Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nutrition - Performance Nutrition for Rugby, by Alexander Ferentinos

I constantly get asked in person and through social media, what do I eat, how do I prepare for a match and what supplements do I take. This is a very open set of questions and constantly changes, it's not an easy thing to answer of the bat. 

I am going to put together some daily plans on some of things that i eat and personally recommend. That will include supplements and pre and post match meals.

Luckily for you Alex Ferentinos an internationally capped rugby union & 7s player, nutritionist, trainer, model and former champion swimmer,  Has put together a very interesting and comprehensive blog that will get any beginner off to a good start with their nutrition. It goes into details on the core foundations of Nutrition and makes some very interesting suggestions.

Alex runs his own online nutrition and fitness consultancy, through which he streamlines client's dietary habits and training methodology, providing them with a complete blueprint to achieving their goals. Alex makes everything very clear and concise and has worked with a number of top clients.

Please read and if you like it then you follow Alex on the following.


James Haskell


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I'm often asked via twitter, facebook, YouTube and email about the way I eat; what I recommend that my clients eat; what are good carb sources; what is the best meal; how do I fuel up for games et cetera et cetera. These questions, though seemingly simple, all require pretty in depth answers and are relative to the individual but this article will steer you in the right direction. In addition to my own study, further reading and application of this on myself and clientele, I have also attended numerous talks on the matter, one in particular was a seminar given by Graeme Close and Don MacLaren who are the Doctors responsible for the dietary blueprints of Munster, Sale Sharks, and Northampton Saints, amongst others, so some of these tips are up to the minute strategies used with Premiership and Heineken Cup winning International Rugby Players do, such as David Wallace, Paul O'Conell, Andrew Sheridan, Soane Tonga'uiha, and Courtney Lawes so please, read on. I have included their strategies and figures stemmed from scientific research and will discuss how to implement them along with my thoughts on eating to optimise your performance and recovery.


As you’ll all no doubt be aware, high protein diets are essential for the modern rugby player, sufficient protein consumption provides the proverbial bricks to build muscle and can also prevent the body from losing too much muscle tissue, an ongoing daily process requiring regular daily intake. Protein comes from the ancient Greek word prota, meaning primary, due to importance because it is essential for life. Ensure to take in at least 2g per kg of your bodyweight every single day and more on training and match days pushing it up to the 3g per kg. So if you weigh 100kg, that’s 200g distributed between your feeds and up to 300g on training and match days, which sounds like a big jump but it can be achieved quite simply with some shakes and another meal. The type of protein at certain times of day is also important as they all have different nutrient profiles and different digestion rates. Also, consider adding in Glutamine to your daily shakes, the amino acid that makes up most of our muscle tissue, it becomes conditionally essential in hard training athletes, it can offset the acidity of the protein powder and also helps the GI system by maintaining the digestive tract. 

I think on this note it’s worth considering that at least sixty percent of your immune system’s receptor cells are found in the colon and another fifteen percent are in the small intestine meaning seventy-five percent of your immune system is at the mercy of what is happening in your digestive tract so be sure to include some sauerkraut as a side dish to your meals and if you aren’t intolerant to dairy, some whole Greek yoghurt (no flavourings or added sugar) each day, I recommend Whole or 2% FAGE Total, should do the trick giving you enough of the good bacteria you may have heard about to keep your gut healthy. This brand may be more expensive, but it has half the sugars and twice the protein if you read the labels making it a worthy spend. Also consider that the fat in dairy helps preserve muscle and make the body use your fat stores for fuel as it contains CLA, which positively affects body composition. Keeping the gut healthy also ensures your body will absorb the high amount of protein that is needed as a rugby player; another part of this is fibre intake so also have fibrous green beans and broccoli as side dishes, which also aid muscle building and health. 

Obviously dairy contains calcium, which helps the body tremendously, a benefit of it is staying lean, and it can also be found in green leafy veg like kale and Spinach, two more foods to add as side dishes to meals that also have a plethora of other benefits, try them dressed in lemon juice. Good dietary sources of protein include red meat like grass fed beef steaks and mince, free range fowl, and sustainable fish low in mercury, as well as a few whole poached eggs per day. Centre your main meals around these and you may bring in shakes bracketing training and games.


Carbohydrates are essential to fuel our performance. It is also even more important that we refuel properly after training and games as loading the glycogen reserves (which are carbohydrate stores in the muscles) can take up to three days, and with all training sessions and matches overlapping each other in a three day window in even a regular amateur club schedule (typically training on Tuesday and Thursday with a game on Saturday) you’ll see why this is important, and of even more importance if you consider training on low glycogen reserves through inadequate loading and insufficient refuelling hinders performance quite substantially, stalling recovery and the development of your sporting skill.

It also makes the subsequent refuelling much harder as already low reserves get depleted even further. In the human body's case the lower total fuel reserves the less performance output too and also an increased susceptibility to illness arises as the immune system becomes run down. This can be made simple by a recovery drink of dextrose and whey after training and games followed by meals, even chocolate milk would do the trick believe it or not.

Rugby uses all the body’s energy systems, so we’ve covered carbs needed for the majority of activity, but for explosive power needed to sprint, clear rucks, jump or lift in a lineout etc there’s also something else of benefit…creatine; it’s the World’s most researched supplement, and can help us to do more repeated bouts of sprints on field or lifts in the gym and that type of activity, so it’s well worth adding 3g to your recovery drinks, you don’t need to load it and cycle on and off it, just keep a steady but small amount coming in…now back to dietary carbohydrate sources…we have to be careful about the types of carbohydrates we consume and at which times as at certain times, certain types will negatively affect performance or body composition.

In general, it is best to select carbohydrate sources that have a lower rating on the Glycaemic Index to prevent blood sugar crashes, except for post training when simple sugars will rapidly refill carb stores, simultaneously elevating insulin levels which you don’t want during the day, but after training and games this helps the protein kick start anabolism (the process where the body repairs) and aids creatine uptake. It is also essential to be sufficiently carb loaded in the days before, it’s not necessarily what you eat on the day fuelling you, but what you ate in the days before that’s become stored, though refueling on the day is imperative. Construct your meals around protein sources and vegetables then add in grains such as varieties of rice such as brown, wild and red though basmati and jasmine can be good after training: cut out white bread and even limit wholegrain bread as much as you can, as even if you aren’t gluten intolerant it can cause a condition called leaky gut that puts holes in your digestive tract, to which the aforementioned glutamine can help fix, but also consider sourdough as an alternative if you must, and also look into non-wheat carb sources like oats, quinoa and buckwheat.

Sufficient glycogen replenishment is achieved by taking in just over a gram per kilo of carbohydrates on the hour, every hour for three hours post-training/match in a 3:1 ratio with protein going from high to low GI. Take in almost double that in total inclusively over the next 18 hours. So, to use the 100kg player example again, in the three hours following, 300g of carbs should be consumed. Some of this may be from a recovery drink, and the rest will be pretty easy to get in from rice etc, plus personally, I’m always ravenous after training so it’s good to know how much you can eat without the worry of getting fat safe in the knowledge it’s performance boosting! Reading the labels on your food packages and a set of kitchen scales will help here.


Contrary to popular misinformation spread by companies making food products, eating dietary fat does not make you store bodyfat, directly, nor is it bad for you in most cases. If they can cash in on your misconceptions for profit, they will. There are many different types of fat too, so saying fat is bad is misguided. Saturated fats actually have a lot of benefits, which I will go into, so please eat your beef, and your egg yolks…they raise the level of HDL, the good cholesterol and you’ll probably be amazed to learn that your brain and cells are mainly made of fat and cholesterol. Though many people are now familiar with the importance of essential fatty acids found in fish, omega 3’s, namely EPA and DHA, which benefit brain and nerve function, the majority of the fatty acids in the brain are actually saturated, so a diet that skimps on healthy saturated fats robs your brain of the raw materials it needs to function optimally. Certain saturated fats, particularly those found in butter, lard, beef dripping and coconut oil function as messengers that positively influence the metabolism and can also prevent depression. 

Saturated fats found in butter and coconut oil, namely myristic acid and lauric acid, play key roles in immune health. Loss of sufficient saturated fatty acids in the white blood cells hampers their ability to recognize and destroy foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Saturated fats also aid strong bones, important as a rugby player, and also increased testosterone production and improved liver health. Another factor in being a healthy rugby player is the cardiovascular system, unless you’re allergic to nuts of course, try to get in a variety of raw nuts like walnuts, almonds, pistachios and macadamias which will help this, and consider that for proper function, the airspaces of the lungs have to be coated with a thin layer of lung surfactant which is one hundred percent saturated fatty acids.

So, now you will see the importance of good quality fats, misinformed fear of saturated fat leads many people to replace all their dietary fats with vegetable oils, margarines and such like products which are actually more unhealthy as they are pro inflammatory omega 6 fats or trans-fats which the body doesn’t recognize as they’ve been chemically altered. Chicken skin contains an omega 7 fat that helps health and immunity; olive oil contains a powerfully anti-inflammatory omega 9 fat. Our modern diets try to exclude saturated fats and cholesterol and unknowingly take in huge excesses of omega 6. We evolved with a ratio of 4:1 or less of omega 6 to 3, yet what we eat today is nowhere near this and as a result, inflammation and diseases are more widespread than they should be. Stop buying and consuming margarine and vegetable oil, eat real, natural fats mentioned above for the reasons outlaid, increase your consumption of fish and fish oils, and have a few mixed raw nuts as well as beef and whole poached eggs to rebalance.

I’m not saying go crazy on fats with carte blanche but if you take in about half a gram per pound of bodyweight per day from these sources, your health will greatly benefit.


Water makes up about 70% of our body and is required for every single one of its processes, so to say it's important is an understatement.
But just how much water is enough water? How much is too much?
Okay, weigh yourself in pounds (lbs)

If your scales are set to kilograms (kg), you'll need to multiply the number you get by 2.2 which will give you your weight in lbs, so 100kg is 220lbs. If they're set to weigh you in stones, remember that there are 14lbs in every stone, so add them up, then add leftover lbs to the multiple of 14.

Once you have your weight in lbs, divide that number by two...aim to drink that in ounces per day. In order to see how much that is in litres, use this converter:
That's your minimum. Now, how about on active days?

A litre for every 20kg that you weigh is a good target for performance. For recovery, weigh yourself before and after training, as you need to replace the fluids lost. To do this you will need to drink 150% of the weight you lost in kg in litres, so if you lost 1kg, you'll need to take on 1.5litres to rehydrate for example. Hydration also isn't just about how much water you take it, it's also about your electrolyte levels, electrolytes aren't just sodium, but also potassium, magnesium and calcium, so for the most convenient way of ensuring you get these in, buy yourself some of the high quality, great value drops from Elete Electrolytes to add to your drinking water.

During your day, try to cut out cola and other fizzy drinks, even the diet and zero varieties, as they are also damaging to the body and brain; if you must treat yourself to this flavour; make sure it’s the diet or zero variety but really try to wean yourself off though you may be able to get away with the sugar loaded varieties post training if you must. Also, cut out the milk and sugar from tea and coffee for stable energy levels, it’s not good to be caffeine reliant anyway, ensure that you sleep well instead. Unsweetened herbal teas can count towards fluid intake such as ginger, peppermint, chamomile and valerian varieties, the former two varieties aiding digestion with the latter aiding calmness, ideal in the evening to wind down.


You don’t need every overly hyped, overpriced product out there, but some are hugely beneficial. You can buy whey in bulk and add to pre and post training/game drinks to make up some or all of the extra protein needed on these days with the additional carbohydrate going in the post workout shake, which can be done with dextrose powder, then add an aforementioned 3g of creapure creatine monohydrate. Our body has vitamin D receptors, but they need more vitamin D than the body can generate from sunlight alone, and on this basis even Australian athletes that train outdoors have been shown to be low on D, because we didn’t evolve clothed; it’s the skin’s exposure to Sunlight that produces it. Liquid Vitamin D3 is the best form, and you’ll need up to 5000 International Units of it daily, this may greatly exceed the RDA, but RDAs are set to prevent deficiencies, not provide the optimal, nutraceutical dosage. Another example of this is with fish oils, get some good quality but good value capsules and take enough to provide at least 3g of EPA and DHA daily in total with your vitamin D, you’ll need to read labels to determine this.

I’d also include a multivitamin to make sure you don’t have any deficiencies and 1-3000mg of vitamin C daily, which is great taken after training.

Taurine may also be worth considering as it improves your muscle’s ability to contract, as do the electrolyte drops mentioned in the hydration section

Caffeine pre game is useful too, the effective upper limit dosage is 6mg per kg, so the 100kg player would need up to three 200mg tablets. Try not to have too much caffeine in the week, as the body becomes used to it, and it may interfere with sleep, the central nervous system and the adrenal glands, but use it an hour or more pre game for best energy, focus and performance effects. If you want a Red Bull pre game, open the can the night before and leave it in the fridge so the carbonation goes and remember a regular can has about 90mg of caffeine, so about 2x 200mg caffeine tabs would complement that. I’d also recommend the sugar free cans unless you will be drinking an isotonic, not just water, during the game, to prevent a performance dropping blood sugar crash.


Eat at 3-4 hour intervals centering your meals around a quality protein source with a variety of vegetables like leafy greens in particular on the side, paying attention to healthy fats and the right carb sources whilst staying hydrated and sleeping well at night for improved performance and recovery, implementing supplementation when this is in place. This is a research proven, scientific study led approach, successfully utilized with professional athletes. It can’t hurt to take a professional approach even as an amateur, especially if it means that you improve your health and performance whilst enjoying great foods for yourself, and even with family, friends and team mates.


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