wide range of vegetables and fruits will provide nutrient density to diet. However, to achieve the desired content of certain nutrients may require excessive food consumption that simply may not be practical or appealing. Therefore certain evidence-based supplements may be considered. 

One such approach that has shown promise with regards to aiding recovery is the consumption tart Montmorency cherry juice – a high anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant source rich in polyphenols. A 30ml concentrated cherry juice product is reported to be the equivalent of 90 whole cherries. Research suggests that loading the week of competition/activity (e.g. 4 days), the competition/activity day and following competition (e.g. 3 days) has aided recovery via decreased muscle soreness and accelerated recovery of muscle function. For more upon recovery from competition via alternative dietary sources please see section 3 of this article.

Although a decrease in muscle soreness and improved muscle function recovery may be cited within some research, it is worth noting that the design of studies may vary which can explain the mixed results of the discussed interventions upon muscle recovery and caution is therefore required with regards to the effectiveness of potential interventions.

 

Performance

(1) Carbohydrate

We have already covered in the first section of this article the role of carbohydrate in the day prior to competition. Our attention now turns to competition day. The big day has arrived and it is now time to top up the energy levels at breakfast prior to game 1. Liver glycogen will have reduced overnight, so this will need to be topped up, as well as the final top up of muscle glycogen. Therefore, the primary focus of the breakfast meal will be carbohydrate – ‘fuel up’. 

ACSM guidelines suggest the consumption of a meal containing 1 – 4g/kg of body mass of carbohydrate in the 1 to 4 hours prior to competition. For example, athletes may opt to consume around 1 – 2g/kg of body mass of carbohydrate at breakfast (3 – 4 hours prior to competition commencing) with a focus upon easily digestible carbohydrate sources. Example sources may include: cereal, oats, milk, toast, bagels, pancakes, beans, fruit juice, fresh fruit and flavoured yogurt. Opt for sources that you know that you handle well and cause no gastro-intestinal discomfort. It is not advisable to try new foods around competition time.

Athletes may then continue to top up energy levels en route to competition likely via a carbohydrate snack around 60mins pre-match (e.g. granola bar or flapjack and sports drink) or intra-warm up (sports drink and/or energy gel). If appetite is suppressed (e.g. pre-match nerves) sports drinks and gels can be a convenient source of carbohydrate with minimal chewing required.

It is also important to comment on the other components of pre-competition meal (e.g. breakfast), as it is unlikely the individual will solely be eating carbohydrate. Although a high quality protein serve is recommended for daily muscle growth and repair, this serving is to be moderate. Over consumption of protein will suppress appetite and potential lead to the underconsumption of the required carbohydrate for fuelling. Furthermore, both fat and fibre intake are kept low to aid digestion and minimise the risk of gastro-intestinal discomfort. The inclusion of colours at breakfast via fresh fruit is encouraged to aid general health, as well as aiding the top of of carbohydrate stores. 

The topic of rapid energy replenishment between matches will be covered in section 3 of this article.

(2) Hydration

Ensure you start the first match in a hydrated state and keep on top of hydration throughout the competition day. The primary source of fluid loss during competition will be via sweating, which is a process that aids the dissipation of heat from activity. However, failing to replenish fluids losses and maintain hydration can lead to negative effects upon cognition, performance and health (e.g. cardiovascular strain).

It is therefore important to kick off your hydration strategy with breakfast by accompanying your meal with fluid (e.g. water or fruit juice). En route to competition and during your warm up you may also be sipping on fluid to top your hydration – don’t rapidly drink the fluid as you don’t want to bring about increased urination losses. Aiming to start the competition with a pale straw like urine colour is a good rough gauge of hydration status (see section 1 of this article – ‘Hydration’). Please note that after you become active the urine colour chart is not as useful a guide to hydration status.

Sweat also contains electrolytes, with sodium being the primary electrolyte lost, with also lesser amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Therefore, when rehydrating consider the replenishment of electrolyte losses. An individual’s sweat composition is highly individual, which also makes it hard to give specific recommendations. For more on this topic please see section 3 (rehydration).

Sweat rate too can be highly individual, which makes it hard to give specific recommendations. Sweat rate can be influenced by activity duration, activity intensity, environmental conditions and clothing/equipment worn, as well as individual characteristics such as body weight, genetic predisposition, heat acclimatisation state and metabolic efficiency.

Intra-match there is limited opportunity to consume fluid and players are therefore encouraged to take on board some fluid at half-time (e.g. water, water and electrolyte, sports drinks). Come the later stages of the competition if individuals have sub-optimally fuelled throughout the day, then opting for sports drink consumption may aid performance. By swilling the carbohydrate sports drink in the mouth (mouth rinse), and then ingesting the fluid, there potentially may be a performance benefit via stimulation of receptors which send signals to the brain. Athletes should look to lose no more 2% of body mass loss during competition to avoid the negative effects of dehydration.

Ensure that you have a supply of fluids available for throughout the day, whilst making every effort to store these so that they remain chilled. In hot conditions it is also important to keep on top of thermoregulation. Chilled drinks can particularly help here. If hot conditions, individuals may even consider the use of pre-match intervention via the consumption of ice slurry (this must be trialled in training first before implementing within competition strategy – we don’t want any negative side effects e.g. gastro-intestinal discomfort). The decrease in core body temperature allows a greater capacity for heat storage. However, there is an obvious practicality issue with this strategy, as sourcing ice slurry or making your own during tournaments for most people is unrealistic. An alternative, if you spy ice pops or ice lollies being served at the tournament, this could be considered as a post-match strategy for thermoregulation (ice) and energy replenishment (sugar/carbohydrate content) – it tastes good too!

For those with reduced appetite, or when recovery time is limited between matches, consideration should be given to combining both rehydration and energy replenishment via sports drink (carbohydrate) consumption. If utilising a sports drink, consider an isotonic sports drink option to minimise gastrointestinal discomfort. Remember that sports drinks are sports supplements, so check that your product/batch number are listed on www.informed-sport.com.

For further information on the topic of hydration and rehydration please refer to section 3 of this article ‘Rehydration’.

(3) Ergogenic Aids

We have already covered the evidence-based supplements that may be considered when ingested over a prolonged period (chronic strategy) in the lead up to competition. Let us now take a look at some considerations that can be implemented the day of competition (acute strategy).

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can benefit performance via an increase in alertness, decrease in the perception of effort and decrease in reaction time. A commonly consumed source of caffeine is coffee. If wanting to start the day off with your coffee and time this to have a positive influence upon your performance, then this would need to be consumed around 60 to 90mins prior to match 1. For some individuals coffee may not be a practical/accessible option due to travel/team requirements e.g. warm-up. If this is the case then supplementation may be the most convenient and suitable option.

Above are 4 common options that may be considered. The fastest absorbed source would be via the chewing gum. The caffeine content of a UK caffeine gum product is approximately 85% absorbed within 10-15mins. The alternative caffeine options typically take a little longer for caffeine to reach peak concentration in the blood and are therefore consumed earlier (30-60mins pre-match).

With regards to total dose, caffeine consumption of around  3-6mg/kg of body mass has been found within the scientific research to enhance performance. Therefore, if looking to integrate this into your performance strategy, based upon the example tournament schedule in section one of this article, an athlete may consume 3mg/kg of body mass prior to game 1 and then consume 3mg/kg of body mass prior to semi-final for a another boost. There has has been some support in the research for lower dose caffeine consumption <3mg kg of body mass ~200mg caffeine, although research has typically focussed on greater amounts than this.

It is important to exercise caution with regards to total consumption. The over-consumption of caffeine can bring some unwanted negative side effects including:, as intakes greater than 6mg/kg of body mass could bring about jitters, headache, high heart rate, diuresis, nausea and in some unfortunate instances running to the toilet and not the playing field!

Will caffeine consumption enhance performance for all that take it? The answer to this in short – maybe not. This is due to the influence of an individuals genes (e.g. CYP1A2 gene) involved in the metabolism of caffeine. Some individuals may positively respond, some may not. For those that have not consumed caffeine, or typically consume limited caffeine day to day, it would be sensible to maybe opt for a low dose initially to see how they react and to avoid any negative side effects (if there were any negative side effects do not use this supplement strategy). As with any strategy trial it in training before use in competition.

A question I often get asked regarding caffeine supplementation is whether there is a need to reduce, or remove, caffeine intake in the lead up to competition? Some individuals fear that their habitual coffee intake will dampen down their response if implemented as a performance strategy. However, such individuals need not worry, as the beneficial performance effects of caffeine consumption are still observed irrespective of whether prior caffeine withdrawal is imposed.

Recovery

(1) Replenishment

This section shall primarily focus upon the rapid recovery of glycogen (carbohydrate) energy stores. The recovery times between matches may vary from tournament to tournament depending on format. For professionals there is typically a 2 to 4 hour turnaround between matches. Contrast this to 30mins to 2 hours, or worst case scenario 10-15mins, for amateur players. To not get caught out and risk being under-fuelled it would therefore be useful to have a refuelling strategy in place. For rapid restoration of carbohydrate stores it is important to consider the 3 T’s:

Total

A great emphasis has been placed on the initial first fours of immediate recovery due to the slightly higher muscle glycogen synthesis rates during this time. A suggested target put forward for carbohydrate intake per hour during this time frame is around 1.0 to 1.2g/kg of body mass. Research has also highlighted that the co-ingestion of protein and carbohydrate can be effective in aiding muscle glycogen synthesis when sub-optimal carbohydrate choices are available. If this is the case, a combined protein intake of 0.4g/kg of body mass and carbohydrate intake of 0.8g/kg of body mass can help with recovering glycogen stores. When implementing your strategy try not to go throwing down as much food as you can, especially when recovery time between matches is limited, as this could risk gastro-intestinal discomfort.

Type

Opting for HGI carbohydrate sources over LGI can facilitate greater glycogen replenishment in the short-term. Additionally, fibre via LGI sources may potentially slow/influence digestion, whilst potentially increasing the risk of gastro-intestinal comfort, particularly when a quick playing turn around is required. Example carbohydrate snack sources throughout the day could include: granola bar, flapjacks, no bake brownies (dried fruit/honey), energy balls, jelly beans (or other sweets), fresh fruit, malt loaf (e.g. Soreen), wraps, pitta, sandwiches, Jaffa Cakes, banana bread, sports drink or energy gel. The form of carbohydrate (solid vs fluid) does not seem to influence the rate of muscle glycogen recovery. For those with reduced appetite and may typically struggle to take on board food during recovery, consider opting for easy to chew or fluid carbohydrate sources.

Timing

Due to the short turn arounds between fixtures and the glycogen demanding high-intensity intermittent bout nature of rugby sevens it is advisable following a game to consume carbohydrate as soon as practical. In the immediate recovery  period when subsequent performance is required within the next 8 hours a great emphasis has been placed on the initial first four hours of recovery, with the ingestion of 1.0 – 1.2g/kg of body mass of carbohydrate per hour suggested, especially when consumed in frequent small feedings. It is therefore of great importance to select options/timings that will minimise the risk to gastro-intestinal, as we do not want performance on the pitch to suffer.

With regards to post-competition recovery at the end of the day, milk and flavoured milk have both been found within the scientific research to be great choices for recovery as they fit the criteria of the 3’Rs of recovery:

Repair (protein)
Replenish (carbohydrate)
Rehydrate (hydration)

It is only not recovery that milk can play a role, but also within health. If you are individual who fears that dairy is bad for your health, I have previously covered this common nutrition myth in a previous article.

Some athletes may have access to facilities to make smoothies. Smoothies can be a great recovery tool as they can achieve the 3 R’s of recovery. Furthermore, there is the ability to enhance nutrient density of intake through the inclusion of fresh fruit, whilst frozen fruit and addition of ice can aid thermoregulation following competition in the heat. Below is an example infographic that works through the steps of tailoring a smoothie to an individuals demands and taste preferences:

(2) Repair

Protein plays an important role in the growth and repair of muscle, which makes it integral for adaptive remodelling of muscle. However, evidence is mixed as to whether after exercise induced muscle damage it can accelerate recovery. However, as there is no harm, and is of course beneficial to overall dietary intake, ensuring sufficient protein intake throughout the day and after competition is a good nutritional strategy. It is important to remember though not to over consume protein during the competition day at the expense of carbohydrate (high-intensity intermittent performance fuel source), as protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients. 

Professional rugby union players typically consume protein intakes greater than 2.0g/kg of body mass both ‘in-season’ and ‘pre-season’. Based upon the suggested protein guidelines a potentially suitable daily protein intake target at maintenance would be around 2.0 – 2.2g/kg of body mass. Regarding meal dosage, consumption of around 0.4g/kg body mass at each day time feed distributed every 3 to 5 hours is a sound strategy based upon the research. Ingestion of a greater protein feeding (potentially derived from casein protein – slow release protein) prior to sleep has been suggested due to the prolonged fasting period when sleeping to aid overnight muscle reconditioning).

Example protein intake for a 90kg player:

Daily protein intake:  2.0g – 2.2g/kg of body mass = 180 – 198g

Daytime Protein Meal Dose: 0.4g/kg of body mass = 35g

Pre-Bed Protein Dose: 0.5 – 0.6 g/kg of body mass = 45 – 54g

 

Example menu overview for a 90kg player:

Breakfast: Eggs / dairy sources

Lunch: Lean source of protein (e.g. chicken, turkey)

Post Comp: Milk / flavoured milk / protein and carbohydrate recovery supplement

Dinner: High quality source of protein (e.g. chicken, turkey, fish, red meat)

PM: Slow release protein (e.g. greek yogurt, cottage cheese, casein supplement)

(3) Rehydrate

Players will incur sweat losses during activity (e.g. warm up, competition). As discussed in section two (‘hydration’) an individuals sweat rate will be individual. Post-exercise hydration strategies put forward suggest the consumption of 125-150% of body mass (kg) loss during activity. The below infographic highlights such a protocol:

For example, if an individual were to lose 1kg during a match, this would require an approximate fluid intake of 1.25 to 1.5 litres (1kg x 1.25 or 1.5 = 1.25L to 1.5L). The below infographic provides examples of fluid intake based upon 125-150% of body mass lost during activity. It is advisable during rehydration for fluid to be consumed over a period of time, as opposed to being drank rapidly and potentially leading to increased urination losses. Additionally, to effectively rehydrate it is important to not only replenish fluid loss, but also electrolyte loss. Sodium being the primary electrolyte lost, with also lesser amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Examples of electrolyte sources may include: electrolyte tablets added to water (Informed Sport), sports drinks (Informed Sport), milk (natural electrolyte content), salty snacks (e.g. salted pretzels) and seasoning food.

I must also point out that there are certain limitations for the above rehydration protocol (pre and post-match weighing).

  1. There is the assumption that the athlete is in a hydrated state prior to competition.
  2. Assumption that body mass loss is all fluid loss.
  3. Weighing scales may be inaccessible at a tournament or not a practical strategy due to quick turn arounds between games.

Scales are not always necessary. By implementing good hydration behaviours during the competition day individuals can keep on top of hydration e.g. fluid with breakfast, sipping on fluid en route to competition, pale straw colour urine colour prior to the beginning of the first match, ensuring access to chilled fluid sources during the day, taking opportunities for fluid intake during warm-up/half-time, rehydrating post-match, integrating some electrolyte intake during the day and considering increased fluid consumption if hot conditions.

If there is a short turn around between matches there is an opportunity to combine both rehydration and energy replenishment via carbohydrate containing sports drinks. This is certainly an option for players whose appetite is suppressed and therefore cannot top up energy stores from foods sources. If opting for a sports drink consider the use of an isotonic sports drink to minimise the risk of gastro-intestinal discomfort.

(4) Recovery Aid

High-intensity intermittent activity, as seen within rugby sevens, results in exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD), which can cause muscle soreness and a loss in muscle function. This can lead to impaired performance if competing in a tournament over 2 days, whilst potentially impacting for others upon return to training if not managed appropriately. Athletes have therefore turned there attention to recovery modalities with nutrition playing an important role.

The first consideration is optimising dietary intake. Players should ensuring sufficient total energy intake. The expenditure of rugby sevens players throughout a days competition can add up with warm-up, matches and recovery. We have already discussed the influence of exercise-induced muscle damage, but with collision sport athletes it is also important to consider the increased energy expenditure of collision-induced muscle damage, which should be factored in to the recovery nutrition and energy intake.

As we have already covered the role of protein and carbohydrate within this recovery section, we shall now turn our attention to alternative nutrition sources. The intake of adequate intake of fruit and vegetables will provide a source of dietary polyphenols which play a beneficial role in recovery due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as proving nutrients important for health. For example, the consumption of dark fruits (e.g. blueberries, blackberries) for muscle recovery is often promoted.

Although a food first approach is always the preferred choice, such an approach may not be feasible if access to such foods is limited (e.g. travel), or if elevated intakes of a particular nutrient are desired. This is when supplementation may be considered. An approach often used in the management of exercise-induced muscle damage is the consumption of tart Montmorency cherries, with a common supplement choice being concentrated tart cherry juice (for more on cherry juice please refer back to section 1 – ‘Supplement Considerations’). Other considerations may be other dark coloured fruit sources including pomegranate and blackcurrant. Further considerations put forward to enhance muscle recovery are ensuring adequate consumption of omega-3 (food-first approach where possible), optimising vitamin D status and turmeric (curcumin) consumption. Although a decrease in muscle soreness and improved muscle function recovery may be cited within some research, it is worth noting that the design of studies may vary which can explain the mixed results of the discussed interventions upon muscle recovery and caution is therefore required with regards to the effectiveness of potential interventions. Continued research is required within this field.

That brings the article to an end!

We have explored certain nutrition areas of consideration for the rugby sevens athlete, whilst highlighting the role nutrition can play in competition preparation, performance and recovery (summary above). If looking to optimise performance on competition day, do not under-estimate the role nutrition can play.

What role can nutrition play in pre-season for rugby union players?

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