Watch those fats

The amount of fat you need varies depending on your position of play. It may be acceptable for certain players like locks and props to carry slightly more body fat for protection. Fats and oils are important sources of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and "essential fatty acids" which are necessary for optimal health and performance.

Although fat is the most concentrated form of energy (providing double the amount of calories (kilojoules) compared to an equal amount of carbohydrate or protein, it does not provide a readily available source of energy when playing rugby, and is easily stored as fat in the body. A player who eats too much fat will end up carrying additional dead weight affecting his speed and agility. Fat should always be used sparingly as too much fat affects long-term health.

Fatty foods just before high intensity training or a match is not recommended as it slows down the rate of stomach emptying. This means that the food sits in your stomach for longer, increasing the risk of stomach discomfort, and slowing down the release of energy (specifically carbohydrate energy) to the working muscles. This means that you will fatigue earlier.

Practical tips:
Your eating plan has limited your intake of both "added" and "hidden" sources of fat. Butter, margarine, avocado pear, peanut butter and oil are examples of added fats, whereas hidden fats are those found in high fat cheeses, many processed meats (e.g. Viennas, polony, salami) and snack items (chocolates, crisps, nuts).

Try not to double-up on fat at a meal. Choose either between peanut butter, margarine or avocado pear as a spread on bread and olives or salad dressing with salad.

Read labels to get an indication of the fat content in food and always choose the lower fat options.

Use low fat cooking methods (e.g. grill with little oil, stir-fry, steam or oven-bake foods).

Vegetable sources of fat such as sunflower, olive or canola oils and spreads are healthier than hard margarine or butter.

Source: Practical Nutrition for Rugby by Dieticians Shelley Meltzer and Cecily Fuller, courtesy SA Rugby.

(Health24, August 2011)

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