In this article, Dr. Nick Tiller (BASES accredited physiologist) offers key tips to help you maximise your training-induced adaptation and improve rugby training & performance.
Prioritise Your Sleep
Growth Hormone (GH) is a potent stimulator of muscle growth and repair following training. Since the largest daily release of GH occurs within the first few hours of dropping off, poor-quality sleep will blunt the response leading to sub-optimal recovery. You should aim for ~ 8 - 9 hours sleep on a nightly basis, ideally between 10:00pm and 08:00am, because GH secretion is more sensitive in the early hours of the night.
Separate Resistance and Cardio Training
Successful rugby performance requires you to be both fit and strong. However, combining resistance and cardio training into one session could blunt your strength adaptations because the endurance response is always prioritised. Separate resistance and cardio sessions by a minimum of a few hours in order to maximise strength gains.
Increase Your Daily Protein
Dietary protein is essential for replacing muscle proteins that are broken down during training. Since protein demands are greater in strength-trained athletes, rugby players should aim for a daily protein intake of 1.5 – 2 grams per kg of body weight, drip-fed throughout the day in 20 – 30 g doses to maximise absorption. This should ideally come from lean meats and fish, nuts, eggs and dairy. Protein supplements can be used to boost your daily intake, and whey, soy and casein protein seems to provide the greatest range of nutrients.
Hydration Boosts Muscle Growth
There is mounting evidence that training in a dehydrated state can blunt growth hormone release during rugby training and exercise. Dehydration also releases cortisol (the stress hormone) into the blood which blunts muscle repair.
Hydration Boosts Reaction Time
Being only slightly dehydrated (1 - 2% of bodyweight) has also been shown to have a detrimental impact on cognitive performance. This can slow your reaction time, critical-thinking skills and mental-alertness which will have a knock-on effect on match-day performance. Aim to consume ~400 ml every hour during exercise, and stay hydrated throughout the day.
Muscle soreness in the days following a hard session is caused by small tears in the muscle fibres that can take days to recover. Similarly, heavy exercise can deplete your body’s nutrient stores, resulting in a weak immune system. Not allowing enough recovery time can lead to injury, illness and under-performance. Include periodic rest-days into your training, and follow hard-training days with easier sessions to tip the depletion/recovery ratio in your favour.
Tread Carefully With Your Coffee
Caffeine is a stimulant that can be used during training and matches to give you a boost of concentration and increase alertness.
Warm-Up To Win
A 10 – 15 minute warm-up is an essential prerequisite for rugby match-play. This should consist of gentle aerobic exercise (like jogging), followed by dynamic whole-body stretches and muscle activation drills, before doing more sports-specific exercises. An effective warm-up will increase circulation, increase muscle temperature and activation, and prime the body for optimal sports performance.