What do NRL players eat?

Our team of dietitians are involved in helping some of the top NRL players to fuel their performance and we often get asked what the players really eat. Do they eat special diets? Do they eat crazy amounts of food? Use our guide below to get a feel for how an NRL player normally eats. If you’d like to take it a step further, we also offer one on one virtual appointments so we can really help you to nail your nutrition before the start of the next rugby league season!

What to eat before NRL training

Before training sessions, it’s crucial for players to fuel their bodies for performance. NRL training during the season will vary from 4-6 sessions per week depending on the turnaround times between each game. Training involves a mix of strength sessions in the gym, field training sessions, conditioning, skill development as well as extras such as Pilates. Depending on the type of training session, particularly in regards to intensity and duration, fuelling needs will vary.

For example, it’s essential to fuel adequately before a strength session, field training session or skill development session to ensure that players are switched on and ready to perform. A high-carbohydrate meal 2-4 hours before these sessions and a high-carbohydrate top-up snack 1-1.5 hours beforehand are provided for players at this time. These can include:

Meals:

    • Rolled oats with fruit and nuts 
    • Yoghurt with muesli and fruit 
    • Eggs on toast 
    • Pasta or rice-based meals 
    • Sandwich or wraps 

Top-up snacks:

    • Fruit 
    • Rice crackers
    • Muesli bars 
    • Toast with vegemite 
    • Banana smoothie 

NRL players have a team of support staff who work with them through the week, including a team Dietitian who helps to individualise their nutrition plans depending on personal performance and body composition goals. For some players, carbohydrate periodisation is utilised to assist performance outcomes and body composition. This means adjusting their intake based on the type of training sessions they are doing and being strategic about the timing of carbohydrates, where some meals or snacks might be lower in carbohydrates. This is only recommended on an individualised basis as it needs to be planned carefully by a Sports Dietitian.

    What to eat after NRL training

    During the playing season, recovery between games is a priority for NRL players so that they can turn up to each game day feeling ready to play and help to reduce their injury risk. Nutrition is an important component of the recovery process. After a training session, NRL players consume a quality source of protein within 1 hour of completing that session. This 1-hour window is important as they generally have multiple training sessions in a day so there is a shorter window of time for recovery, compared to the general population who may only train once a day and therefore have plenty of time for recovery nutrition between sessions. 

    This protein might be in the form of a protein shake or a meal or snack that also provides carbohydrates to refuel glycogen stores. These could include:

    • Chicken & salad wraps
    • Spaghetti Bolognese
    • Salmon Poke bowl
    • Beef burrito bowl 
    • Yoghurt, fruit & muesli
    • Fruit yoghurt smoothie 

    NRL game day nutrition 

    Game day is often the trickiest day of the week nutrition-wise. Many players may feel nervous or excited in the lead-up to the game, which can lead to poor appetite and lack of interest in food. But we know from all our nutrition strategies throughout the training week that fuelling for performance is important right? So, managing factors such as nerves are key on game day. For this, we always encourage players to practice their game-day nutrition in training first. There is one golden rule for game day and that is: don’t try anything new on game day! It is important to establish a routine of meals and snacks that players know will sit well in their stomachs and help their bodies to feel great. If game day nerves get in the way of eating, trying liquid meals like homemade fruit smoothies, or eating smaller portions of food can be helpful strategies. 

    Meals on game day should be low in fat, moderate in protein and higher in carbohydrates to help fuel performance. The last main meal should be consumed 2-4 hours before warm-up, while carbohydrate top-up snacks are recommended 1-2 hours before warm-up. 

    During the game, hydration is key as well as maintaining energy levels to prevent the onset of fatigue before the end of the game. Players have individual preferences on what they enjoy and need during the game, which can also be influenced by their position on the field and the distances they run during a game. From gels, to lollies, energy drinks, supplements and more, there are plenty of options available but these are recommended on an individual basis for each player. 

    nrl game day nutrition

    What about cheat days?

    As you can see from these examples, NRL players don’t necessarily follow a special diet or eat different foods from the everyday person! What’s different is their strategic timing and amounts of nutrients around training sessions and games to assist recovery and performance. NRL players also need to eat quality foods in the diet from a range of food groups to provide the body with essential micronutrients that aid immune health, overall health and injury prevention.

    But like anyone, NRL players also enjoy some foods that aren’t necessarily healthy, but are tasty! After a game, you might see NRL players enjoying pizzas or burgers in the changerooms. After a big week of training and an intense 90 minutes of rugby league, these foods are generally the most appetising compared to eating a meal of meat and salad for example. Although the nutritional value isn’t as good quality as a healthy meal, eating something (rather than nothing) is the priority at this time to help provide some nutrients that aid the body’s recovery processes. Instead of calling it a cheat meal, we like to reframe the mindset and call it a sometimes meal instead!

    If you are wanting to take your game to the next level, need help with your energy levels, are sick of unwanted niggling injuries, or simply want some credible and reliable nutrition information, our team of Dietitians offer online appointments via zoom.

    Our Nutrition for Rugby League eBook is also recommended for anyone who plays rugby league. The eBook covers our tried and tested game day nutrition strategies for NRL players and provides you with the space to plan out your own unique game-day strategy. The Health & Performance Collective Nutrition for Rugby League eBook has 8 chapters and 64 pages of content to help you with your game, including:

    • How to build healthy meals and snacks
    • Adjusting your intake for training
    • Managing nutrition & injury
    • Nailing your game day fuel
    • Meal planning for your training week
    • Simple recipes for athletes