Optimal Recovery for Rugby – Part 2: Micronutrients

Part 2: The smallest details can improve your health, wellbeing and performance output.

Get the most out of your training with good recovery.

Dean Robertson MSc BSc (Hons)


In my last article we covered the key macronutrients of protein, fats and carbohydrates and their role in the recovery process. Now, it’s time to learn a bit more about micronutrients. Micronutrients are a very intricate area of nutrition that are often overlooked yet are vitally important to an individual’s health, wellbeing and performance output. I will also be explaining about sleep and supplements and how these can boost your recovery.

For players at all levels of rugby these factors are key when playing such a demanding sport. To get the best performance out of yourself in each game and training session you need to ensure that you are considering your food preparation, sleep and daily schedule as part of your training routine.

Vitamins and Minerals

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Vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals.

All foods contain different vitamins and minerals, however the ones that yield the most benefit in this area are fruit and even more so, vegetables. If you don’t have a wide range of vegetables in your diet, this would be the time to start. I would even suggest having vegetables at breakfast. An easy example would be eggs with a side of spinach and/or asparagus. This is, understandably, a bit of a change from a simple bowl of cereal in the morning, but optimal health and performance cannot be found in the bottom of a box of Fruit Loops. 

Do not be surprised if you find yourself having beef stew for breakfast.

Once you begin this journey, do not be surprised if you find yourself having steak and eggs or beef stew for breakfast. Similar to proteins, vitamins and minerals will come from a range of vegetables and fruits so ensure you have a variety of sources throughout the day. As a general rule, I would aim for a minimum of 2 types of vegetables at most meals.


Fluids and Hydration

Forever an underutilised element of recovery, and health in general, is water. It seems that despite there being a heavy focus on water intake with general health, people never accept that they should focus on their hydration. Research has even indicated that a dehydration of even 2% of body weight can promote a decrease in performance as high as 20%. There is no question that proper hydration is one of the most important and helpful things you can do for your body.

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The amount of water is subject to variation due to many factors including body weight, heat, sweat rate, exercise duration etc. The more someone sweats the more water they will lose, therefore the more fluids they will need to take in to ensure adequate hydration. It does not just mean staying hydrated while you exercise, proper hydration should constantly be a priority, therefore I would suggest drinking anywhere from 2-4L of water per day. You should not force yourself to drink and if you are urinating too frequently you are more than likely drinking too often.

Many of the benefits of sports drinks can be attained simply by adding a pinch of salt to your tap water.

Another factor in hydration is electrolyte content. If water does not contain adequate electrolytes the body will fail to retain the fluid. Simply adding a very small pinch of sea salt or similar will restore electrolytes to your water. Sports drinks companies do a fantastic job of creating a lot of hype surrounding the drinks industry and their importance on hydration, but many of the benefits of these sports drinks can be attained simply by adding a pinch of salt and perhaps a little glucose (through sugar or carb powder) to your tap or mineral water. 

Post workout recovery is essential. If you ensure adequate pre and intra workout hydration, you may somewhat decrease the amount of liquid needed following exercise as your body has had a steady supply of water throughout the exercise.  To summarize, if you ensure you drink adequate fluids throughout the day, you’ll always be one step ahead.


Sleep

Now that we have covered the nutritional means of recovery, we come to the next factor: sleep. This is where recovery truly happens. Remember, when we train or play a game we actually promote breakdown of the body. It is then necessary to build it up again. The discussion above has given us the information necessary to provide the right tools to promote recovery but ultimately it is when the body is in sleep mode that it will actually perform the task of repairing the damage. If we have done the necessary steps in order to facilitate recovery we then need to ensure we get enough sleep. 

 Good sleep is not the duration but the quality.

So, what is enough sleep? The answer to that question (like many) is dependent on the individual. Everyone being different will ultimately leave them to decide when they feel they have had enough sleep. Despite this, I would suggest anywhere from 7-9 hours per night.

What strategies can we then use to ensure we have a “good” sleep? I quantify a good sleep as not the duration but the quality. Many people focus on how many hours of sleep they get. I would suggest that you should focus on the quality of sleep. Someone who sleeps a solid 6 hours of deep uninterrupted sleep will feel that they have had a good sleep whereas someone who has perhaps 9-10 hours of broken sleep (getting out of bed, tossing and turning) will not feel refreshed.

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Bright screens before going to bed have an adverse effect on our sleeping patterns.

Below are some strategies to ensure a good sleep.

1)    Adequate Nutrition – as discussed above, ensure you fuel your body correctly.

2)    No TV/Phone/Electronic Devices 30-60 mins before bed to allow the body to enter a relaxed state. The unique type of light from our phones and other devices can actually disrupt brain patterns for a further 1-2 hours once we are in bed making it harder for us to get to sleep. Try reading a book for 10-15 minutes or so to allow your brain to switch to a mode of relaxation.

3)    A Dark Room – ensure your room is dark. Any light entering the room can prevent you from drifting off.

4)    Temperature – sleeping when it’s too hot can make you uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep. Try opening a window to cool the room. Research shows that sleeping in a cooler room can actually improve your sleep.

5)    Meditation – a method not often practised though even 5 minutes of meditation can significantly improve your sleep, not to mention your stress levels in general.

These are just a few simple guidelines to improve your sleep but I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the impact they may have on your performance.


Supplements

Now that we have covered the most essential elements of recovery I wanted to take you to the final edge of recovery. 100% of the time I will consistently advise that people focus on the aforementioned points before even considering sports supplementation. That being said, if you have covered all bases with nutrition and sleep, and you are still not feeling like you are performing to your full potential, then there may be the option to introduce sports supplements into your recovery arsenal. 

It is always essential to adjust things to your individual requirements.

Below is a small list of supplements that have a significant scientific backing. Once more, the general guidelines provided should be altered to your individual requirements. 

Protein Powder

Quite simply a derivative from milk, powdered whey protein and similar alternatives offer a very simple method of consuming a relatively large bolus of proteins in a small serving. A cheaper source of good quality protein compared to sources such as certain meats and fish, I would always consider the implementation of whey protein in peoples nutrition. The use of whey protein as a recovery agent post workout has had much attention and the consensus is that it does actually aid recovery better than food alone. In addition to this, I would use a protein powder in conjunction with a carbohydrate source.

Protein shakes. You'll grow to love them.
Protein shakes. You’ll grow to love them.

This may come in the form of:

Carbohydrate Powders

Carbohydrate powders can be utilised alongside protein powders to enhance recovery times from training. The use of a cost effective powder such as dextrose with whey protein has been shown to significantly improve recovery from physical exercise.

BCAA

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) have been shown to improve sports performance though I would say that this is simply due to the high leucine (an amino acid) content of BCAA that can easily be attained by consuming adequate amounts of leucine rich whey protein.

Creatine

The controversial supplement which is causing a stir in the media right now. However an understanding of basic anatomy and physiology would be able to dispel a lot of the confusion surrounding creatine. As a basic fuel source for the human body, creatine is in constant supply and use. Supplementing with creatine has long been studied and has actually lead to creatine being the most studied sports supplement with overwhelming support as beneficial supplement in sports performance.

Research into the use of creatine in the medical industry is gaining a huge amount of attention. In a nutshell, creatine is beneficial for sports performance. If there was a usage recommendation supported by research, it would simply be 5g per day of Creatine Monohydrate per day.

Vitamins and Minerals

As stated previously in the discussion of vegetables and fruits, vitamins and minerals are essential in everyday health as well as in regards to body and muscle recovery. Unfortunately, the quality of our foods is diminishing by the year and even the use of organic based foods cannot guarantee the adequate intake of said vitamins and minerals. This is where the use of a high quality Multivitamin or more specific vitamins on their own such as Vitamin D, Zinc, and Magnesium may lead to a greater or faster recovery.


It is important to remember that you are unique. No matter what guidelines you read, no matter what information you are given, it is always essential to adjust things to your individual requirements. Use the information provided in this article as a starting point in which you can begin your journey towards optimal performance and recovery. You will need to go through some trial and error to find your optimal strategies which are always subject to change as your journey continues through varying fitness levels.

The most essential piece of information in this article, bar none, would be that no matter how hard you train you must ensure that you recover. The use of the given information will significantly improve your ability to recover from your exercise and lead to you being the best player that you can be.

Optimal recovery = optimal performance.

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