As recent interest in the achievements of our Olympic Champions has shown, what matters to athletes whatever their sport is winning and performing at their best whilst avoiding injury and illness. As the teams in this year's Carnegie Challenge Cup final know performance on the pitch in rugby league is determined by many factors including nutritional strategies adopted before, during and after a match. However, the contribution that good nutritional planning and preparation can make to the training process is often overlooked. Top flight players in today's professional game will not ignore the potential benefits to be gained from allowing them to train consistently and effectively to meet the desired adaptations in response to training such as increases in strength, speed, power and endurance or gains or losses in body mass.
In the lead up to the Challenge Cup Final the teams will be paying attention to detail in meeting their nutritional requirements. Although research in the field of sports nutrition is far from complete there is a general consensus that athletes do not require additional nutrients outside those obtained from a healthy, balanced and varied diet and that dietary guidelines for healthy eating developed for the general population are applicable to athletes whatever their sport, and in the case of rugby league should at least form the foundations on which sport specific nutritional strategies can be built and fine tuned for match-play.
The day-to-day training diet of the rugby league player will be high in calories to meet energy needs and promote muscle gain based around three meals and regular snacks. It will be high in carbohydrate-rich foods like breakfast cereals, breads, muffins, bagels, cereal bars, rice, pasta, potatoes and fruit that form the basis of most meals and snacks to promote exercise performance, recovery from training and muscle gain. A moderate protein intake from foods such as meat, chicken, fish, dairy products and vegetarian sources will be consumed. In addition the diet will be low in fat, include fruit and vegetables and be minimal in alcohol content. Alcohol can lead to poor recovery, slow repair of injury and contribute to excess weight.
In the lead up to the final the players will aim to eat well throughout the week before to maintain energy stores and facilitate recovery from training. To be optimally nutritionally prepared for a 14.30 kick-off the players will have ensured a high carbohydrate meal the night before, as well as breakfast. An important match day is not the time to try anything new, so ideally the pre-match meal will be a familiar and light, high carbohydrate meal consumed 2-3 hours prior to the match, such as pasta with tomato sauce, sandwiches or rolls or baked potatoes with low fat fillings, or beans on toast. Dehydration can lead to loss of concentration and coordination so players will aim to keep fluid intake high the preceding day as well as on match day itself and top up with snacks and fluid in the locker room. During the match they will aim to drink small amounts frequently when breaks in play allow and at half time.