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Here is a brief rundown of the most common and effective nutritional supplements for rugby players.
The first role of any nutritional supplement should be to address dietary deficiencies and the humble daily multivitamin can be a very convenient and effective 'insurance policy' against the times when a player's diet is inadequate or disrupted.
There is a significant body of evidence indicating that UK athletic populations have insufficient Vitamin D levels and growing evidence to suggest that levels may be optimal for athletic performance. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 may be a necessary tool for maintaining suitable Vitamin D levels in rugby players from September-May due to limited sun exposure.
A whey protein shake can be an effective way to help meet daily protein requirements and minimise individual amino acid deficiencies. With rugby players often recommended protein intakes of ~2g/kg/d it can be difficult to achieve this target without a frequent eating plan and/or large protein intakes at a single sitting. A whey protein shake containing 20-30g protein provides a convenient way of helping the player meet their target, especially in between training sessions. In addition, whey protein contains numerous other bioactive peptides which may support immune function.
The first ergogenic supplement in our list, creatine is a perfect match for rugby given the high-intensity intermittent nature of the game and training. With raised muscle phosphocreatine stores the player can experience increased power output, increased high-intensity exercise capacity and increased lean mass in response to training. Furthermore, recent research suggests that creatine may have neuroprotective properties which has relevance in contact sports.
Products such as beta-alanine, sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate are supplements used to buffer the falling pH that is experienced during high intensity exercise. In high-intensity repeated effort sports where lactic acid production is fast and remains elevated, these supplements can help attenuate the drop in muscle and blood pH that is associated with reduced performance.
Extensively used socially and frequently used ergogenically, the stimulant caffeine will be a calculated strategy in numerous players pre-match routines. In rugby, caffeine has been shown to increase work output, maintain skill execution under fatigue and reduce perceived exertion. With numerous formats and dosages available, it's an easy strategy to trial and integrate into the pre-training or pre-match routine.
In addition to the above, there are numerous other products which may support or enhance a player's individual diet. For example, single vitamins or minerals (e.g. iron or calcium) to correct identified deficiencies or fatty acid preparations to adjust omega 3:6 ratio and impact inflammation. However, these strategies benefit from a highly individualised approach with detailed input from registered nutrition and medical practitioners.
Finally, with any use of nutritional supplements, the player must be fully aware of what they are taking and why and all players are strongly urged to minimise the risk of inadvertent doping by choosing products with the Informed-Sport kite mark.
Richard Chessor MSc became a performance nutritionist for British Swimming in 2016, following eight years as lead nutritionist for Scottish Rugby.
Find out more about Richard Chessor.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.