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01st Jan 2022

How Irish rugby players eat before a big game

Patrick McCarry

rugby diet

“He was putting steaks and napkins in his fleece pocket to save them for later!”

Rugby has changed dramatically since the game went from amateur to psuedo-professional and, now, fully professional. The professional rugby diet have changed massively too.

In the early days, players would get a big feed of chicken and pasta into them before taking to the field. Now, most players will go easy on the carbs on match-day and, if they do, opt for gluten-free [prevents bloating and “wind”, some swear].

Rugby, like most other professional high-stakes sports, is all about the extra 1% and how getting on top of them can lead to optimal performance.

On House of Rugby URC  [LISTEN from 24:00 below] Mike McCarthy shared some great old-school rugby diet tales, while Sean O’Brien gave a modern spin on the pre-match meals he has before London Irish games.

Mike McCarthy and Sean O’Brien pictured at Ireland training in 2011. (Credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE)

‘It was absolutely ridiculous,’ Mike McCarthy admits

“I always went for scrambled egg on toast for breakfast,” McCarthy recalls of one of his rugby diet staples.

The former Connacht, Leinster and Ireland forward would then motor away with his pre-match preparations for three hours before getting some lunch in. “I’d go for some chicken and pasta, with no sauce, because the worst thing is when you’re burping up a bit of tomato sauce. I’d keep it very light.”

In his Connacht days – his first stint in 2003/04 – it was a bit heavier than that. He recalls the squad going for some pre-match meals at the Radisson Hotel in Galway.

“It was absolutely ridiculous. They’d have the all the buffet lined up, in those metal tin things. You had steak, salmon, pasta. Endless supplies of food.

“This was back in 2004 and professionalism wasn’t where it is now. So lads would be going in and filling their plates with tuna-steaks, salmon, steaks; mountains of food.

“Peter Bracken was putting steaks in napkins and sticking them in his fleece pockets for later! Then we’d go off and play a game and we’d be full up.”

Peter Bracken pictured playing for Connacht in 2001. (Credit: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE)

Sean O’Brien on carb-loading rugby diet

Current Leinster and Ireland flanker Will Connors eats a very bland match-day diet, consisting mainly of Weetabix and sipping away at water or a shake.

“My game day is pretty boring,” Sean O’Brien admitted. “It’s the day before where I’m carb loading.

“It’d be getting the right amount of carbohydrates in so the batteries are fully charged for the next day. That’s a lot of food – four to six meals. Bananas, blueberries, smoothies, rice, yoghurts. Up the carbs, lower the proteins.

“The morning of, I’d usually get up at 8 or 8:30am on match days, no matter the kick-off time. I’d have overnight oats or porridge, then poached eggs, maybe a bit of bacon and one slice of toast. That’s really me until pre-match. I usually have a bowl of rice pudding. I try to get the day before 100% so I don’t need that much food on the day of a game. I like to feel light and lean.”

The area of nutrition and the best food and drink to be taking on-board is constantly changing, so the stories of the current generation may change too.

One thing O’Brien definitely avoids, nowadays, is the caffeine gels or pills before a match. “I took two of the before a game, once,” he recalled, “and I had four penalties given away in the first 15 minutes. I was wired!”

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