Even after twenty years of playing rugby, I can still find myself at a loss in terms of what to eat and drink in the immediate run up to a game.
Your thoughts will often be occupied by the match, so it is best to keep your pre-match routine simple: I know that many players will eat the same meal week on week, which (as long as you are eating the right stuff!) is a good idea as it gives you one less thing to think about and allows you to concentrate on your performance.
So, here are a few simple tips on how to approach your nutrition in the lead up to a game...
The Night Before
Many players like to go for a large carb load the night before or even two days before a match. However, carb loading can cause players to feel lethargic and tired, so ideally it should be avoided. Obviously don’t cut out carbs completely, simply eat low GI carbs in moderation the day before a game, to ensure your muscle glycogen is topped up, and that your body is 100% ready to go on match day.
Hydration is also critical, so you want to make sure you consume at least 3-4 litres of water the day before.
Recovery must be done throughout the week, as not even the most state of the art recovery methods provide you with enough match prep, if performed the night before.
If you do take recovery seriously you'll find that that when it does come to game day your body doesn't feel the aches and pains of a midweek training session.
The most convenient way to maximise recovery through the week is to consume a post workout recovery drink. These drinks usually contain high amounts of carbs, protein and electrolytes that are absorbed quickly and will help aid recovery. Stretching and using a foam roller after training is another good way of decreasing niggles.
BCAA (building blocks of the body) supplementation is also highly recommended and they make up roughly 35-40% of your muscle mass and contribute in many of the body’s important functions, such as RNA and DNA development, repair tissue, build tissue and are also part of the enzyme and hormonal system.
Hydration is key so make sure you consume a pint of water when you wake up and continue to drink water up until the start of the match.
Breakfast should include some low GI carbs, such as Oats, sweet potato, rice, bananas and wholemeal bread.
Make sure the portions are quite small as you don’t want to be carrying a stomach full of food before kick-off. Consuming protein at breakfast is also important so make sure you knock back a protein shake, eggs or some type of protein from a lean meat source.
Timing is also important. You'll usually eat 5-6 hours before kick-off so consuming a slow digesting meal such as a steak would be fine. You don’t want to put much stress on your digestive system prior to kick off as you want to conserve energy and feel light!
Aim to eat this 3-4 hours before kick-off.
This should be a small meal e.g. Chicken, veg and some rice. Make sure your portions are small but adequate enough to supply you with enough energy.
After this meal, you shouldn’t have to eat much more before kick-off. If you do feel hungry (nerves can definitely do that!), look to have a protein shake and possibly 25-30g of liquid carbohydrate.
Also if you have access to BCAAs, sip on a BCAA drink up until kick off to make sure your body is in the best possible state for the match.
There is no secret diet or technique to get ready for a game so just keep it simple and listen to your body. You will learn how your body adapts to different types of carbs throughout the years and just ensure you adjust accordingly.
Make sure you consume enough carbs to refill muscle glycogen from a training week, hydrate yourself with plenty of water and take in adequate amounts of protein for muscle repair and recovery.
Simple as that!