Tom Coughlin, Performance Nutritionist for Scottish Rugby April 27, 2020

Tom Coughlin, Performance Nutritionist for Scottish Rugby, explains how he is helping to support players' health through nutrition while they're at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Understandably, there is great interest in the benefits of nutrition for supporting health at this time. The players at Scottish Rugby are no different, and it is my job to ensure they are getting the support and information that they need. In this piece I will share some insight into the approach we are taking to aid the players in what is a challenging and different time for all.

Initially, it is critical to dispel some myths around nutrition. Primarily, the thought that specific diets or supplements can "boost" immune function. This is mainly incorrect terminology as you cannot "boost" the ability or effectiveness of your immune system as such. However, there are numerous situations where pressure will be put on our immune system and it may be suppressed (e.g. after intense exercise or if we have nutrient deficiencies). This suppression of the immune system could increase our likelihood of getting ill. Balanced nutrition is one method of supporting our immune systems during these situations.

Watch: Tom Coughlin's top tips for staying healthy at home

Restricted Outdoor Time

One of the primary challenges our players will face is that they will be following national guidelines to restrict time spent outside the home. Our core source of vitamin D is sunlight, and vitamin D itself plays a number of significant roles in our bodies, including supporting immune function and bone health. Reduced time outside means less exposure to the necessary sunlight.

As a result, we are advising our players to make sure they are getting some time outside each day, whether that is part of their "at-home" training plans or spending some time in their gardens. In conjunction with this, we are providing our players with Healthspan's Elite Vitamin D3 4000IU product. This will help ensure our players are keeping sufficient vitamin D status during this period.

Access to Food

There has been a significant change in our routine of going to the shop or being able to pop down to the supermarket to pick up something if we need it. Consequently, we must plan ahead. We have encouraged our players to plan what their nutrition looks like for the week, including shopping lists, meals and snacks. Whether that is sitting down and planning with their flatmate or partner, having a plan in place will help them build their new routines for this time period and make sure they are getting everything they need. It has to be reasonably flexible, though, as there may be situations where some ingredients or foods will not be available.

Thankfully, one of the great benefits of being up in Scotland is that we have access to fantastic local produce on our doorstep. Due to the current situation with COVID-19, a lot of local butchers, fishmongers, grocers, dairies and farm shops are doing home delivery services. We have shared these businesses across the Union to help our players get the quality food they need. It is a great opportunity to support local business in Scotland while helping our players out.

As a background strategy to support our players' dietary intake, we are also providing the players with Healthspan's Elite Gold A-Z Multivitamin. This is a great product to have to hand if there are periods where our players' diets are compromised, and they may not be able to get the usual variety of food into their diets.

Changes to Training

Our Performance Staff have been working together to ensure all players have appropriate plans in place and that they have the support they require during this unpredictable time. The training programmes will be different to what the players are used to at this point in the season. Therefore, we have put some nutritional strategies in place to support players during this period, where physical status will be challenged.

The retention of muscle mass is a big focus for our rugby players, due to the demands of the modern game. Accordingly, protein intake is critical. In addition to stocking up on high-quality produce from local butchers, we have made recommendations on protein-based snacks such as Greek yoghurt, high-protein yoghurts and biltong. Ideally our players are having three quality main meals alongside two or three protein-based snacks and lots of fruit per day. Combining this nutritional plan with additional physical strategies, we feel this will help them try to retain muscle mass during this period.

We are also promoting the benefits of oily fish intake, as it is not only a great source of protein but is also high in omega-3. A regular intake of omega-3 has numerous benefits to the body, including supporting immune function and maintaining muscle mass. Therefore, we are encouraging intakes of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and anchovies, as well as plant-based sources of omega-3 like chia seeds and flax seed. In addition to these food-based sources, Healthspan's Elite High Strength Omega 3 capsules are a convenient and reliable source of high-quality omega-3 for our players.

Finally, across our Scottish Rugby squads, in conjunction with specific nutrition guidance, we have been working with Healthspan to provide "support packs" to our players to ensure they have exactly what they need to maintain excellent nutrition during this challenging period.

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.

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