Shellfish – the Ultimate Rugby Fuel
With the Six Nations final weekend about to commence and all at stake for our national sides, extensive muscle injury, inflammation and fatigue are going be issues that team physios, coaches and nutritionists will be addressing.
If like us, the competition has left you feeling inspired to participate or just curious about what is required to adequately nourish an athlete at a top of their profession, then the nutrition and health benefits of including shellfish in a high-energy and high-impact sport diet can prove vital in maintaining peak condition.
Our consultant nutritionist, Eva Humphries DipION, mBANT, CNHC, looks at how to fuel a rugby player.
With the average weight of the current English Six Nations squad just under 16 st 7lbs, it’s fair to say rugby is a game for bulkier beings. Whilst it would be reasonable to assume this sport makes way for genetically larger players, look back a few years and there were some distinct differences.
A recent study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine noted that players in 1955 weighed, on average, just over 13 stone. The data suggests that somehow in the last 60 years, rugby players have increased in weight by as much as 25%.
If you are thinking, the average person has also increased in weight, you would be correct but the rates are somewhat different.
Here is the average British male in 1954: 11st 6lbs and 5ft 7in.
Here is the average British male now: 12st 6lbs and 5ft 9in.
The difference in weight is a mere 8%, so what exactly is driving the growth of rugby players?
One simple answer would be power. Propel a much larger player at another player and the force is likened to a 60mph car crash, which is pretty impressive from two humans running at each other. There is of course a caveat in that players also have to be fit and strong not just bulky.
Nutritionally, this is a tricky thing to achieve since merely putting on weight would significantly slow movement. Power comes from muscle mass which is an entirely (pardon the seafood pun) different kettle of fish.
Former Wales Rugby Union captain Sam Warburton has once described himself as “naturally skinny” to Coach Magazine. Going through the rugby academy system, his biggest hurdle was bulking up in order to cope with the challenges of this demanding sport.
As those of you following Welsh rugby will know, he did a sterling job, eventually reaching a healthy 15st 6lbs at the height of his career.
Precision bulking by increasing muscle mass needs a specific diet high in protein alongside carbohydrates and, of course, exercise.
Muscle is mostly protein so once it is torn through exercise, it requires more protein to fill the gaps and carbohydrates serve as a fuel source.
Sadly protein doesn’t just stick around once eaten. Usually the body finds a way to convert it to something else if it isn’t used up thus regular intakes are needed.
It is not uncommon for rugby players to consume 4 or more meals a day with an additional protein shake added in for good measure. Consistent intakes of protein and carbohydrates, evenly spread out through the day alongside exercise is what drives the muscle growth and bulk required for this intensive sport.
Naturally, the protein/ carbohydrate combination is only part of the story because there are a lot of nutrients involved in making muscle building and repair happen.
Vitamin C, zinc and magnesium, for example, all act as “glue” for protein, attaching the correct fractions to muscle in order to help it grow.
Muscle building is also pretty costly thanks to inflammation. Much like when you fall over and graze your knee which then becomes sore and swollen, exercise causes little tears in muscle that inflame. If you’ve ever overdone it at the gym, you’ll be familiar with muscle soreness.
This reaction is a natural part of the muscle building process but it does require extra nutrients to regulate it. Omega 3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that do this particularly well but there are several other nutrients like the Vitamins C, A and D that also chip in.
Lastly there is energy production which again uses nutrients. Muscle movement needs energy, a
lot of exercise will need even more of it and every time energy is produced, vitamins and minerals are used up in the process.
To correctly fuel intensive exercise, a combination of proteins and carbohydrates should be complemented with nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables and healthy fats.
A Case for Shellfish
If you’ve glanced over our previous blog post titled “Shellfish in Sport”, you’ll be familiar with the various ways in which shellfish is a prime candidate for consumption by athletes.
Like other animal products, it is a top source of protein with a small bowl of mussels, clams, brown shrimp or crab providing in excess of 25 grams of this muscle building macronutrient.
Unlike other animal products, shellfish truly shines when it comes to nutrient density. Those anti- inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids that are otherwise hard to obtain are especially high in mussels, oysters, crab and clams.
Then there are the vitamins and minerals. Crab is possibly the single best source of the muscle repair enhancing mineral zinc.
Many other nutrients, including calcium, magnesium and B vitamins, to name a few, are also abundant in our humble British shellfish.
We may be slightly biased, but our native shellfish could well be a top choice for rugby players!