Optimal Game-Day Nutrition for Rugby

Proper nutrition is a requirement for optimal performance. We’ve established this a number of times on the rugbystore Blog, including articles covering topics like nutrition specifically for props, pre-season rugby and Rugby SevensThe aim of this article is to provide you with the know-how on Game-Day nutrition. Have you ever felt like you run out of steam 15 minutes into a game? Or maybe you feel like you’ve been hit by a car the day after? Chances are the reason lies in your nutrition.

Before we begin this article, we must state that optimal match-day nutrition does not start on match-day. It starts well in advance of that, in the 24-72 hours before the game. If you go into a game depleted of fluids and energy, it won’t matter what you try to do in the 1-2 hours before a game – there will simply not be enough time to recover the losses.

In short, prevention is better than the cure – you must take care of your nutrition in the days leading up to the game.

If you are serious about your rugby, then you should have your nutrition nailed down

If you are serious about your rugby, then you should have your nutrition nailed down, avoiding the need to worry about being depleted in the lead up to game-day. With that said, sometimes people just don’t know how to do it, which is why we’re here to look after you and allow you to perform at your best.

First, let us look at what happens to the body when we exercise:

Energy Expenditure / Fuel Usage: All exercise requires energy. High-intensity exercise like rugby and weight training will use considerable amounts of energy in the session – mainly Glucose (Carbohydrate).

Muscle Damage: The damage that results from such activities because of microtrauma to muscle fibres will require Protein to repair it. The more muscle you possess, the more protein you will require daily (2-3g per kg of bodyweight is sufficient).

It is clear that Carbohydrate and Protein are the main players in Sports Performance. It is not to say that Fats are not important (check out our Nutritional Guide on Fats for Rugby Players), it just means that Carbohydrate is more important for high-intensity activity and protein plays a more important role when repairing muscle tissue and damage. Fats are imperative for overall health, however we are focusing on performance here.

When and what should I eat before rugby training / a game?

For a morning game…

If you have an early morning game/training session, you should aim to eat as early as possible upon waking. This will allow the food enough time to digest before playing, as you don’t want to play a game of rugby with a full stomach (or it may not stay full for long, as it may end up on the pitch).

Below are a couple of examples of what to consume in meal 1 to ensure adequate nutrient intake for a game:


Of course, these are just examples and you may swap out foods that are of similar nutritional content subject to your taste.

If you are someone who does not like to eat in the morning (quite common), then you may want to limit your morning meal to something simple like a bowl of cereal like cornflakes and milk. If this is the case, then I recommend adopting a strategy that puts more carbs in your system before the game – this can be accomplished by using an isotonic sports drink 30-45 mins before the game.

And for afternoon games/training?

If your game is later in the day (perhaps 2pm), I would recommend eating meal 1 (as above) as early as possible in the day, then another meal approximately 2-3 hours before the game.


After-game nutritional recovery

So you fuelled up properly, you’ve made it through the game and (hopefully) beat the opposition. But all that work has caused damage that needs to be repaired. That’s where recovery starts – immediately after the game.

Your body has used a LOT of fuel, you’ve sweated out loads of fluids and salts, and now you need to ensure to put it all back in.

Despite the thousands of nutritional supplements out there (promising huge improvements in recovery rates), the science suggests something very cheap and convenient does just a good a job – Flavoured Milk. Yep, you read that correct, flavoured milk. There are all these costly supplements out there, and simple, good old-fashioned milk has been proven to be as effective.

The very cost-effective, flavoured milk (often with added sugar) will provide all the Protein / Carbs / Fats to kick-start the recovery process. Now that doesn’t mean the job’s done after chugging some chocolate milk. I would recommend drinking it relatively close to finishing the game with a solid meal consisting of Carbohydrate and Protein-rich foods, as soon as possible.

Keep the fluids up

Throughout the game, your body sweats a lot, which is why it is imperative to ensure adequate hydration throughout the game. Even though you may have already consumed anywhere between 500ml – 1500 ml during the course of a game, I would recommend plenty fluids for the rest of the day to ensure the body is re-hydrated properly. You can normally gauge this with the colour of your urine – if your urine is dark, then it indicates dehydration. A light straw coloured urine indicates adequate hydration. Keep track of it.

Sleep it off

Ahh, the much-needed sleep at the end of the day. This is when the magic happens – all that nutrition you have supplied your body with can now go to work and start the essential recovery process.  

Make sure you get a minimum 7-9 hours’ unbroken sleep to ensure optimal recovery.

Key takeaways

  • Adequate nutrition for performance occurs in the 24-72 hours leading up to a game
  • Focus on adequate carbohydrate intake for fuelling performance
  • Ensure adequate protein intake to promote recovery of damaged muscle tissue
  • Fluid intake should be managed BEFORE, DURING and AFTER a game
  • Start the recovery process as quick as possible
  • Ensure proper sleep for optimal recovery

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Dean Robertson MSc BSc (Hons) owns Elysium Personal Training operating within Edinburgh. With a strong passion for the Health and Fitness industry, he has helped hundreds of people achieve their goals ranging from elite level athletes looking to compete at the highest level to someone working to look their best. He can be contacted at elysiumpt@outlook.com or through the “Elysium Personal Training” Facebook Page.

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Optimal Game-Day Nutrition for Rugby
Straight forward nutritional advice for rugby players before training and on game day.
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