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How do rugby players manage their weight?

Tall, short, stocky. Rugby players come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and weights, with their physiques often tailored to the demands of their individual positions.

They’re also continuing to grow in size. Between 1994 and 2014, the average weight of an England rugby international increased from 92.4kg to 105.1kg.

The same trend has occurred across many other international teams, with strength and conditioning programmes and world-class nutrition enabling players to build bigger, stronger bodies.

But just how important is weight to a player’s performance on the pitch? We quizzed former England rugby union captain Dylan Hartley during the latest episode of our From Paper to Podium podcast.

Why weight matters

Hartley played as a tighthead prop and hooker during his career, meaning size, strength and power was vital for him to engage in scrums and try and smash through opposition defences.

Studies have found that the average impact force generated at the hit of a scrum is a staggering 10,850 newtons. To put that into context, a knockout punch in boxing is around 3,000 newtons.

As a result, Hartley was often encouraged to eat as much as possible at the start of his career. “When I was at Northampton, my coaches would tell me to eat more pudding the day before a game because they wanted me to be as heavy as possible during scrums,” he said.

But neglecting his diet and putting on extra weight affected his performances. “When I was too heavy, I definitely played worse,” he said. “For the first five to eight years of my career I didn’t know anything about nutrition but then I educated myself.”

The perfect weight

At his heaviest, Hartley weighed 115kgs but a weight loss regime saw him drop down to 101kgs, though he admits he then became too lightweight for his position.

“I didn’t lose the weight right,” he said. “I cut out most carbs, which wasn’t the right thing to do, and then I got injured straight away. I realised I needed to have some mass around my midriff to absorb the impact from tackles.”

At the 2019 Six Nations, France’s forward pack weighed a huge 950kg – the heaviest in international rugby history. The challenge for elite players, then, is finding a sweet spot between weight and high performance.

Eventually Hartley found his. “I realised I needed to be eating good quality protein and I started having 200g per day consistently and that really helped,” he added. “My sweet spot was between 108 and 110 kgs, that’s where I played my best rugby.”

What should I eat?

Protein is vital for gaining muscle mass and repairing the body after intense bouts of exercise. We’ve got a range of supplements that could help you to achieve your weight goals.

If you’re looking to build lean muscle mass and put on weight then Science in Sport Whey Protein is the perfect option. Each serving contains 22g of protein and there are a range of flavours to choose from.

If you’ve done a hard gym session then our Overnight Protein could also help you to build muscle mass while you sleep, with the formula feeding your muscles throughout the night.

And if you’re always on the move then you can also give our single-use squeezy Whey20 or Protein 20 bars a try.

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.