By Jillion Potter March 14, 2016
As the team and I prepare for each major rugby tournament throughout the year, we are fine tuning our systematic approach to a flawless competition. We allow ourselves to try new things and take new approaches to trainings, tournaments and game days in order to find the right one that will work for us moving forward towards the Olympics. This includes refining processes around travel arrangements, transportation, practice and game warm up, physical game prep, mental skills, and of course nutrition. No matter how long we have been doing this, both as individual athletes and as one team, questions always arise about the food, beverages, bars and energy supplements we should use to fuel our athletic endeavors while staying within the restrictions of USADA and WADA and of course allowing ourselves to feel nourished and ready to perform.
Some people can eat full meals between games, others stick to saltines and protein powder shakes. Each of us are different in our dietary preferences, but our mission remains the same; eat to win.
"our mission remains the same; eat to win"
The team’s solution to satisfying all 12 players’ game day cravings and diet restrictions is a large suitcase full of salty snacks, hearty bars, breads, nut butters, dried fruit, crackers, oatmeal, meat jerky, energy supplements, trail mix, and more. I supposed if you asked an outsider what they would guess is in the USA National Rugby Team’s game day food bag, they would guess an array of “sports performance” products or “performance enhancing” snacks and beverages. It’s funny looking in this bag of treats, because none of the items are labeled as “sports performance” products. In fact it looks a lot like a bag of simple snacks someone might eat if they were to have a sensitive stomach. Why is that you ask?
Sports nutrition products are surprisingly hard to navigate for athletes with food sensitivities. Most of these sports nutrition products are generally loaded with poorly-absorbed carbohydrates which range from fructose and lactose to sugar alcohols. In susceptible people or in our case, elite rugby endurance athletes, these specific carbs, also called HIGH-FODMAP ingredients, can trigger symptoms like gas, bloating and diarrhea—a few of the things we do NOT have time for on game day! To make matters worse, many of these products are sold as dietary or performance supplements rather than as food. This means their labels may not disclose all the details we need to decipher what's actually in them and how much. This alone is a scary subject when you anticipate drug tests after the match, which most olympic athletes do.
For example, lactose isn't likely to be listed on a sports nutrition label, but you will be getting plenty of it in a product with whey, whey protein concentrate, milk protein concentrate or (powdered) milk at the top of the ingredient list. Another example is fructose which can hide undercover as chicory root extract or fruit juice concentrates from apple, orange, pear or grape and agave nectar. And then there are the labels such as "Low carb" and "reduced sugar" which are code words for "sweetened artificially" with sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol or maltitol and are guilty of causing bloating, diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset.
"They are full of healthy fats, are nutrient dense, and leave me feeling full and ready to play another game."
One of my personal favorite LOW - FODMAP ingredients is nuts. They are full of healthy fats, are nutrient dense, and leave me feeling full and ready to play another game. Real, minimally-processed food, such as nuts, seeds, and honey, is more likely to be tolerated digestively during my competitions and should be every bit as “performance enhancing” as the other designer sports nutrition supplements. That’s why I love Ona. They not only taste great and are easy to digest, but they also provide clean fuel for my Olympic journey.