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Ruth Wood-Martin
Article written by Ruth Wood-Martin

Date published 15 August 2023

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How can supplements support rugby players' health and performance? Ruth Wood-Martin, former Performance Nutritionist with the Irish Rugby Football Union, examines the evidence.

🕒 4 min read

A modern nutritional approach to rugby requires careful application of research findings, underpinned by a sound understanding of the physical and physiological demands of the game.

A food-first approach is the cornerstone of the application of nutrition science, but a targeted sport supplement plan can also help.

The best supplements for rugby players

These supplements can support both a player's wellbeing and their performance. If you're already following a nutrition programme, always consult your performance nutritionist first.

1. Multivitamin and mineral preparation

A multivitamin and mineral supplement should be broad-spectrum – containing all essential vitamins and minerals but not more than 100% of daily requirements. A multivitamin supplement can plug nutritional gaps when a player's overall food intake may be restricted or disrupted.

Elite Gold A-Z Multivitamin pack

Gold A-Z Multivitamin

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  • All the vitamins and minerals needed each day
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2. Whey protein

Along with protein and carbohydrate from food, taking whey protein after a high-intensity workout is a convenient way to help players achieve protein targets within an optimal timeframe.

A serving of between 20g and 40g whey protein (depending on body size) is sufficient to optimise muscle growth, maintenance and repair after a high-intensity session.

All Blacks Ultimate Whey Protein Blend pack

All Blacks Ultimate Whey Protein Blend

Protein powder co-created with the All Blacks

  • 24g protein per serving to support muscle growth
  • Added protease to break down protein for better absorption
  • Available in vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. Low in sugar
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3. Probiotics

Gut and immune health are key to avoiding illness. Helpful bacteria in the gut help to protect against gut infection and support player wellbeing. Strenuous exercise, travel and competition can place stress on the gut, resulting in gut discomfort and impacting performance.

Probiotics are live helpful bacteria in supplement form that have been linked with a multitude of health benefits, with digestive and immune health two of the most-researched areas.

Elite Pro20 Biotic pack

Pro20 Biotic

'Friendly' bacteria specifically chosen for competing athletes

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4. Creatine

Creatine is a protein that combines with phosphorus and is stored in muscle cells, creating an energy source that fuels high-intensity activities such as resistance training and sprinting. Stores of creatine in muscle do not last long, and taking supplements to increase creatine stores has been shown to increase power output and high-intensity exercise capacity.

Recent research has shown that creatine can protect brain function; what's more, a concussive event (excessive force to the head) lowers brain creatine levels, and supplements may help these levels to recover.

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  • Developed in collaboration with the All Blacks
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5. Caffeine

Caffeine acts on the central nervous system, increasing alertness and concentration. It may also reduce the perception of effort during exercise, meaning athletes can train harder, for longer.

Players should trial caffeine gum or tablets in training, but it's mainly used before and during a match. Finding the appropriate dose is important, as excessive caffeine intake can lead to anxiety and tension, both of which are counterproductive to performance.

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6. Buffering agents

High-intensity muscle contraction produces acid that needs to be buffered, or neutralised, and so allow this level of exercise to continue.

Buffering agents such as Beta-Alanine, Sodium Bicarbonate and Sodium Citrate have been shown to help neutralise the acid produced during high-intensity exercise, and so delay muscle fatigue.

Elite All Blacks Beta Alanine pack

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100% pure source of beta-alanine to supplement your pre-workout routine

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  • Suitable for plant-based diets
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7. Omega 3 (fish oil)

Omega 3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that have been shown to impact the health and performance of athletes in many ways, in particular the management of inflammation. EPA and DHA are the two key types.

EPA and DHA are found mainly in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel or sardines. Many athletes do not consume enough omega 3, and supplements can help to increase levels of EPA and DHA.

It's also starting to emerge that DHA fatty acids can protect brain health and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Protocols are emerging that use an increased amount of DHA to help brain health after a concussive event.

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8. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is mainly made in the body when skin is exposed to sunlight; dietary sources of Vitamin D are poor and generally considered insufficient to maintain adequate levels.

Vitamin D is linked with many biological functions relevant to a rugby player, including bone health, immune function and skeletal muscle function. Many athletes have insufficient or deficient vitamin D levels, especially in the winter months, so it may help to take vitamin D supplements at this time of year.

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Other supplements to consider

For illness: Zinc Lozenges

Upper respiratory infections such as the common cold and flu can limit players' ability to train and compete. Research has shown that using zinc lozenges for treating the common cold and flu-like symptoms reduced the duration of the infection by about 3 days – as long as the lozenges were taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Zinc Defence Lozenges pack

Zinc Defence Lozenges

Take at the first sign of cold and flu

  • Throat lozenges with zinc to defend your immune health
  • Coats the membranes of nose and throat when taken at the first sign of cold and flu
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For connective tissue injuries: Collagen

Collagen is the main protein that makes up tendons and ligaments (the connective tissues). After sustaining a connective tissue injury, supplementing with collagen and vitamin C can improve tendon and ligament repair.

Elite Collagen Repair pack

Collagen Repair

Type I and type III collagen in an orange-flavoured drink

  • 20g type I and type III hydrolysed collagen per serving
  • 80mg added vitamin C to support cartilage formation
  • Collagen plays a vital role in tendons and ligaments
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Supplements, anti-doping and Informed Sport

Finally, with all sport supplements, the player is responsible for what they consume. Make sure you know what you are taking and why you are taking it. Always choose sport supplements that have been tested for banned substances listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list – these will carry the Informed Sport logo.

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Ruth Wood-Martin

About Ruth Wood-Martin

Ruth Wood-Martin is a Registered Dietitian and former Performance Nutritionist with the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).