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How do rugby players recover between games?

Rugby players are unique athletes. To perform at elite level, they require power to burst through and make tackles, agility to evade opponents and endurance to compete for 80 minutes.
They also need robust bodies that are capable of absorbing incredible amounts of force during collisions and recovering quickly in time for their next training session or match.
Speaking on the latest episode of Science in Sport’s From Paper to Podium podcast, featuring former England rugby union captain Dylan Hartley, Professor James Morton stressed the importance of recovery in the sport.
“If there’s one sport in the world where recovery is so important, this is it,” he said. “The sheer impact that these guys take every game and every training session is huge. Recovery is absolutely critical.”
Let’s find out how they do it…

The power of protein

Since the game turned professional in 1995, the average weight and height of rugby players has increased by a staggering 14kg and four inches.
A study published by the BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine revealed that the average weight of international players in 1995 was 84.5kg – in 2015 it had climbed to 105.4kg.
The sheer size of rugby players means they require significantly more protein to repair their bodies after training and games than normal humans and athletes in many other sports.
While the average man needs around 55g of protein per day, it’s recommended that strength and endurance athletes consume 1.2-2.0 g of protein per kg or body weight on a daily basis.
That means a 100kg player may need to cram 200g of protein into their diet each day.
But sometimes even that isn’t enough. “After a game I’d have a protein shake straight away, an ice bath or maybe use a cryotherapy chamber but I never fully recovered between games,” Hartley told the Paper to Podium podcast. “Every athlete is always fighting some sort of weakness or niggle.”

Don’t cut the carbs

Rugby players don’t cover the same distances as endurance athletes or footballers but that doesn’t mean they don’t need lots of carbohydrates to fuel their performances.
“From a fueling perspective, if you don’t consume carbohydrate, that’s the number one remedy and recovery to give you enough energy to go again the next day,” said Morton.
In 2011, researchers at the University of Chester carried out a study using GPS data to find out how far rugby players run during games and how that varies depending on a player’s position.
The results of the three-year study found that distance covered ranged from 4.3 kilometres for players in the front row to 6.84km clocked up by the scrum half.
Most of the distance covered was at low speed, ranging from 3.15km (front row) to 4.53km (scrum half). High speed distances ranged from 0.15km (front row) to 0.61km (outside backs).
Despite those low numbers, rugby players are advised to consume carbohydrates relative to their body weight to ensure they maintain weight and fuel for training and games.
To fuel properly, it’s recommended that players consume 6-8g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight on the day before a game and 4-6g of carbs per kg the day after a game.

Which products should I use?

For rugby players, getting the right amount of protein and carbohydrates in their system purely through food is a difficult task and so supplements can offer a useful alternative.
SiS GO Isotonic Energy Gels are a quick and easy way to load up with carbohydrates with each gel containing 22g of carbs.
Energy Bakes offer another solution and contain 30g of carbohydrates per bake and come in lemon, strawberry, tiramisu, banana and orange flavour.
We also have a range of protein options. Our REGO Rapid Recovery+ is the perfect solution for repairing muscles after a game, while Protein20 bars are great for snacking and repairing your body when you’re on the move.
For more from Dylan, check out Episode 8 of our From Paper To Podium Podcast where he appeared as a guest along with leading expert on exercise recovery, Professor Glyn Howatson. Listen here.

Written By

Alec Fenn | Health and Fitness Journalist and Copywriter

Alec has been interviewing athletes and coaches and writing about health, fitness and nutrition since 2010. He's contributed to a host of national publications including BBC Sport, FourFourTwo magazine, The Independent and the Daily Mail. As an amateur sportsman and avid gym-goer he has a passion for finding out how sports nutrition can help athletes reach peak performance.