10 top nutrition tips to help you make the most of your summer off

CBDIABLO team up with performance nutrition consultant Tom Coughlin to help readers make sure they both enjoy and benefit from this offseason

Performance nutrition consultant Tom Coughlin says getting your body ready for pre-season doesn't have to mean rigid summer diet. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Performance nutrition consultant Tom Coughlin says getting your body ready for pre-season doesn't have to mean rigid summer diet. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

OUR friends at CBDIABLO have persuaded leading performance nutrition consultant Tom Coughlin to compose a list of 10 essential tips to make sure rugby playing (or just fitness conscious) readers of The Offside Line are able to enjoy their summer off, at the same time as helping their body recover and then prepare for the start of the 2024-25 season … which will be upon us before you know it!

Originally from Sussex, Tom moved to Islay on the west coast of Scotland in 2002, where he finished his schooling. He completed his Undergraduate degree in Psychology and Sports Science at Stirling University in 2015, his Masters in Sports and Exercise Nutrition at Loughborough in 2016, and was Glasgow Warriors’ performance nutritionist between 2017 and 2019. He had three years as lead nutritionist for Scottish Rugby between 2019 and 2022, which took in the 2019 World Cup in Japan with the men’s national team, before returning to consultancy where he works primarily in team sport with Edinburgh Rugby and Hibernian FC.

Find out more about Tom’s career and work by clicking HERE.

We hope you find Tom’s insights and advice useful!

 

Tom Coughlin with Sam Williamson and Ian McLaren of CBDiablo. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Tom Coughlin with Sam Williamson and Ian McLaren of CBDiablo. Image: © Craig Watson – www.craigwatson.co.uk

 

 

Tom says …

THE offseason presents a unique opportunity in the annual rugby calendar. A chance to come up for air and relax after a season’s worth of training and matches.

There are two typical paths that rugby players follow in this period. Number one, is completely switching off. No plan. No routine. This certainly has an initial attraction as a form of mental break from the sport. However, you may run the risk of taking a few steps backwards in your athletic development.

The second path is one of progress and improvement. Using the offseason as a pre-preseason with the goals of coming back on day one of the new season, in the shape of your life. Whilst this does appeal to your inner athlete, it also sounds like a lot of effort.

Thankfully, you don’t have to follow either offseason path. As with many aspects of nutrition, there is a subtle blend of both that can keep you in exceptional shape and feeling like you have had a proper break.


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You do not need to follow a regimented nutrition plan, eating chicken, rice and broccoli five times per day. Following this simple 10-point, science-based plan can strike that balance between not being overly controlled, whilst still providing you adequate direction to improve over the offseason period.

1. Build Robustness

Take stock of how your body has dealt with the last few months. Is there a specific injury, niggle or health-related issue that you don’t want to limit your rugby next season?

Often there are nutritional strategies that you can employ to help build robustness in these circumstances. For example, eating more dairy products could help boost calcium intake, which may support bone healing (1). A diet high in fruit and vegetables may help to provide the body with more vitamin C, which could have downstream benefits to ligament and tendon health (2).

Taking the opportunity to work on these areas in the offseason often allows you to enjoy your rugby more when you get back to playing.

2. Individualise Your Goals

Not everyone needs to lose body fat to improve their performance. There will undoubtedly be players that could benefit from putting on a kilogram or two instead of trying to lose weight.

Keep in mind that just because your training partner has a goal, doesn’t mean you should have the same one! We naturally have a tendency for shared goals (3), especially in team sports, but this could easily backfire. For example, a low-carbohydrate diet may be suitable for a player trying to drop body fat, but that same diet could result in a young player losing valuable muscle mass. Needless to say, playing position also factors into this equation. A scrum-half is unlikely to need the same plan as a tight-head prop!

 

 

3. Be Mindful of Portion Size

The amount of calories your body needs tends to drop in the offseason, due to lower activity levels and a reduced amount of exercise (4).

Controlling portion size is one of the most effective ways of reducing overall calorie intake to help match your energy needs. Using a smaller plate for mealtimes has been shown to significantly reduce portion size and overall calorie intake (5).

You could also achieve a similar goal with snack foods, by portioning out smaller amount of food or using single serve packs (6), instead of taking a whole container or large packet with you. For example, taking two biscuits instead of a whole sleeve of digestives with you to the sofa in the evening.

4. Prioritise Protein

Eating a high-protein diet can help retain lean mass during periods of reduced exercise (7). Foods high in protein such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs and soy should be consumed at all main meals, including breakfast, for this very purpose.

In terms of the finer details, an intake of 1.6–2.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body-mass per day is recommended for muscle mass retention (e.g. 160–230g for a 100kg player).

This can be quite challenging when only eating three main meals per day. So it’s worth having one to three additional protein-based snacks throughout the day, between meals, to help achieve this daily goal.

5. Focus of Fresh Wholefoods

An increased intake of nutrient-dense wholefoods like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains can have numerous benefits to both health and performance.

Replacing traditional snack or confectionary foods with fruits such as berries has been shown to decrease hunger levels and reduce calorie intake at subsequent meals (8). Which may be a useful tactic for those players trying to control or reduce bodyfat.

Additionally, getting the majority of your carbohydrate intake from wholegrains (e.g. oats, wholewheat or wholemeal options) or vegetable sources (e.g. root vegetables, potatoes) reduces hunger levels (9) and increases antioxidant and vitamin intake in the diet, which could help boost recovery.

6. Hydrate!

How much water should you drink daily? If you thought 2.5 litres, you have just quoted the average water intake for UK adults (10). But that number is significantly different to what we actually need. In fact, 2.5 litres is only 68% of the daily requirement for adult males. Adult men aged 19–50 need 3.7 litres daily and adult females need 2.7 litres.

Staying hydrated is important for immunity, appetite control and performance. Some easy-to-implement tips to help achieve your daily fluid intakes are to; drink 500ml water with each meal. Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day. And make sure to rehydrate both during and after exercise, especially if it is warm weather.

 

 

7. Cut The Carbs

Your energy expenditure will drop in the offseason and training volumes will be lower than in season. Therefore, your body doesn’t have the same requirement for carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate is the body’s primary energy source and your intake of carbohydrates at meals and snacks should be directly related to how much exercise you are doing (11).

If you are doing less training in the offseason or have less physical activity (like a reduced daily step count), consider reducing the portion sizes of carbohydrates at meals. Or you could implement a carb-free meal which just contains protein and vegetables to help cut-the-carbs and help you to ‘fuel for the work required’.

8. Dial Back Your Drinks

Drinks can contribute a significant amount of calories to overall daily energy intake. Data shows that beverages of all types; including sodas and soft drinks, supply between 14–17% of overall calorie intake in adults (10). With alcoholic drinks providing almost 10% of overall calorie consumption!

When energy needs are reduced in the offseason, calorie consumption from drinks should also be reduced. Swapping out calorie-containing drinks for more water, teas or other low-calorie options could help control calorie intake. Plus, you get to eat more food instead!

9. Don’t Double Up!

It is really important to relax and enjoy some time off during the offseason. This can often involve a few drinks with friends, a few ‘very’ good meals out or enjoying spending time with family over food. My professional advice is to NOT avoid these situations. They are essential parts of getting time off.

However, getting the balance right between enjoyment and sticking to your goals can be challenging. I recommend the strategy of ‘Don’t Double Up’. Essentially, don’t follow one day of poor eating (or drinking) with another. Making an effort to get back on your plan and eating well, breaks the streak and stops those ‘off-script’ eating behaviour becoming a habit (12).

10. Keep Yourself Accountable

You’ve now probably got a good idea of some steps or a small nutrition plan during the offseason to help improve your nutrition. But to get the most out of that plan you must keep yourself accountable.

Once you’ve decided on your overall goal for the offseason, break it down into simple actionable steps that will help to get you towards your goal. For example, if you want to eat a higher protein intake to maintain muscle mass, a simple action could be having an additional 20g protein-based snack.

You can also improve the likelihood that you will complete this action by making the action more specific. Notably by identifying a particular time and place every day of the week where you execute that action. Using our example above, this could be having an additional 20g protein-based snack, one hour before-bed, whilst watching TV.

Some people find it helpful to keep a record to hold themselves accountable. This could be done by setting daily reminders on their phone, using a habit tracking app or putting a cross in their calendar for each day where they have achieved their daily action.

These steps above are a scientifically backed method (13) to help build new habits, which ultimately is what you are trying to achieve when adapting your diet.

 

 

References:

  1. Rizzoli R. Dairy products and bone health. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2022 Jan 1;34(1):9.
  2. DePhillipo NN, Aman ZS, Kennedy MI, Begley JP, Moatshe G, LaPrade RF. Efficacy of Vitamin C Supplementation on Collagen Synthesis and Oxidative Stress After Musculoskeletal Injuries: A Systematic Review. Orthop J Sport Med. 2018 Oct;6(10):2325967118804544.
  3. Cole J, Martin AJ. Developing a winning sport team culture: organizational culture in theory and practice. Sport Soc. 2018 Aug 3;21(8):1204–22.
  4. Holway FE, Spriet LL. Sport-specific nutrition: practical strategies for team sports. J Sports Sci. 2011 Jan;29 Suppl 1(SUPPL. 1).
  5. Holden SS, Zlatevska N, Dubelaar C. Whether Smaller Plates Reduce Consumption Depends on Who’s Serving and Who’s Looking: A Meta-Analysis. https://doi.org/101086/684441. 2016 Jan 1;1(1):134–45.
  6. Wansink B, Painter JE, North J. Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obes Res. 2005;13(1):93–100.
  7. Nunes EA, Colenso-Semple L, McKellar SR, Yau T, Ali MU, Fitzpatrick-Lewis D, et al. Systematic review and meta‐analysis of protein intake to support muscle mass and function in healthy adults. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2022 Apr 1;13(2):795.
  8. James LJ, Funnell MP, Milner S. An afternoon snack of berries reduces subsequent energy intake compared to an isoenergetic confectionary snack. Appetite. 2015 Dec 1;95:132–7.
  9. Sanders LM, Zhu Y, Wilcox ML, Koecher K, Maki KC. Effects of Whole Grain Intake, Compared with Refined Grain, on Appetite and Energy Intake: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Adv Nutr. 2021 Jul 1;12(4):1177–95.
  10. Gibson S, Gunn P, Maughan RJ. Hydration, water intake and beverage consumption habits among adults. Nutr Bull. 2012 Sep 1;37(3):182–92.
  11. Impey SG, Hearris MA, Hammond KM, Bartlett JD, Louis J, Close GL, et al. Fuel for the Work Required: A Theoretical Framework for Carbohydrate Periodization and the Glycogen Threshold Hypothesis. Sports Med. 2018 May 1;48(5):1031.
  12. Gardner B, Richards R, Lally P, Rebar A, Thwaite T, Beeken RJ. Breaking habits or breaking habitual behaviours? Old habits as a neglected factor in weight loss maintenance. Appetite. 2021 Jul 1;162:105183.
  13. Gardner B, Lally P, Wardle J. Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. Br J Gen Pract. 2012 Dec;62(605):664.

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1 Comment

  1. From a past (and injured) player to the young folks – take this advice on. Prehab is very important, keep playing for as long as you can.

    only get a wee while playing this great game, before you know it youll be a hasbeen like me who talks nonsense online – make the most of it !

    11

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