Building Elite Rugby Players – It All Starts With Diet

The Changing Face of Rugby & Rugby Nutrition

When you look at the modern game there is more and more emphasis based on the size of players in Rugby. Tom Fordyce looked up the stats and found that in the last 50 years the average weight of English international rugby players has gone up by nearly 20kgs, and the average height has increased by 8cm! Think about that for a second, that’s around 3 stone heavier and over 3 inches taller. A totally different game.

There is no doubt that size is not the only thing that has changed, the strength and power of the players and indeed the way the game is being played has been transformed since the game became professional in 1995.

Wales flyer and British Lion Shane Williams was recently quoted saying –

“It’s a completely different game to even three or four years ago. The players are getting bigger again, even from where they were in 2008. That clearly affects your tactics. You have to adapt your game-plan to the players you’ve got and the ones you will be facing.”

So the question is how can you get big enough to keep up with this trend? Nutrition is the answer.

Nutrition is simply what you put into your body to create energy, sounds simple enough. However, developing (or completely changing) the way you eat to base it more on improving your performance could be critical to your success on the rugby field, not to mention massively beneficial for long-term health. The key to gaining size/muscle, increasing strength, and improving health is paying attention to what you put in your body.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Improving performance in the gym, on the training pitch & on the field starts with proper nutrition” quote=”Improving performance in the gym, on the training pitch & on the field starts with proper nutrition”]

Notice how I say size, strength, muscle and power… not weight. Although the above trend mentions the increase of the weight of players over the last number of years, not all weight is created equal. I would wager the body fat percentages of the modern day international players are around the same if not lower than their predecessors. Eating everything in sight to put on size is not the answer! I can see why players may be tempted to cram in calories from any available source to try and put on that precious kilo on the scales (I’ve been there!). But the size you gain will be useless, it will slow you down, make you fatigue quicker and generally harm your performance. Although, absolute size and strength are increasingly important in Rugby Union, better body composition means a faster, fitter and more powerful athlete. Effective and efficient recovery and muscle gains cannot happen with poor nutrition.

The problem we have as a population (rugby players included) is that the majority of nutrition information that we are being given is poor. I mean you only have to look at the news over the last few months to see all the pieces on obesity levels in the UK and weight related illnesses increasing dramatically. The advice we are being given generally in this country recommends a high-carb, low fat, grain-based diet. This is an inflammatory diet, and more importantly it’s counterproductive for muscle growth, recovery and performance.

[ninja-popup id=2688 autoopen=true]

How to Eat For Performance

Without trying to blow any minds out there I’m going to keep my advice as simple as possible, in general there are no calorie restrictions for rugby players (unless you need to lose weight and are out of shape in general), what I am saying is eat as much of the recommended food as possible. As a guideline aim to get 40% of your calories from protein, 30% from carbohydrates and 30% from fats, if you can consume between 2-2.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight while sticking to these ratios then you are on the right track to increasing muscle mass and improving performance.

Eat as much as possible:

  • Proteins – Meat, Poultry, Game, Fish and Shellfish, if it had a face it’s good to eat.
  • Carbohydrates – Vegetables, Roots, Salad Greens, Herbs and Spices 
  • Fats – Animal fats, olives, olive oil, avocado and coconut (oil or flesh)
  • MILK AND EGGS – I put these two separately as in my opinion they are basically the cornerstones of a good rugby diet. Dairy gets a lot of bad press but the positives that it has on performance both in terms of strength and size far outweigh the negatives. The main source of dairy in the diet should ideally come from organic grass fed whole milk (or gold top) as this will have a greater omega 3 profile and is an excellent source of protein, carbohydrates and fat. If you are looking to put on mass, milk could be the answer

Eat but limit:

  • Nuts – Nuts are generally good if you need a snack and have no time to prepare but shouldn’t be a staple in the diet, they are generally high in Omega 6 which is going to affect body composition and lipid absorption/digestion. As a rule stick to cashews, hazelnuts and almonds.
  • Seeds – Seeds have similar problems to nuts and the added issue of being high in linoleic acid, only eat them when there is nothing better available.
  • Fruits – Berries are good, but large sugary fruits should be limited to being eaten post workout. The amount of fructose will affect insulin response and this is something that you want to control as much as possible


EVERYTHING ELSE – If I haven’t mentioned it above then generally avoid it, the main culprits will be bread, rice, pasta, grains, wheat, cereals, quinoa but the list goes on and on. The biggest on this list of NOs is ALCOHOL!

Macro Nutrient Timing

Aim to eat the afore mentioned foods spread fairly equally among 4-6 meals a day – the most important feeding times are first thing in the morning, last thing at night an pre/post workout (game).  The majority of your carbohydrates should be consumed in the meal after training, and the rest portioned sparingly and equally throughout the other meals. In an ideal world gym based training sessions will take place in a carb depleted state (i.e. eat little to no carbs throughout the day until you train, then eat all your allotted carbs in the remaining/following 2 meals). Protein should be consumed with every meal without exception!


Supplements can play a big role in improving performance and body composition; my next post will go into detail around supplementation for the modern day rugby player. In brief the supplements that I would recommend are:

High quality Omega 3 – 2,000-3,000mg taken morning, afternoon and night – this is anti-inflammatory and will help reduce the risk of injury, enhance recovery and improve cardiovascular health.

Vitamin D3 – 5,000iu daily – this will reduce the risk of injuries, optimise muscle function and enhance recovery and overall performance.

Creatine Monohydrate – 5g pre and post training – this will increase size, strength and muscular power.

Protein / Recovery Powders – protein shakes are a good way to increase protein intake quickly and easily, and a lot of recovery shakes contain many of the things you need to help you recovery faster from your workouts – for example KRATOS RX’D Recovery RX’D contains creatine, glutamine, HMB, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, essential carbohydrates and high quality whey protein isolate, so not only do you get your protein, you get some cabs straight after training, creatine, and many other recovery enhancing benefits.

Pre Workout – Look to avoid supplements are too high in stimulants you want something with a bit of caffeine, beta alanine, taurine, glutamine, citrulline malate, carbs and electrolytes, most other pre workout ingredients are unneeded and designed for the needs of bodybuilders (pump, vascularity etc) – Kratos RX’D Fuel RX’D is a sports specific pre workout that is designed specifically to enhance performance in sport, giving you energy boost but also buffering lactic acid and slowing the onset of fatigue.

If you can stick to the above guidelines as best you can, you will be putting your body in a constantly anabolic state and allowing yourself to create the greatest amount of muscle tissue, while improving your body composition and on field performance.

At the end of the day being the biggest or the strongest will not necessarily make you the best player, but if you are good, being bigger and stronger will only help.

Author: Mike Catris

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For all support queries please email