Finals Footy Food

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By ARU High Performance Unit, ARU Media Unit

With finals in various rugby competitions upon us & the Rugby World Cup just about to start, it’s only natural to look to all avenues to get the most out of your body during these critical games. You’ve trained hard throughout the season, won more games than you’ve lost, managed your recovery between games and worked through those niggling little injuries and you’re ready to lift the trophy aloft.

You recognize what you eat & drink also impacts on performance & you’ve been conscious of this each week but is there anything else you could do or take

Reality is your eating & drinking strategies for a final should be based on what’s been so successful for you throughout the season. The last thing you’d want to do is introduce a new food, drink or supplement that you haven’t used before & thus don’t know if you tolerate it or how you’ll respond to it. The analogy would be wearing a brand new pair of boots in a final when you’ve never used them before… hello blisters!

Rather than looking for that extra performance boost from something new, use the following tips to assist you in ensuring you are getting the most from your existing strategies…

- Focus on your food & fluid strategies 1‐2 days before kick‐off. If you have an early final, start 2 days out while a final late in the day will demand consideration of your diet the day before & game day.

- Given the higher intensity of finals, energy reserves are more likely to be challenged. Allocate more of your plate real estate to fuel foods like bread & other flour based foods (English muffins, crumpets), pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, fruit in all its forms, dairy snacks (yoghurt, custard, flavoured milk) and starchy veggies (potato & corn). By cutting back the size of your protein rich foods and following a low fat meal plan you’ll be able to carb up without blowing your energy budget.

- Finals footy can be played in warmer weather so it’s critical you start the game well hydrated. Boost your total fluid intake the day before the final, focusing much of your extra fluid intake at meals & snacks. The salt in your food helps ensure the fluid is retained in your body, boosting body fluid stores, rather than passing out in your urine. Following this strategy you should wake game day in a well hydrated state. This can be confirmed by looking at your waking urine sample… there should be plenty of it & light straw coloured. On game day, simply continue to drink with meals & snacks but don’t be too aggressive in the 2‐3 hrs before the game, the hard yards should already be done. Knocking back heaps of water before the game is a sure fire way to making you feel uncomfortable & it won’t make you any better hydrated, you’ll just be pissing more.

- While energy reserves are a reflection of your diet over the previous 1‐2 days, your pre‐game meal is still important as the fuel it contains will help sustain your performance on the field. Given this, focus your attention on a carb rich pre‐game meal like a stir‐fry with accompanying rice, pasta dish, sandwiches with an extra carb hot filling (try a banana, honey & peanut paste sandwich or roll) or the Wallabies favourite pancakes with maple syrup. Larger pre‐game meals are best taken 3‐4 hrs before kick‐off while smaller meals & snacks can be taken 1‐2 hrs beforehand. Given this, try to stick to the following meal times…

- 2pm Game – 7am breakfast, 11am pre‐game meal
- 4pm Game – 7am breakfast, 10am snack, 1pm pre‐game meal
- 7pm Game – 8am breakfast, 10am snack, 1pm lunch, 4pm pre‐game meal

- If nerves get the better of you before a final, choose energy packed drinks or snacks like creamed rice & sports or cereal bars. Alternatively, liquid snacks (like home made smoothies with milk, yoghurt, fruit & honey, or carbohydrate rich powders like PowerBar Protein Plus, Sustagen Sport, Musashi Bulk or BSc Rapid Growth) may be particularly valuable as they leave the stomach quickly, ensuring you feel comfortable in time for kick‐off.

- If you’re chasing a performance boost from caffeine, talk to your sports performance dietitian to see if it’s right for you. Getting the dose or timing wrong may actually impair your performance, ot boost it. As with any other etary strategy, the use of caffeine and other supplements needs to be trialed in training to develop a protocol that works best for you.

- After your warm‐up, down ½‐1 bottle of sports drink. This not only tops up energy reserves but also ‘primes’ your gut to maximize the rate of fluid uptake during the final, ensuring the fluid goes into your system quick.

- Make sports drinks your drink of choice during the final; they get fuel to the muscles when you need it most. If you can’t knock down a sports drink, at least get through 1 gel at half‐time to help get you through the back end of the final. The sheds should be littered with empty bottles of sports drink & gels after the final.

- After the game, start the recovery process ASAP by getting some carbs, protein, fluid & electrolytes into the system. This not only helps with restoring energy levels & muscle repair, but also helps to decrease muscle soreness. A 500 ml bottle of low fat flavoured milk is excellent in recovery as it’s easy to knock back & provides heaps of carbs, protein & electrolytes. Complement this with a burger, sushi or similar in the sheds as your appetite returns & you’re a long way towards getting yourself ready for the next session.

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