Eat like a bok

"It’s every boy’s dream to become a Springbok and getting it right at the dinner table is just as important as perfecting that Bryan Habana side-step or Morne Steyn kick", say SA Rugby’s health and fitness gurus on their BokSmart programme.

Eating right as well as playing safe are key components of the innovative and comprehensive BokSmart programme that promotes safe and effective rugby and aims to ensure that players are kept where they should be – on the field and enjoying the game.

Off the field, a daily plan focusing on food quality, quantity and timing of intake can make all the difference in helping a young player reach optimal training and performance levels.

Young players can meet the high energy demands of training and the additional nutrient requirements for growth and development with a well-planned diet. It can also help players achieve optimal body size and build; promote adaptations to training which will aid recovery and further training, and ensure good health to prevent illness and injury. It might even get your youngster to brave widening his diet!

Meeting high energy requirements

Regular meals and snacks are absolutely essential for young players with high energy demands. Creating strategies to ensure that these eating opportunities are not missed is important. This may mean waking your child up earlier for breakfast; packing portable food and drink options into kit bags; and seeing that appropriate meals and snacks are available at home, at school, at boarding school, and at training. Together with the ‘padkos’ it is always a good idea to have a personalized drinks bottle handy.

To ensure an optimal energy and nutrient intake, a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods (cereals; grains; fruit and starchy vegetables) should dominate at all meals and snacks, followed by lean protein-rich foods  (fish; lean meat; chicken; eggs; low fat dairy products) and minimal fat (oil, butter, margarine, and fat in proteins and snack foods like pastries, pies, biscuits).

If energy needs increase because of training, or if your child loses appetite at exam time, encourage the intake of energy-dense drinks like fruit juices, low fat milk-based smoothies and fruit or drinking yoghurts and replace some high fibre foods with lower fibre alternatives (e.g. white rice instead of brown rice). Find opportunities to sneak in fruit – dried fruit in rice salads, stew or puree fruit for dessert and add starchy vegetables to soups and stews.

Bulking up – food or supplements?

Often through peer pressure, marketing and media hype, young rugby players resort to expensive supplements which promise performance enhancement through effects on energy, alertness or body composition. There is also the belief that supplements will compensate for poor food choices and make up for nutrients lacking in the diet.

There is no magic bullet. When it comes to increasing muscle mass, there is a limit to how much protein and amino acids can be used. And, in most cases, these requirements can be met through food, provided that energy needs are met and the diet is varied. It is however important to strategically time protein intake and ensure that within 40 minutes after training a small amount of protein is included with the carbohydrate snack. This can be in the form of a sandwich (low-fat cheese/tuna//lean cold meat/chicken) or biltong or yoghurt or maas with a sports drink or low fat energy bar.

It is important to know that there are real risks (both health and contamination risks) associated with taking any supplements and a proper assessment should be done weighing up the potential benefits versus the cost and risks (e.g. testing positive on a drug test) before deciding to take any supplement.  In all cases supplements should preferably only be prescribed by a sports dietitian or a sports physician and only once it has been determined that the habitual diet is unable to meet these additional requirements.

Being match prepared

One of the most important rules is not to eat or drink anything new on match days and to ensure gut comfort. This means pre-match meals should be light and easy-to-digest. Depending on kick-off time any of following options consumed about 3 hours before kick-off and then followed by a light top-up snack about an hour before.

  • Fruit salad, low-fat yoghurt and cereal
  • Boiled eggs and toast with jam/honey
  • Spaghetti with lean mince
  • Grilled chicken breast with mashed potato
  • Baked potato with tuna or chicken

Extra bread, fruit and vegetable salads and low-fat yoghurt/low fat desserts can be included with this meal, plus sports drinks

After the match, the pattern should continue. Encourage recovery food and fluid -   after all, this really becomes the preparation for the next training session or match!

The primary pillars of the BokSmart programme are injury prevention, injury management, rugby safety and performance. BokSmart’s mantra is that safe, effective rugby is also winning rugby, and in line with comprehensive medical protocols to prevent disaster, the programme offers a wealth of information on practical nutrition, training, equipment and the like on the following website: 

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