By James Morehen


The Rugby World Cup squads will be educating all of their players on the importance of proteins. Proteins are not only essential for life but are crucial for many key functions in the rugby player. One function, constantly strived for by rugby players is the synthesis and growth of new proteins to out-weigh the process of protein breakdown. The net result of having a greater summation of synthesis over degradation is an increase in lean muscle mass, a vital component of any successful rugby player. It is important to highlight that of the 20 amino acids used to make proteins, 9 of these are classed as essential, the rest being non-essential. The 9 essential amino acids must be consumed in our diet, as the body cannot make these like it can for the non-essential amino acids.

Although, the supplement market is saturated with companies marketing themselves with the biggest content of protein per serving, the greatest anabolic potential or the key to ‘big muscles’, the actual protein requirement for the majority of rugby players can be consumed from food based sources. A motto taught to me early on, and one that I educate my players on, is that “You cant supplement a poor diet, food has to come first before any supplement, lets not substitute a diet with products but supplement it, when and if we have too”.

Continuing further, although during the tournament we will witness some very muscular players on our TV screens, the actual protein requirement for a rugby player is still unclear. However, what we do know is that the typical protein requirement for these players is generally higher than the average sedentary Joe Bloggs. With this in mind, can these needs be consumed through a diet alone, or do we need the common ‘shake’ on top? I guess the answer lies with how big the player in question is. For example, an 80kg scrum half consuming 2 g/kg would find it a lot easier to consume his protein requirements from food alone when compared to a 120kg second row, 160g versus 240g total (6 versus ten chicken breasts) respectively.

Strategically, it is far better to consume protein throughout the day evenly in pulses rather than bolus ingestions at typical meal times (breakfast, lunch, dinner). In line, it would be advisable for players to consume protein especially before and after gym or field sessions to ensure a positive net balance between synthesis and degradation. Current research suggests that approximately 20-30g (0.3 g/kg) in each pulse is ideal to be consumed after exercise and regularly throughout the day.

A common mistake witnessed with rugby players is training in the morning without consuming any source of protein, resulting in a net loss of muscle protein. This is critical, as this habit accumulating over time will witness players beginning to drop weight, but more importantly a gradual loss of lean muscle mass. To overcome this issue, it is key to consume high quality sources of protein in the morning before any exercise. The World Cup Squads will typically have protein stations ranging from scrambled egg, omelette, fish, meat, and milk in the dining hall for breakfast and throughout the day.

The type of protein source can also have an effect on the muscle protein synthetic rates. For example, whey protein has a greater rate of synthesis than both casein or soy based proteins. Therefore, straight after exercise or a game it would be ideal to consume whey based sources of protein (white meats) due to the speed at which whey increases the blood amino acid concentrations. Conversely, casein protein is digested and absorbed slower with a prolonged breakdown of its amino acid complex. Therefore, following their world cup games players will most probably consume casein based protein sources pre-bed to supply the muscles whilst they sleep. Milk is great to consume in the evening as approximately 80% of the protein in milk is casein based and 20% is whey based.

Overall, the general rule of thumb with protein intake is to consume food based sources 4 times per day spread evenly, prior to and post exercise, to stimulate suitable protein synthesis. This should be a variety of meat, diary, fish, nuts and pulses and for convenience a commercial whey based shake high in leucine content can be consumed if in a hurry or to top up your daily intake. Vegetarian sources can include the legume family, grains like quinoa, beans and tofu. Pre-bed, a casein based shake would provide a slow releasing supply of protein whilst you sleep.

In summary, this first two blogs have been written with a goal to educate the lay player. Unfortunately, we are not all part of a World Cup squad and so the likelihood is we have to look after our own nutritional demands and needs daily and throughout the week. The next blog will focus on the importance of getting nutrition correct in the lead up to a game but for now these are the top tips to remember from Blog 1 and 2.

Top Tips

  • Food first approach
  • Be prepared and smart with your carbohydrate and protein intake
  • Always apply the 3 T’s model to both macronutrients
  • Carbohydrates must be consumed for rugby training and performance but playaround with the GI of sources and quantity dependent on the phase of the week
  • The overall weekly intake of carbohydrate intake will change daily
  • Carbohydrates will replenish, restore and aid recovery following exercise and agame
  • Consume good quality sources of protein daily every spread evenly
  • Do not skip protein at breakfast
  • Whey is best pre and post exercise
  • Casein is best before bed
  • Lastly, you can’t supplement a poor diet!

James Morehen is the Sports Scientist at Nutrition X, Sports Performance Nutritionist at Widnes Vikings Rugby League team and lead strength and conditioning intern coach at Liverpool John Moores University.

James Morehen is part of the team who have developed Nutrition X’s range of Informed-Sport certified products, which have become the No.1 choice of sports nutrition for numerous elite athletes, amateur sports people and casual gym users alike.

Hear more from James and the expert team at Nutrition X through the Ultimate Rugby Guide campaign @Nutrition_X,