Sports nutrition for professional athletes – What you can learn

An extra pound of body fat can make the difference in making a try saving tackle in the corner or conceding a last gasp try. Excess fat slows everyone down.

When I ‘m working with professional rugby players I regularly monitor their body composition.  What we look at when measuring the players is their body fat % and lean muscle mass.

Professional players need to ensure their body fat % is within acceptable parameters, there are obvious differences between positions, with the front row forwards allowed to have an extra pound of fat or three.

You might think that it’s easy for a professional player to get in shape and stay in shape throughout the season, it’s not.  It requires continual vigilance and the formation of good habits. What makes it more challenging is that we are all surrounded by foods that look yummy but ultimately are going to impair performance. Sweet’s, cakes, chocolates, pies and pastries every one has their weak spot.

Any extra food consumed that’s not burnt off through exercise WILL get converted to fat, bearing that in mind, the professional rugby player has to monitor his intake and match it to the level of training.

If you were to follow a player around for a day there are 2 things that would strike you:

‘Do they ever stop eating?’     A professional rugby player probably eats 6-8 times a day they’ll have something before and after every training session and smaller meals spaced throughout the day.  Believe it or not everyone should be eating 4-5 times every day as eating more often can help you manage your weight and can even help you burn fat.

If you look at how the majority of people eat it’s easy to see why obesity levels are rising in the western world.  Generally we skip breakfast or have a smallish one e.g. a bowl of cereal or some jam and toast. We arrive at lunch time famished and usually end up overeating by having a couple of sandwiches and maybe even a cake.

Then there will often be a huge gap before the evening meal maybe punctuated by a chocolate bar or bag of crisps.

As evening approaches, we are now really hungry, getting hungry is a real mistake as it turns on your fat storing hormones.  Our fat storing hormones  now turned on we then have a huge evening meal. When we overeat the excess energy which is not used to replenish our energy stores gets converted to fat.

If you were to eat the same quantity of food and space it out over the course of the day into 4 or 5 smaller meals instead of 2 or 3 bigger meals you’ll be continually topping up your energy stores during the day instead of overwhelming them and having the excess  energy converted to fat..

I’ve explained this concept among others in a document you can access for free at Another point that you will notice about the diet of a professional rugby player is …

Why are they eating so much protein?  The professional rugby player will eat anything up to 300 grams of protein in a day that’s the equivalent of about 10  tins of tuna, 8 Chicken breasts or 50 Eggs.  There’s a number of reasons they eat so much and some lessons for the average person to be learnt as well.

When anyone exercises‘damage’ is done to the muscles, exercises like weight training and scrum practice are more strenuous and cause more ‘damage’.  The body requires protein to help repair that damage and help the muscles increase in size if that is the goal.

The other reason why protein is important and this has implications for everyone is that protein requires more energy to digest than energy dense fats and carbohydrate.  It’s not quite like celery that requires more energy in chewing it and digesting it than is actually contained in it, but protein is headed in that direction.

My recommendations to help ANYONE manage their weight more effectively are to

  • to eat 4-5 smaller meals evenly spaced during the day and to
  • eat protein with every meal

Next time I’ll let you know some more tips, including some naturally occurring supplements that international players use to manage their weight so you can benefit too.


Matt Lovell – Elite Sports Nutritionist

Matt Lovell - Elite Sports Nutritionist

Matt Lovell is an Elite Sports Nutritionist. He has worked with the England Rugby Team since 2002 and also currently works with 4 premiership teams and UK Athletics team as they prepare for the Olympic Games in London in 2012..  His primary website is  chock full of useful Sports Nutrition information and if you leave a question Matt’s really good at getting back to you.

Matt has written a comprehensive guide on Preparing for a Big Event, the popular Fat Loss Program Four Week Fat Loss and Regenerate a Muscle Building Nutrition program.


Leave a Reply

Additional Articles From "Fat"