Five over the counter (OTC) supplements every rugger needs

According to a lot of dietary experts, you should be able to meet all your nutritional needs from food alone. While this might be possible, it’s not always practical, unless you are able to eat right 24/7/365 that is. Even the most dedicated rugger faces barriers to eating healthily all the time.

And what about athletes who, because of increased metabolic demands, need more nutrients than the average couch-surfer? 

RDAs, or recommended daily allowances, reflect the needs of the average person, i.e. one who is mostly sedentary and doesn’t give a hoot about building muscle or recovering from being pummeled by their fellow ruggers. 

Most rugby players are far from average, and require more than average levels of nutrients. The reality is that supplements can help plug nutritional gaps and turn a pretty good diet into a great one. Products like Rugby Whey and Post-Rugby are designed specifically to boost performance and recovery – things that almost all ruggers want and need.

So, what supplements should you take? That’s a complex question to answer. It very much depends on your nutritional needs, any dietary shortcomings that exist, your age, and what aspects of your health or fitness you want to address. The choices below aim to give you a solid blend of the essentials even if your only source is the local grocery store or pharmacy. 

1) Fish oil

If you only take one OTC nutritional supplement, fish oil should be it. You might be able to skip this one if you eat oily fish most days of the week but, for the rest of us, supplementation is the easiest way to get enough of this critical substance.

Fish oil is a common term for two types of omega 3 essential fat – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both EPA and DHA are available separately and in other forms, but fish oil is arguably the most widely available and cost-effective source.

Fish oils have been shown (1) to have a strong anti-inflammatory action, which can help ease joint and muscle pain; something most ruggers know all about. They are also great for heart and brain health, can improve brain function, improve memory and recall, reduce cortisol levels, and increase exercise-induced nitric oxide production, enhancing endurance. For best results, consume ~1000mg per day.

2) Curcumin

Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, and is also found to a lesser degree in ginger. Combining with piperine or black pepper extract enhances bioavailability and absorption.

Curcumin is another potent anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is a fact of life for ruggers, and lowering inflammation levels can help reduce pain, accelerate recovery, and improve general health as inflammation is a pre-cursor of many medical conditions, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s. Curcumin has also been shown to increase blood flow, boost nitric oxide levels, reduce anxiety, and decrease fatigue. (2)

Take 400-800 mg per day, but remember to look for products that also contain piperine otherwise it is much less effective.

3) Vitamin D

Unless you live somewhere very sunny, there is a high likelihood that you are deficient in vitamin D. Although you can get vitamin D from food, the most abundant source of this crucial nutrient is sunlight.

Vitamin D is required for adequate calcium absorption, regulation of serum calcium and phosphorus levels, and promotion of bone health. Vitamin D also regulates the development and homeostasis of the nervous system and skeletal muscle, and can boost testosterone production.

The link between vitamin D and calcium is a major interest for ruggers. Calcium is an abundant and vital nutrient for everything from muscle contractions to repairing damaged bone but, with inadequate vitamin D, calcium cannot work its magic. Vitamin D may also enhance performance, and reduce fatigue. (3) Ruggers should take between 5-15 mcg daily.

4) Matcha powder

Most people know that green tea and green tea extract are very healthy. A powerful anti-oxidant, green tea can help reduce the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are malignant, unbalanced molecules that wreak havoc throughout your body. Life in general produces free radicals, and are part of the reason we age. Very intense exercise, like training for and playing rugby, also increase free radical production.

Matcha powder is like green tea on steroids! It has a much higher anti-oxidative rating, and can mop up free radicals 137 times more effectively than green tea. Basically refined, concentrated green tea, matcha is available in powder form and should be mixed with warm or cold water as directed by the manufacturer. Add to your post-rugby smoothies if preferred. Consume daily.

5) One-a-day multivitamin-mineral

Multivitamins are a nutritional safety blanket that almost all ruggers need. Vitamins and minerals are biological catalysts that help speed up the myriad of chemical reactions that happen in your body. Everything from muscle growth to your immune system is dependent on getting adequate vitamins and minerals, and a deficiency could lead to otherwise avoidable illness, delayed recovery, cramping or impaired performance. In simple terms, a vitamins and minerals are substances that, if missing from your diet, could result in ill-health.

Taking a daily dose of broad spectrum vitamins and minerals will ensure that you have less chance of experiencing any accidental or occasional micronutrient deficiencies. Of course, even the best multi-vitamin/mineral supplement should only be thought of as an add-on to, and not a replacement for, an otherwise healthy diet.

You should always try to cover your major nutritional bases with real food. After all, that’s what your body is designed to use. And where’s the fun in popping pills when real food is so much tastier!? That being said, some well-chosen OTC supplements may help bolster your already healthy diet, leading to even better health and performance.

Do you use any other supplements or stacks that you consider to be essential for your health or performance? Tell us about it in the comments below!


1) – Fish Oil
2) – Curcumin
3) – Boost performance in 14 days with this vitamin
4) Science Direct – Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography


Patrick Dale

Patrick Dale

Pat is an ex-Royal Marine and owner at fitness qualifications company Solar Fitness Qualifications Ltd. Pat has authored three exercise books and thousands of articles. Pat has competed at a high level in several sports including rugby, triathlon, rock climbing and powerlifting.