Rugby is a high-intensity collision sport, so good strength, muscle size, power and speed are important. Since the game has gone professional statistics have shown that players are getting heavier and more muscular. An important point to make however is that the obsession with getting bigger must not come at a cost to your other conditioning components.
Players can negatively affect their power and speed if an unbalanced approach to gaining muscle mass is taken. Make sure that your body weight goals are appropriate for your position, current weight and body type and your level of playing.
Advice to increase lean body mass
Increase your daily calorie intake by an extra 500 to 1000 kcal, ensuring that your caloric intake exceeds your calorie expenditure.
Ensure you have sufficient protein intake on a daily basis, up tp 2.2 grams per kg body weight.
Prioritise low fat, carbohydrate based foods that also provide extra protein, vitamins and minerals.
Make sure you eat a protein/carbohydrate meal within 45min after each strength/power session. If you can not due to the intensity of the training and subsequent loss of appetite, make use of a suitable carbohydrate/protein supplement drink.
Use the off-season as the time for increasing your muscle mass, concentrate on hypertrophy strength training to stimulate new muscle growth – see the conditioning section for guidelines and training programmes.
Fats along with carbohydrates, provide the body with its main source of energy. Fats have the highest energy value per gram ingested at 9kcal of energy versus 4 kcal of energy per gram for carbohydrates.
Even though fats have a higher energy value per gram than carbohydrates they do not supply energy as quickly because an oxidation process is needed, whereas with glycogen breakdown can occur without the need of oxygen.
Fats are easily stored in the body and their intake needs to be monitored, however they must not be seen as the enemy as they are vital for healthy body functioning and for the absorption of certain vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K all need fat to be absorbed an assimilated by the body.
It is important that you can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fats. The two types of fat sources are:
Unsaturated fat (healthy)
Saturated fat (unhealthy)
Saturated fat is unhealthy and comes from animal sources such as cheese, milk, butter, meat, poultry skin, hamburgers, sausage, as well as two vegetable sources, coconut and palm oils often used in Asian cooking. These fats are implicated in heart disease and increased cholesterol levels. Avoid saturated fats as much as possible. They appear in a solid form at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats, as mentioned earlier are vital for your health and optimal performance. The following are some sources of healthy unsaturated fats that you should be prioritising:
· Vegetable oils – Olive, sunflower or canola
· Low fat milk and cheese
· Peanut butter
· Fatty fishes (omega 3)
The fat content in your diet should range from 20 to 25% of your daily caloric intake, obviously with the emphasis on unsaturated fats. All players should avoid eating fatty foods immediately after training as it slow the absorption of carbohydrates and proteins.
Guidelines for fat intake
Eat fish two to three times per week If possible to increase your intake of essential fish oils.
Try to use olive oil for your cooking and in salad dressings.
Avoid eating fatty foods before and after exercise.
Avoid saturated fats as much as possible!
Fat intake must be monitored by players not wishing to gain weight. While training and playing they will still need about 4000kcal per day and it can be difficult to eat enough complex carbohydrates to provide that energy, so increased fat intake often occurs. This negatively affects the “bigger” player in increased body fat. In this scenario make sure that your energy from fat is coming from the unsaturated fat sources only.
Reducing your body fat %
It is important to understand the difference between gaining and losing lean weight versus body fat. Excess body fat has very little, if any use for the rugby player. The higher the level of rugby, the lower the body fat percentages of the players becomes. Professional players generally fall into the 8-12 percentage body fat range.
Players should be looking to lose excess body fat not lean weight (muscle). This is done by controlling their food intake versus energy expenditure to create a negative energy balance.
Guidelines for losing body fat
Avoid empty calorie sources such as alcohol, soft drinks, jam, honey, sugar, sweets, etc
Reduce portion sizes and eat smaller meals more frequently to boost your metabolism and keep blood sugar stable to avoid insulin spikes.
Reduce your fat intake to 15-20% of your total caloric intake.
Do not miss meals or cut calories back drastically as this will result in a loss of muscle mass and decreased energy negatively affecting performance as well as a slowed metabolism.
Healthy fat loss would be about 0.5 to 1kg of fat loss per week.
Increase calorie expenditure. The most effective method for boosting your metabolism and to burn extra calories is to include a few extra sessions of high intensity interval training of short duration of 20-30 minutes per session.