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Fuelling the Elite: Rugby

Physiological and Physical Demands


Success in rugby union requires a high degree of skill, tactics, and physical ability. Teams have 15 players on each team and 7 substitutes on the bench. Points are scored through tries, conversions, penalty kicks and drop goals. The start-stop nature of the game and the high volume of collisions and grappling activities suggest that the predominant energy source is anaerobic – but there are variations between positions. The difference between backs and forwards are markedly related to their specific role on the pitch. Forwards focus on high intensity static actions like rucking and mauling showing high physiological responses (> 90% of maximal heart rate). Backs cover greater total distance (7-7.5 km) and sprint distance compared to forwards (5-6 km) with heart rates around 80-90% of their max. Therefore, backs require greater endurance capacity and sprinting ability compared to forwards. With this, there is a marked difference in body mass between the two groups, with backs ranging from 80-100 kg. Forwards range from 110-135kg with the need for high sprint momentum and the physical ability to cope with contacts (Nakamura et al., 2016).


A week in the life of… a pro Rugby player




Sunday: Recovery

The day after a game, players may complete an active recovery including light swimming, stretching and walking

Monday: Review and Conditioning

Today starts with a review of the previous game followed by a whole-body strength session and some light skill work out on the pitch

Tuesday: Preparation and Training

Preparation begins for the weekends game, with another lower body weight session followed by a high intensity, contact pitch training session

Wednesday: Recovery

After the tough day yesterday, a day off given to allow players to recover. Some may come in for rehab or an upper body weight session along with a recovery swim and stretch

Thursday: Training

Today starts with a power session in the gym followed by a medium intensity pitch-based training session focusing on match-day phases, moves and tactics

Friday: Captains Run

No weights today- this involves a short, intense pitch-based session with the match-day 23 aiming to iron out the plan for tomorrow. Emphasis is on refuelling and preparing for tomorrow. For away games, players will travel after the morning session

Saturday: Match Day

Game day! After the game, match-day squad players that were not involved will perform conditioning runs to mimic the running in a game. The aim here is to keep players conditioned so they’re ready for future games





Given the high intensity nature of Rugby, carbohydrate is the main fuel for performance and players should ‘fuel for the work required’ by reducing carbohydrate intake on training days and days off. However, players may benefit from consuming greater amounts of carbohydrate on the day before, the day of and in recovery from match play to promote muscle glycogen storage so they are able to go again. Players should always adhere to the basic guidelines of consuming carbohydrate in the day prior to the match (7-10 g/kg) and in the pre-match meal (1-4 g/kg) 2-3 hours before match play. Consuming carbohydrate pre-match and half-time is key to provide fuel for performance and delay fatigue. Players aim to consume 40-60g pre-match and at half-time from a range of sources – usually gummies, drinks and gels.


Strength, power and speed is a major aspect of successful performance. With body weights ranging between 80-135 kg, daily protein intake is key to help build and maintain lean muscle mass. Daily protein intakes average 1.8g/kg per day but exceed >2g/kg on recovery days and during periods of injury. Although, research suggests that professional players may consume much more than this amount (>2.5 g/kg) (Posthumus et al., 2021). Timing is also important, with protein taken in even amounts (25-30g) every 3-4 hours and immediately post-training. Rebuild shakes provide a convenient protein solution alongside protein rich foods e.g fish, meat, beans, milk and yoghurt.


Recovery plays a key role Rugby given the high intensity nature and number of collisions. Immediately post-match, players consume a recovery shake with balanced protein, carbohydrate, electrolytes and vitamins and minerals. This is a convenient solution to kick start the recovery process before a balanced meal 30-60 mins later. To maximise the recovery process, players will take on small amounts of carbohydrate (1g/kg) in multiple small meals every hour for up to 4 hours to maximise glycogen resynthesis so they have the energy to perform again. Antioxidants are consumed to help combat oxidative stress alongside other recovery methods to help attenuate muscle soreness like massage, ice baths and stretching.




Nakamura, F. Y., Pereira, L. A., Moraes, J. E., Kobal, R., Kitamura, K., Cal Abad, C. C., ... & Loturco, I. (2016). Physical and physiological differences of backs and forwards from the Brazilian National rugby union team. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness57(12), 1549-1556.


Posthumus, L., Fairbairn, K., Darry, K., Driller, M., Winwood, P., & Gill, N. (2021). Competition Nutrition Practices of Elite Male Professional Rugby Union Players. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health18(10), 5398.


Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American college of sports medicine joint position statement. nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise48(3), 543-568.

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