The physical demands of professional rugby are immense. Completing multiple training sessions a day, along with intense weight training in the gym and high-impact games every weekend requires quality sustenance from food and supplements for optimal recovery and peak performance.

And as a predominantly power-based sport, players need to pack on and maintain considerable muscle mass to compete physically on the field, while retaining their athleticism and efficiency.

Achieving this level of conditioning and strength requires a suitably periodised training programme and an evidence-based nutrition plan that provides adequate protein and carbohydrates, without compromising on quality fats.

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Focused on protein

Protein is essential to meet the players’ massive recovery demands. Our main aim is to never allow players to fall into a protein deficit,” explains DHL WP Rugby strength coach, Nico de Villiers.

That means consuming protein at regular intervals throughout the day, with a special focus on important periods like first thing in the morning, after training sessions or games, and at night before bed.

But it’s about more than just meal frequency as protein intakes for players far exceed the recommended 1.6g per kilogram that applies to the average active person.

In the off-season, protein intakes can go as high as 2.5g/kg when players need to bulk up. And it is hard to hit these macronutrient intakes with food alone.”

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Support from supplements

To help players meet their nutritional demands, DHL WP Rugby looked for a supplement provider that offers clean products that are grounded in science and chose to partner with EVOX Advanced Nutrition.

We advocate a ‘food first’ nutritional approach, with supplements there for convenience and support. While we invest significant time and resources to educate players about the role supplements can play in a broader performance nutrition plan, we’re not prescriptive.”

As long as players eat their three big main meals, they can choose what they consume in between for their remaining snacks, and their post-workout or post-game meals. Getting these nutritional basics right on a consistent basis is the team’s primary objective.

Providing access to quality food sources is our first priority, followed by hitting the right macronutrient and calorie targets. We have a consulting dietician who provides guidance and a company that produces balanced meals for the players whenever they are within the WP Rugby environment.”

In essence, WP Rugby controls two meals and two snacks during the week on ‘high load’ days and all meals on game day.

We make sure there is always protein available, particularly within the first hour after any physical activity. It is vital that players get in a 30g protein serving within that window,” elaborates Nico.

In these instances, a highly bioavailable liquid protein source is convenient and popular among the players.

This can include an EVOX protein shake, bar or a flavoured milk product. We then provide a selection of solid food options after games in the change rooms for the players to eat when they get hungry.”

It is up to the players to follow the plan and meet their targets during the remainder of the week.

Supplements help to occasionally fill any gaps when the players can’t make or access food, or to augment meals. We are also using casein protein as a means to keep players in a positive protein balance overnight,” adds Nico.

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Performance boosters

Nico advocates other supplements around training sessions and games for their proven performance benefits.

I push creatine a lot because it is a supplement with numerous longitudinal studies backing its efficacy. We use it before workouts to boost the player’s physical capacity in the gym and on the field. The ability to train more intensely for longer periods provides the impetus from strength gains and muscle growth, but only when coupled with adequate nutrition.”

Nico says more education is needed in the industry to understand how creatine can benefit players as the idea that the product has direct anabolic (muscle-building) effects remains a common misperception.

EVOX produces an effective and palatable creatine drink that contains added amino acids. It is a convenient and tasty drink, which makes it easy to ingest.”

EVOX Alpha Creatine Overload includes creatine, L-glutamine and taurine with a glycaemic transport stack that contains rapidly-absorbed carbohydrates, which boosts creatine uptake to improve strength and endurance while refuelling glycogen stores and aiding muscle recovery.

Nico also prescribes creatine for injured players to assist with their recovery. “Research shows that creatine supplements, when coupled with other amino acids from protein, can slow muscle atrophy (muscle loss).”

And Nico and his team are experimenting with collagen and vitamin C to aid and accelerate recovery from injury, and plan to add these compounds into their supplement protocols in future as a proactive measure to reduce injury risk among players.

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Caffeine kick

Many WP Rugby players also use pre-workout products that contain caffeine – another performance-enhancing compound with significant research backing its effectiveness.

EVOX provides products that blend high-dose caffeine servings with creatine, like in EVOX Alpha Pre-Surge Extreme. Each serving provides 320 mg of caffeine – about the same as 4 cups of coffee – along with creatine monohydrate and creatine HCL, together with a transport system.

Many players like to use caffeine when they have multiple sessions, which we provide to them in different forms,” explains Nico. These can include gels, mixes and drinks.

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Replacing electrolytes

The other key element in the team’s supplement plan is electrolytes. According to Nico, there are always sachets or ready-mixed bottles available for players during training sessions and games, especially during the warmer months.

EVOX Amino Hydrate is an effective option, offering an isotonic, hydrating intra-workout supplement with essential amino acids, glutamine and glycine to support hydration and recovery.

We also include an electrolyte drink with certain snacks or lunch during the day. In summer, players will drink this mix twice a day.”

Players will drink 400ml of water that contains electrolytes with their pre-match meal on game day and again at halftime.

We might also add magnesium tabs or include electrolytes to another pre-workout drink or caffeine drink, along with some carbs for energy.”

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Player safety

As professional athletes, it is vital that any supplements the players take comply with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations.

We have confidence in our partnership with EVOX because the company batch tests what they provide DHL WP Rugby to ensure every bottle or tub contains only what it says on the label,” concludes Nico.

The EVOX Rugby Supplement Stack: