Rugby is a high intensity, repeated sprint sport that requires tremendous athleticism in terms of both power and endurance. Although two codes exist within rugby (Union and League), with each having distinct differences in match play rules, tackling, point scoring and field size, the physiological demands are quite similar, and this article will consider the nutritional demands as similar. The athletic demands placed on the body from intense training and matches means that there is a significant contribution required from appropriate nutrition practices in order to support preparation, recovery and the maintenance of lean tissue mass and normal bodily functions. When combined with appropriate training and nutrition, incorporating ROS products will help to ensure that you are consuming all the vital nutrients required to maximise performance and recovery from games and training.

Sport-specific physiological demands

Matches are eighty minutes in length. 30 minutes of the ball being in play is typical, with the remainder being made up of waiting for play to restart, organise set-pieces, kicking at goal and injury time. During match play, there are periods of walking and jogging, but these are interspersed with high intensity activity involving frequent collisions and all-out sprinting. Due to its physical nature, strength, power and large proportions of lean body mass are important for rugby players.

Rugby is somewhat unique among sports in that one of the most important points to consider when developing training and nutrition strategies is dependent on playing position. For instance, forwards tend to be bulky (heavier) and physically strong for rucking, scrummaging and tackling. Due to the combination of running intensity, changes in direction, pulling, lifting, jumping and tackling during match play, forwards must use a combination of the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. Forwards have shorter rest periods during games than backs, so the ability to recover quickly is key to performance. Backs are usually lighter than forwards, but must have a superior strength (power)-to-weight ratio, as they need be fast, mobile and powerful. Backs tend to have longer rest periods between sprints and tackling (particularly wingers), and this results in a greater dependence on the anaerobic energy system.

Elite rugby players may train as often as often as twice per day, five days per week with a match once a week, while sub-elite players invariably training five days per week focussing on both gym-based and field-based conditioning. Rugby training can be very intense with a combination of repeated sprints, endurance running, tackling, various balls skill drills and tactical manoeuvres, notwithstanding the significant demands of strength and muscle-building training that takes place in the gym environment. All of these training elements demand high level of fitness, energy and concentration.

Nutritional considerations

Rugby players require a large amount of energy in the form of quality protein, carbohydrates (CHO) and essential fats. Having a diet that meets basic energy and nutrient requirements is important for any athlete, whereas for rugby players, it is particularly important as they have numerous training goals that require specific nutritional attention. Sports supplementation can be a great asset to any rugby player when aiming to achieve a specific performance or training-related goal. ROS Nutrition has developed a large range of products to meet these needs. These products can assist with the development of lean muscle mass, improved strength and power along with aiding recovery after physically-demanding training sessions. Our Knowledge Centre contains a variety of more detailed articles on training for strength and body composition goals, and nutrition strategies and supplements for use before, during and after training to support those goals.

Carbohydrate needs for rugby

Adequate intake of CHO in the days leading up to and during a match is highly important for aiding performance in high intensity sports like rugby. Given the physiological demands of rugby, carbohydrate in the form of muscle glycogen (which is the main energy source during matches) is likely to become depleted resulting the onset of fatigue. For this reason, it is important that players pay particular attention to replenishing their glycogen stores following intense trainng or games. For daily recovery, rugby players should consume 6-10 g CHO per kg of body mass per day. This means the lower limit of intake of CHO should be around 550 g for a 90 kg (14 st) player per day.

Leading up to game

The food intake of rugby players 2-3 days before a match is critical to performance. This is the period of time when players should be maximising their energy stores and tapering (reducing the length and intensity) their training sessions. The aim should be to consume a higher than normal CHO diet at this time. The high intakes of CHO described above may be difficult to achieve with solid foods, and it is often practical to take some of this CHO in the form of a liquid meal supplement such as FUEL LOAD®. FUEL LOAD® provides easy-to-digest CHO with low glycemic index in the form of isomaltulose, and can be used daily as a means of easily increasing daily CHO intake, or specifically to increase CHO intakes on the days preceding matches. On the day of a game, the nutrition goal should be to top-up muscle CHO stores, and ensure adequate levels of hydration. The last substantial meal a player should consume is in the 2-4 hours before the start of the warm-up. It should be low in fibre, contain a substantial amount of CHO and a moderate amount of protein. Athletes who become dehydrated during matches and training are more susceptible to injury and will fatigue quickly if appropriate hydration strategies are not implemented. Adequate fluid in the form of water, or an isotonic CHO-electrolyte solution such as CHO CHARGE® should be consumed in the 2-4 hours before performance.

During matches

During matches consuming a sports drink that contains CHO sources to maintain energy levels, along with electrolytes for hydration can benefit performance. CHO CHARGE® has been formulated with multiple forms of CHO in order to provide the highest rate of energy delivery to working muscle. The addition of electrolytes in precise amounts is necessary to achieve an isotonic drink when mixed to the specified concentrations. This allows for fast delivery of fuel and fluid during exercise. The aim should be to consume 2-3 mouthfuls of CHO CHARGE® every 10 minutes. As recent research supports the use of caffeine to aid performance, CHO CHARGE® is also available in caffeinated form for players wishing to explore caffeine as a performance aid.

Recovery nutrition

After training and matches, your body is fatigued, dehydrated and energy stores are depleted. Consuming suitable foods immediately post-exercise is essential for recovery. Rugby players will often have depleted glycogen stores, and damaged muscles, so the immediate recovery meal should contain a source of fast-digesting CHO as well as a quality source of protein. Often this is best achieved by consuming a recovery shake. RecoverAce® Endurance is ideal for taking within 30 minutes of a match or pitch-based training session. RecoverAce® Endurance provides all the necessary nutrients required for optimum recovery, and delivers the CHO and protein in the optimal ratio to support the recovery of CHO stores. However, for rugby players performing prodigious amounts of resistance training, they should also consider RecoverAce® Strength for recovery from gym-based training sessions. This product has a blend of CHO and protein more attuned to the recovery from resistance training and gaining lean muscle mass. For daily intake, ROS Nutrition has a range of products that are formulated based on the latest scientific research to maximise the positive effects of resistance training. Depending on your goal, high protein, calorie-dense products such as Alpha Mass® or Meta-Muscle® can be consumed daily as an extra meal, or in the hour before your gym training session. These products will provide the body with the necessary nutrients and energy required to perform to a high intensity and support gains in muscle mass in the long-term.


Protein is required for growth, development and recovery from both pitch and gym-based training. Therefore, protein is an important component of the team sport athletes´ diet. Rugby players have a greater requirement for protein than normal individuals due to a higher rate of protein oxidation during and after intense training and matches, and the requirement of protein to support recovery and muscle growth from damage caused to the muscle fibres during intense exercise. Along with this, strength and power training is a large component of rugby players´ training schedules, and in order to illicit the desired training responses, adequate protein intake is essential. PRO GSH® Whey, Meta Muscle®, WHEY TRU® and RecoverAce strength are examples of quality protein supplement formulations that can be used to meet a rugby player´s requirement for higher protein intakes. Players should aim to consume a quality source of protein with each meal, along with before and immediately after intense training. WHEY TRU® contains added branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and glutamine, which are essential to speeding recovery between training and matches. There is emerging evidence that protein supplementation, particularly essential amino acids (EAAs) and BCAAs consumed during and after high intensity exercise can reduce the feelings of fatigue, and promote muscle growth and adaptation after exercise. The type, timing and amount of protein can be manipulated to enhance the adaptive response to training. Using isolated amino acids such as ISO BCAA®, is appropriate. RecoverAce® Strength is a source of both quality protein and isolated amino acids, with the added benefit of containing a source of CHO. Apart from the general macronutrient considerations for performance and recovery, many other nutrients can be taken to support gains from resistance training e.g. creatine, glutamine, HMB and so on. A range of other products that are suggested to enhance your training are listed in the table below. For more information on their use and value to your nutrition strategy, please see the individual product pages.

ROS Recommends

Goal Why? ROS product
CHO loading Maximise muscle glycogen stores that are critical for performance RecoverAce Endurance
CHO and fluid supply during exercise Offset dehydration and muscle glycogen depletion, key factors contributing to fatigue CHO CHARGE Caffeinated
CHO CHARGE Decaffeinated
Recovery product Restore fuel stores and support optimum muscle recovery RecoverAce Endurance
RecoverAce Strength
Quality protein intake Essential for maintenance of optimum body composition Blue Label Whey
Target Whey Protein
Calcium Caseinate
Amino acid supplementation Facilitate training adaptations Aid growth and repair ISO BCAA Max 1500 mg
ISO EAA 1000 mg Tablets
Performance boosting supplements Maximises energy levels and facilitates greater training adaptations CREA ACT
Multivitamins and minerals Ensure adequate intake of essential micro nutrients Accovit Performance
Antioxidant rich supplements Helps to reduce free radical damage Advigreen Super Food