In October of 2015, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) released a series of resources on the use of nutritional supplements. These resources promote eating fresh, whole foods as part of a stable diet. They also outline the risks to young rugby players associated with using nutritional supplements. It seems to be the hope of the NZR and NZRPA that if encouraged, young players will adopt healthy eating principles early in their playing careers which will last them well into maturity.
From the release:
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) are expanding education for young players to encourage them to adopt the right nutritional habits early on in their rugby careers.
With this in mind, lets examine NZR's guidance on the use of nutritional supplements and see how it applies to rugby players. For more on this, you can read the organization's full position paper on the topic, here.
Ruck Science disclaimer on nutritional supplements
To make our position perfectly clear, the team @ Ruck Science does not encourage the use of ANY nutritional supplements by rugby players under the age of 18. We do not sell or advertise our products to this demographic. If you see a player under the age of 18 in possession of one of our products, please contact our founder to resolve the issue.
The NZR / NZRPA nutrition strategy
The primary focus of the NZR and NZRPA is to get young ruggers eating healthy as early as possible. This is sound advice that should be actively promoted by all rugby organizations, especially those that deal with adolescent players. Too often as amateur rugby players, coaches and officials, we think about training as the only vehicle to improve individual player performance.
But increasingly, the elite rugby teams are focusing on using diet to optimize their players. We explained in January that the All Blacks diet has evolved considerably - even in the past few years. Their coaching staff understands that the fuel you put into your body will effect the results coming out of it. Not only immediately before and after rugby games, but also on days when players aren't training or playing at all.
As part of the educational push by the NZR and NZRPA, the two organizations are distributing a tip sheet on the use of nutritional supplements for rugby which is designed to be read by young rugb anyy players and their parents. You can find that tip sheet here. This is a pre-cursor to an expanded online training program (to be released in 2016) which will cover supplements, nutrition and World Rugby's anti-doping policies.
The basic tenant of the program is that food matters more than supplementation. "Food First" means just that, young rugby players should focus on getting their basic diet right. Once that's done, nutritional supplements can be incorporated under medical supervision in order for young players to meet specific training goals.
All Black Liam Messam is one of the leading voices of the “Food First” campaign. Here's a brief into to the "Food First" program...
The foods in front of Liam
Many elite rugby programs are adopting ketogenic diet principles. In fact the All Blacks's diet at last year's rugby world cup was very close to ketogenic. So its good to be aware of the kinds of foods that would fall into that category.
This video doesn't go into detail on the specific foods on the table in front of Liam Messam. But for our purposes, lets separate them into two categories; "Mostly-Ketogenic" and "Non-Ketogenic". Where "Mostly-Ketogenic" are high in nutrients and healthy fats while being low in sugar. And where "Non-Ketogenic" are higher in sugar and simple carbohydrates.
- Nut Butters
- Ground Beef
- Fresh Vegetables
- Olive Oil
- Weet Bix
- Whole Grain Bread
It's interesting to see this up close. While the All Blacks have made the transition away from bread, rice, potatoes, Wheet Bix etc it seems that the NZR is still promoting these foods to younger players as part of a balanced diet. This might be because the younger you are, the better your body is at processing carbohydrates. Or it might be that they're focusing on the difference between whole foods and nutritional supplements in their educational materials.
A general caution on supplements
The NZR and NZRPA suggest that young rugby players are using supplements in order to gain the physique they think they need to play rugby. And that this is the direct result of "exaggerated or unproven" claims by supplement manufacturers. Here is the general caution from NZRPA Chief Executive Rob Nichol on the use of nutritional supplements by adolescent rugby players.
“Taking supplements involves great risks. Some supplements can be hazardous to health by increasing heart rate and heart stress, increasing blood pressure and damaging kidneys. There’s also the risk that some may contain banned substances, which could jeopardize a player’s career as the penalties for taking banned substances under Anti-doping regulations, even inadvertently, are severe."
Risks associated with nutritional supplements
According to the NZR and NZRPA, the risks associated with the use of nutritional supplements generally fall into 2 categories, risk to your health and risk of consuming a banned substance. Both of these should be front-of-mind concerns for young rugby players. Below, we have taken the time to detail the 3 primary risks in relation to the products you'll find on ruckscience.com.
Again, before we go over these risks in detail, please refer to our earlier statement on the use of our nutritional supplements by rugby players under the age of 18.
1. Some supplements have a high health risk that includes elevated heart rate, cardiovascular problems, anxiety, insomnia, digestive problems, kidney damage, high blood pressure and dehydration.
The only nutritional supplement that Ruck Science provides which might fall into this risk category is Twitch Faster™. If you look at the ingredients, you'll see that our pre-workout powder includes both Caffeine Anhydrous and Niacin. Both of these substances can elevate your heart rate and potentially mess with your sleep if you take them late at night. For that reason, we don't recommend using Twitch Faster™ within a few hours of your bed time.
Please also note the caution at the bottom of the label which clearly states that "Each serving contains 200 mg of added caffeine". How much is that? The generally accepted safe limit for caffeine consumption is 300 mg - 400 mg in a 24 hour period. So when used correctly, a single dose of Twitch Faster™ will give an adult rugby players about half their daily allowance for caffeine.
If you're a rugby players who doesn't do well with caffeine, we strongly suggest that you not take Twitch Faster™. Instead, please consider using either Beet Elite and SuperBeets - these concentrated nitrate supplements have been shown to provide performance benefits (particularly for endurance) without the risk to your heart that caffeine can cause. Significant research has shown that beets can impact athletic performance, so these are both credible alternatives to using a pre-workout.
2. Supplements claiming to give you extra energy and/or burn fat (“pre-workouts”) and supplements claiming to build muscle (“anabolic”) in particular can be hazardous to your health causing increased heart rate and heart stress, increased blood pressure and kidney stress.
Let's break this risk down into its two component parts. Firstly, the risk associated with taking nutritional supplements that claim to give you extra energy. You'll notice if you read over the product description and usage instructions for Twitch Faster™ that we do not mention increased energy as a benefit.
The products on the market that claim they can give you increased energy aren't necessarily making false statements - but from our perspective, if you don't have enough energy to be training, you probably shouldn't be training. The best way to fuel up for a rugby training is to eat food. Water, Tea, Bananas, Apples, Honey or Hummus are all good choices that will give you energy. If you're trying to lean-out for rugby season, your food choices will be different than if you're bulking, but either way your energy needs to come from food.
Component 2 of this risk relates to anabolic agents that claim to "build muscle". In our opinion, this is the most important risk for players to take note of. No nutritional supplement can "build muscle". This is deeply misleading. The best that a supplement can do is assist your body with muscle repair caused by the damage done to fibers during strength training. This difference is often deliberately concealed by supplement manufacturers.
How does this relate to us at Ruck Science? We provide a whey protein for rugby players that should primarily be used as a recovery tool. Rugby Whey™ does not contain any anabolic agents. It won't give you an artificial 'pump' or a bloated stomach associated with anabolic supplements in many pre-workout powders.
Again, if you read the product description and usage instructions, we don't suggest that Rugby Whey™ can give you some kind of magical bulking effect. Can it help promote the addition of lean muscle mass? Sure. When used correctly in combination with training programs that promote gains in mass. But alone? No sir. We encourage you to be wary of supplements that claim to provide this kind of benefit without suitable scientific research to support their claims.
3. There is also a risk that supplements may contain banned substances. These banned substances can go unchecked and undisclosed on manufacturer labelling. If you take supplements containing a banned substance you will test positive to doping and could be banned from sports for up to four years under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code.
This risk is real and it should not be under-estimated or dismissed. Back in Australia, we knew an amateur player who purchased an anabolic agent online and asked for it to be shipped to his home address. Customs intercepted the product, which contained an illegal ingredient and sent a notice to the player saying effectively "don't do this again". But that's not the end of the story. The player then received a notice from the ARU asking him to appear in front of a judicial hearing on the matter. He delayed / declined. As a result he was given a 24 month ban from participation in any rugby union or rugby league game in the country.
Please note, this was an amateur player. He wasn't in a professional league and he wasn't getting paid. Also note from the story that he never actually received the product. This example should clearly demonstrate that there are risks associated with buying and transporting nutritional supplements even before you think about putting them in your body.
How is Ruck Science helping to protect our customers from WADA violations?
Before we started our company, we spent 18 months sourcing a reputable manufacturing partner. That search led us to a specialty facility in Atlanta which still does all of our product development and manufacturing today. We are currently in the process of working with informed-choice.org and consumerlab.com in order to have 3rd party inspections of our facility and testing of our end-product. Those results will be made public in Q2 of 2016.
Advice on supplement usage from NZ Rugby
It's easy to see where the NZR and NZRPA are coming from. They want young rugby players developing good habits. But you'll notice that in their language, they accept that nutritional supplements can be used in a targeted fashion to achieve specific training objectives. The NZR accepts that players are going to use nutritional supplements and based on that understanding, they've laid out the following seven recommendations for players taking supplements. Again, we've provided feedback on how this advice relates to ruckscience.com products.
1. If you do decide to use supplements, then it is your responsibility to ensure that any supplement you take has no banned substances in its ingredients and ideally has been batch-tested to ensure no contamination. Under the WADA code, Athletes are ultimately responsible for the contents of any supplements they take. This is important to remember – especially if a trainer, coach, gym instructor etc is trying to push you to take supplements – remember you could be banned regardless of who gives you the supplement. The website informed choice http://informedchoice.org/ provides information on supplements that have been tested for banned substances. Remember just because a supplement has no banned substances it doesn’t mean it is good for you.
To clarify, the website they mean is actually http://informed-choice.org. http://informedchoice.org is the domain for a Milwaukee-based funeral home that provides "a simplified selection process, convenient, easily accessible locations and a non-funeral environment..."
This NZR advice is really excellent. Do not take supplements unless you know what is in them. And do not assume that the product someone else has handed you is in fact what they say it is. You need only make this mistake once in order to ruin your rugby career. There's very little that we can do to help with this process except to reassure you that we're currently having independent 3rd party reviews conducted into both our manufacturing facility and end-products. More on that another time.
2. If you decide to use school or team issued supplements, we recommend you ensure there is a member of the team or school management responsible for managing the teams supplements program – and record who that is. Check that they have undertaken the steps above to ensure the supplement is safe. Not all school management will have information or experience with supplements so if you have any doubts at all do not take them.
Another great tip - and one that is probably very overlooked. In life generally, its easy to assume that other people are doing their jobs. But remember from point #1, every athlete is ultimately responsible for what goes into their body. If your athletic trainer is having a bad week and mis-reads a label causing you to consume a banned substance, its not their fault, its yours. So whether the rugby team you play for provides bulk supplements or your physio hands you something to get over an infection - check what's in it before you down it.
If your school or rugby program is providing products using the Ruck Science branding, a member of our team will be able to confirm that they are authentic via email. Please get in touch with us using firstname.lastname@example.org if you need further information on this process.
3. If you decide to take a supplement then you should inform your team or school management personnel and make sure they have both seen and approved what you are intending to take. However, you should also get professional advice from a qualified sports dietician or nutritionist. Supplements are expensive and money may be better spent on getting good advice on what you need.
The first part of this statement is obviously advice meant for junior players. But the second section can benefit rugby players of all ages. When we're training for the upcoming season, many of us will either hire a trainer or research online trying to find the best rugby training protocols and programs. Many of you probably found us by searching for a rugby leg workout program for example.
Few of us pay the same attention to our diets. But we should! A qualified sports dietician can help customize your meal plans and shopping lists to you as an individual. No two players will have the exact same starting point or objectives, so while the information you'll find online (and even on this blog) can be very useful, nothing replaces training and diet programs made for you.
4. Never take from, or use someone else’s, supplement
This goes back to point #1. You can't guarantee that someone is giving you what they say they are. And its safe to say that not every gym junkie knows World Rugby's anti-doping regulations off the top of their head. So to be 100% safe? Never use a supplement that you have not purchased yourself.
5. Keep strict control over who has access to any supplements you choose to use + 6. Never let anyone else access it
These last two points really do go hand in hand. Its impossible to say whether the people around you have your best interest at heart. You'd like to think so, right? But its impossible to say. There's a chance that someone could tamper with your supplements, spike them with something they know to be illegal or make you under or even over-perform. There have been cases of athletes unknowingly taking performance enhancing agents without their knowledge due to a rogue trainer or coach messing with their supply while they weren't looking.
Remember, you are ultimately responsible. It doesn't matter to World Rugby whether your coach drugged you to make you run faster or your team mate drugged you to slow you down. Keeping your supplement supply hidden and out of sight is the best remedy for both of these circumstances.
Links and resources:
- Young players encouraged to focus on healthy diets
- Sonny Bill Williams targeted in legal steroid scam
- NZRPA keeping young players away from supplements