Nutrition For Rugby Players: The Ultimate Guide

Nutrition for rugby players is one of the foundations that we believe can impact the effectiveness of every other aspect of your training. In our opinion it comes a close second to sleep in terms of the influence that the fuel that you put in your body has on your performance, recovery and overall health. This article will cover the basics of some of the key topics that you need to consider when it comes to your nutrition and it also contains a lot of links to useful information to look into some of these areas in more depth, so make sure that you take a look and get as much information as you can to ensure that your diet is on point!

The Basics of Nutrition for Rugby Players

We strongly believe that although training can do a lot, it can’t do everything. The better your nutrition, the better your performance, recovery and results will be.

“You can’t out-train a bad diet!”

Why is it Important?

Nutrition for rugby players plays a vital role in all of the bodies systems and functions. Some of especially high importance for rugby players are:

  • Supports Muscle Growth
  • Enhances Recovery from training and Games
  • Supports the immune system to keep us healthy
  • Makes bones strong
  • Provides energy to train and play
  • Delays fatigue in games
  • Allows us to think better

These are just some key examples of why eating right is so important for young rugby players.

The normal growth and maturation process coupled with the training demands means that a good nutrition plan that provides the following key focus areas is a priority for physical development.

  • Correct Protein Intake
  • Correct Carbohydrate Intake
  • Correct Balance of Essential fatty acids
  • Good Intake of fruit and vegetables to ensure a wide range of antioxidants and minerals and fibre
  • Adequate intake of right type of fluids for hydration

Get it right every-day (…or close)

Many of today’s players have benefited from making major adjustments to their eating habits during their early years in professional academies…. Now is the time to improve your nutrition. Getting bigger, stronger, leaner doesn’t just happen, it’s the result of hard training and good nutrition. Remember, training may only be for 1 -hour a day, no matter how hard you train that will not make up for poor nutrition. Nutrition for rugby players and feeding your body with all the correct nutrients it needs is a full time job, 7 days a week.

Three major contributors to your diet are known as the Three T’s: Timing, Type and Total and you can find out more about them by following the link.

Like with most things related to performance, balance, discipline and consistency are key! There is little, or no value in having a perfect diet for a day or two and then falling completely off the wagon. We are advocates of following a simple 80/20 rule. If you follow a well structured diet for 80% of the time you will put yourself in a good place for your health and performance. When you do enjoy the 20% it should be a small treat. We see a lot of players maintain a good diet following the 80/20 rule but then binge and go to excess for the 20%, meaning they cause a lot of damage and limit their progress despite their efforts.

In this article, we have put together a comprehensive overview of some of the most important areas of nutrition. If you want to delve deeper into any of the topics then we have linked to useful articles and videos for you.

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Some Science of Nutrition 


Macronutrients are the building blocks of all nutrition. They are composed of Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein. All three of these macronutrients have important functions in the body and it is essential for rugby players to have all three in their diets, despite what you may read or see in the media.


Carbohydrates are the body’s principal source of energy. When the body carries out all of its functions throughout the day it needs fuel and the fuel that it uses is circulating blood sugar. It has very small amounts of energy reserves in other forms (you can find out more about energy systems here), sugars are the main fuel. How it gets these fuels in to the body can vary and this is where fats and proteins can be used – but they need to be converted into sugars to provide fuel. This process takes time and energy. The most effective way to fuel activities is through sugars.

Carbohydrates can be loosely classified as complex or simple carbohydrates and food types will sit along a spectrum of complexity. The complexity of carbohydrates dictates how quickly and how readily they can get into the bloodstream after ingestion.

Simple carbohydrates are things like honey, energy gels and table sugar and can be found in sweet tasting treats. Simple carbohydrates are often frowned upon but they can be extremely useful to rapidly provide energy when used appropriately.

Complex carbohydrates are things like whole grain rice, oats, wheats and grains. These carbohydrates take longer to digest and provide energy over a longer period of time when compared to simple carbohydrates (of equivalent amounts). 

Both forms are important to rugby players. You can get good and bad forms of both simple and complex carbohydrates. Our advice is to always choose good sources of unprocessed carbohydrates whenever possible. 


Proteins carry out a huge number of functions in the body. Growth and maintenance is one of the primary roles. This is one of the reasons most rugby players are very interested in their protein intake. It is a key player in the growth and development of muscle as well as crucial when it comes to recovering after training and matches. Protein is the building block of your muscles. Therefore, eating adequate amounts of protein helps you maintain your muscle mass and promotes muscle growth when you do strength training.

Proteins are the building blocks of the body and are, in fact, made up of chains of amino acids. Our body is capable of making some forms of amino acids that it needs but there are also a group of 9 amino acids that we need to find in our diet, the essential amino acids.


Fat has long been seen as a type of energy store. Gram for gram fat provides the most energy when compared to the other two macronutrients, carbohydrates and protein.

Fats carry out essential functions in the body and are essential in out diet. They protect the organs of the body, help promote healthy arteries and blood vessels and maintain healthy cells. Excess amounts of fat or unhealthy processed fats can cause wide spread issues in the body.

Remember: Fats are not bad. Some fats are more detrimental than others and excessive amounts of fat can cause issues (just like excessive amounts of carbohydrates, protein or some vitamins and minerals can be bad). It is the dose that creates the poison!

Simply put, fats come in the following forms.

Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated): Can be seen as the healthy type of fats we can find in avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil and oily fish. These are the guys we need in our diet and include omega 3 and omega 6 polyunsaturated fats.

Saturated fats: are found in highly processed foods and should be avoided where possible. 



Micronutrients can be found in most foods but are found in especially high quantities in natural, unprocessed food and very low quantities in heavily processed food types. This is another reason why your food choices are so important!

Micronutrients come in a number of different forms but are made up of vitamins and minerals. Substances that the body needs, albeit in small amounts but substances that play vital roles in cellular function throughout the body. They help produce enzymes to help break down our food, they help our body grow and develop and help our immune system fight disease as well as a whole host of other functions! Deficiencies on any of the micronutrients our body needs can impact our energy levels, our mood and our health.

Common vitamins you may have already heard of include: Vitamins A, B, C, D and E that all serve specific functions in the body

Some of the most common “major” minerals include: Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium and sodium

Some less common but equally important minerals include things like: Iron, Zinc, Phosphorus

Getting the balance right of all of the necessary vitamins and minerals is crucial when approaching nutrition for rugby players. Ignore them at your peril! Deficiencies in them are becoming increasingly common for a number of reasons. Diet choices, food variety and food production methods are all dictating that we regularly miss out on essential micronutrients.

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Nutrition for rugby players is not all about the food, getting the right amount of fluid in your body is essential, (the right type of fluids of course!). No matter what your goals are. Decreased levels of hydration has been shown to lead to increased reaction times, slower mental processing, depressed mood, reduced physical performance across the board of strength and speed. 

Hydration needs to be consistent throughout your training week. If you rely on high volume blitz hydration strategies you can actually run the risk of flushing fluids out of your system without having the opportunity to absorb fluids and get them to where they are needed. This is also true after matches. Fluid intake should be relatively slow giving your body the time it needs to absorb the fluids it needs. 

You can find more information in the article:

Hydration for rugby players

And you cant talk about hydration without mentioning caffeine! A. popular and commonly used performance enhancing supplement that can disrupt physiological balance as well as sleep. As with most of the topics we are covering – Right time, right place to limit the negative aspects of caffeine and maximise the benefits!

Caffeine and Coffee, Friend or Foe

As well as caffeine, alcohol is a substance that we get asked about all of the time. Social accepted but an enemy of performance and recovery. Approach with caution and do not under-estimate the damage it can do. Especially if consumed in large quantities!

Alcohol, Performance & Recovery


At Rugby Renegade we believe in a food first approach when discussing nutrition for rugby players. Before supplments, ensure you are using the information we have already covered to get the most out of your diet. That should always be step one. Once a solid, well-balanced diet is in place, you may want to aid your nutritional needs by using supplements. 

Supplements should add to an already good diet, not be used to compensate or “mask” a bad one.

We have covered a number of supplements in greater detail in the articles linked on this page but some general guidance that you need to consider when choosing a supplement are the following:

  • Can you get enough of the nutrient from your normal diet? Is there a genuine need to supplement?
  • Is the supplement well evidenced? Are you really getting what you think you are getting?
  • Is the supplement safe? We recommend getting “informed sport” certified supplements from a reputable manufacturer and supplier at all times. You can read more on checking the safety of your supplements here.
  • Does it justify the cost? The supplements industry is growing year on year and it is very easy to get caught in a trap of buying more and more supplements at increasing cost with little or no benefit. 
Please check your supplements & medications
Please check your supplements & medications
Have you ever wondered about specific supplements? We may have already prepared some information you’ll find useful:
 If you do decide to use supplements we highly recommend the product range at Nutrition-X, all batch tested, backed up with science and research and in our opinion one of the most complete product ranges for rugby athletes available! What more with the code RRNX you’ll get 25% off!

Applying the Science to your Rugby Training

Planning & Timing your food

Now that we have covered a number of topics that cover the “why” of some of the important aspects of nutrition for rugby players, now lets turn our attention to “how” you can consistently get the best nutrition for your training and matches.

We have some fantastic articles on nutrient timing for training and match days on the site. Here are our top tips to get your calorie intake spot on throughout your rugby season. 

  • Plan ahead. Look at your training week and prepare for what’s coming
  • Food prep will prevent you from getting caught out and making poor food choices when you are at work or travelling. Pay particular attention to times when you don’t have access to your own kitchen!
  • If you are eating out, you can still make good food choices
  • Be accurate. A lot of players eat way too much of some really nutritious foods. Not all calories are equal but an excess of good OR bad calories will lead to weight gain.
  • Batch cook. Cooking large quantities of good meals can give you some very quick options when you are short on time

Remember, you should adjust your calorie intake to match the physical demands of your training and matches.

A simple traffic light system works well

Green: Recovery day, low demand, low calorie intake

Amber: Moderate-Low demand training day, moderate calorie intake

Red: High demand or game day, high calorie intake (with preloading for games): Take a look at Rugby Renegades Guide to Game Day Nutrition.

To help you in your planning why don’t you check out some of the Rugby Renegade Recipes that we have put together here.

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