I have only just come across this particular article, so apologies if it has already been flagged. However, as England will play Australia in the World Cup Final in Sydney on Saturday, I feel that it is very timely to feature this article here.
More proteins for England rugby team
By Peta Bee
The Times Online, Health Section
28 September, 2003
Less carbohydrate is the order of the day
EXPERTS slam it as “pseudo scientific” and give warning that the long-term health risks of the Atkins diet include heart disease, kidney and liver damage, osteoporosis and bowel cancer. Among its critics is Dr Susan Jebb, the head of nutrition at the Medical Research Council, who says the high-protein approach is “a massive health risk”. Yet England’s rugby team are among the three million Britons who are cutting down on carbohydrates, as they prepare for the Rugby Union World Cup in Australia next month.
With England joint favourites — with New Zealand — to win the competition, the team head coach, Clive Woodward, is ensuring that his players are in peak condition. And for the final squad of 30, announced yesterday, that means adopting an unorthodox diet. On the advice of their nutritionist, Matt Lovell, protein is in, but carbohydrate, deemed an essential source of fuel for top athletes, is restricted until lunchtime, and banned thereafter.
“We avoid carbs after midday,” says Phil Vickery, who plays for Gloucester. “Matt says the body doesn’t digest carbs during the evening, and they turn to fat overnight.”
Such are the demands of playing international rugby that most players consume an average of 6,000 calories a day, washed down with up to 9l of sports drinks and water. “Some players need 300g of protein a day,” says Matt Dawson, a Northampton player. “It would be impossible to eat that amount, so we take high-protein drinks and shakes as well.”
A typical breakfast consists of egg-white omelettes with bacon or gammon steaks and porridge mixed with quinoa, a high-protein grain. “Quinoa has more protein than any other grain,” says Roz Kadir, a nutritionist who has worked with the England team and is a co-author of the Rugby Football Union’s handbook, Eating for England. “It is packed with essential amino acids and is a high-quality source of protein. You can have it on its own as a porridge, but most players mix it with oats because it’s not very tasty.”
“At lunch we have chicken breasts, or fish, with salad or vegetables and maybe potatoes or bread rolls,” says Vickery. “In the evening we have a high-protein meal, but no carbs.”
This approach flies in the face of conventional sports nutrition wisdom, in which carbohydrates are deemed the most important for top performance. “Athletes in intense training need to consume at least 60 per cent of their total energy intake as carbohydrate,” says Jane Griffin, a dietitian to many of Britain’s Olympic teams and to the England and Wales Cricket Board. “It is converted by the body into glycogen, the fuel for physical activity, and is needed to make muscles contract. Sprinters and rugby players need carbohydrate. But the body can store only limited amounts of carbohydrate, so you need to eat it regularly to avoid excessive fatigue.”
But Kadir insists that protein is more important in many sports. With energy coming from carbohydrates and other foods taken from before mid-day and from the litres of isotonic sports drinks, which contain tiny particles of easily digested carbohydrates, consumed before during and after training, protein fulfils the role of boosting muscle recovery when training is over. “For a rugby player, protein provides the amino acids needed to build muscle and maintain power and strength,” she says. “By dramatically increasing their protein intake, they can support their muscle mass and provide for growth and repair of muscle fibres.”
But does this twist on the the 1960s and 1970s pre-match diet of steak and eggs work? Apparently so. “We aim to maintain strength without putting on body fat,” says Neil Back, a Leicester player. “We don’t need to lose weight unless we are injured, when the pounds can stay on, but in the old days we would eat sugar with everything and stuff ourselves with carbs, which convert to fat if you don’t work them off straight away.”
The team is satisfied with the approach. “Our weight and body fat are checked daily; this diet seems to keep things in order,” says Vickery.