Food for sport: Body-building for rugby league players | NRL News


Rugby league is a sport that places huge demands on its athletes both physically and mentally. And just like with other sports, nutrition plays a key role in the player’s performance. It goes without saying that training is paramount to building performance, but it is nutrition that facilitates, supports and develops your training.

As with training, nutrition should be specifically based on the position you play. Forwards usually weigh between 90-110kg. They need to be heavier due to their involvement in the scrums and tackling. Backs usually weigh between 80-95kg. They need to be more agile and so tend to be smaller and leaner. But more than your position, your nutritional strategy should be customised to your current physique, your performance status and your goal.

As the Manly Sea Eagles superstar Martin Taupau shared in the Costco catalogue on page 21, ‘anyone can achieve their goals if they put in the effort’. So to help you along, we looked into the specific nutritional needs rugby league players would need and we came up with the following:


When training on a regular basis, muscle tissue tends to tear and protein helps it to grow back stronger. To maximise the rate at which the body builds muscle, it is recommended to eat between 1.4g and 1.6g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day.

According to nutritionists, good sources of protein include eggs, red meat, chicken, turkey and fish. Protein powders are also good sources, although these should never replace real food. They should only be a backup option if you are ever caught short. A good number to aim for is between 25g and 30g of protein at each meal.


Rugby is a sport unlike endurance sports, it requires a high degree of explosive power. While protein works as the building blocks of muscles, carbohydrates provide the fuel to sustain them.Carbohydrates are good for providing energy: some carbohydrates can be broken down rapidly, thus causing the sugars they contain to be absorbed quickly. Inside our muscles the body stores glycogen, which we use as a fuel source during exercise.

Eating carbohydrates replenishes glycogen stores; the more you put into your body, the more fuel you’ll have. White bread, pasta and sugar, although seen as “bad” carbs, are actually needed so it’s important not to cut those out altogether. Potatoes, butternut squash, rice, quinoa and oats are also great sources of carbohydrates.

The harder you train, the more carbs you should be eating. If you’re looking to put on size, between 40 and 55% of your calories should come from carbs.


Fats play an important part in health and performance but just like carbs, there are good and bad ones out there. Good fats include whole eggs, oily fish, avocados, grass fed beef, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and some seeds and nuts. Bad fats are the trans fats like vegetable oils, margarine or any foods that might be hiding these ingredients. A simple way to eat the good fats is to add half an avocado to your salad, or an egg fried in coconut oil to top your steak.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash


Even the hardest of rugby league players should eat their vegetables. Packed with key nutrients and antioxidants, vegetables are essential to performance on the field. It’s a good idea to eat a mix of different vegetable varieties to prevent getting bored of eating the same kinds of foods, but to also get a range of nutrients.

The more colours you can incorporate into your diet, the better. Change up the way you cook the veg, from steaming to roasting, and add different flavourings and spices to bring it all to life!


It goes without saying that if you want to add size and get big, you have to eat big. But it’s also important to establish what this really means. For most people, it doesn’t mean stuffing yourself at every meal.

The best way to work out how much you need to be eating is by using a daily calorie calculator to workout your daily maintenance calories. To add size, add 10-25% more on top of it. For a guy who weighs 80kg and who trains four times per week, with a match at the weekend, they need to consume a whopping 3350 calories per day!

Hydration needs

The fluid needs of rugby league players are generally high due to the ‘stop-start’ style of the game which can result in high sweat rates. Dehydration negatively affects speed, agility and decision making. It is therefore important for players to start all training sessions and games well hydrated.

If you produce clear urine before exercise, that’s a useful indicator of good hydration. In order to improve hydration levels during and after exercise or matches, have fluids with all meals and snacks, carry a water bottle throughout the day, drink 200-400ml of fluid before the start of training or a game. Also drink sufficient fluids to replace sweat losses after training or matches.


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