Find out what makes a Premiership Champion - We chat to George Saracens about the importance of proper nutrition
“Protein’s important for everyone” - Saracens’ nutritionist informs us on the importance of a pro-athlete’s diet
George Morgan, the on-staff nutritionist at Saracens for the past six years, boasts a BSc in Sports Biomedicine and a Post Grad in Nutrition from the International Olympics Committee. He’s been working to help top athletes to perform to the best of their abilities for years and, safe to say, knows his way around a shaker.
Widely-known as the prestigious club’s secret weapon, bringing them to English Rugby Premiership glory, Morgan has been fuelling some of Britain’s top athletes for years. And the best part? He’s not afraid of a little indulgence.
We sat down with George to find out about the details of the average day for a Saracens rugby player, and just how important the roles of nutritional provisions are to everyone from the sporadic gym-goer to a world-class athlete.
Starting from dawn, and going on until dusk – Morgan fills us in on what it’s really like to feed professional rugby players day-in day-out.
“So the average day for a Saracens rugby player would involve getting up about 7:30am for breakfast,” Morgan begins.
“On a training day, the team arrives in the morning and are given the option of hot or cold protein-rich breakfasts. Hot options include dishes like three or four scrambled or poached eggs, chicken sausages, organic bacon, a large amount of veg and loads of carbs like wholemeal bread or porridge cooked by our chefs to get them fuelled for their morning session.
“Cold options could be anything from cereal bars to yoghurt to fruit buffets, but the guys usually stick to a hot option first thing.
“Then players meet with their coaches to talk strategy for the day, giving them plenty of time to start digestion and break down those nutrients. Gym begins at 8am.”
“If anyone’s still feeling peckish before gym, we’d give them a good protein hit in the morning with a Gold Standard 100% Whey protein fruit smoothie.”
George informs us that players always eat before gym sessions. Pre-workout supplements typically contain ingredients to support energy and training performance.
The goal is each session is to increase strength and power every time, so this is ideally done with something on board.
The players are advised to eat about six meals throughout the day. Because of the high frequency of food intake, the meals may be slightly smaller in size than what you’d imagine. But only slightly.
“Before lunch, the players will get an after-gym optimum Gold Standard Whey shake to refuel broken down protein stores,” Morgan continues.
“The average lunch would consist of a lean protein option such as chicken or fish, served up with carbs like rice or pasta. One of the dishes the boys like is a low-fat carbonara dish the chefs whip up using chicken and colourful vegetables.”
The emphasis on using vegetables seems to get higher as the day goes on, with the nutrition team encouraging the players to make their plates “as colourful as possible.”
“Large salad bars are provided to the players at lunch. The chefs get quite creative with what they put in them, adding extras like grapes and melon into bowls. The more colours [the players put] on the plate, the happier we are.”
When asked about how important the role of protein is to athletes in general, Morgan goes into great detail about how we should all be getting enough protein, professional athlete or not.
“Protein’s important for everyone,” Morgan says.
“It forms a structure for cells and lean muscle mass which is very important when you are training as intensively as professional rugby players are. These guys are training, lifting heavy weights every day and are in a constant process where they need protein to easily repair their bodies regularly throughout the day.
“The best way to split protein is into meals every four hours. I recommend a protein portion size of 0.4g per kilo, roughly about 40g/45g throughout the day.”
The team of nutritionists advise the players to always include quality protein with all meals and snacks, as well as having a protein-rich snack before bed.
‘Snacking’ can be a tricky concept, one that not everyone gets right. We asked George about some nutritionist-approved snacks that he would suggest to the team if they felt they needed a boost between meals.
“If the guys are feeling hungry we’d usually say to them to grab a Ryvita or oat cracker and get some cottage cheese on top or some good quality hummus and carrot sticks. The more vegetables, the better. Ideally we don’t want snacks to have a high calorie content at all. The guys are also big fans of dried meats, so we’d usually suggest between 40g - 50g of Biltong or something like that.”
Two sessions and six meals later, when all is said and done (and eaten), George highlights the importance of sleep in helping the body repair itself after a tough day physically.
“Sleep is massively important. The majority of the recovery process goes on as we sleep, but often outside stress, physical, mental or psychological can affect sleep quality. We try promote good sleep, usually between seven and nine hours, but everyone’s sleeping pattern is totally individual.”
Finally, we asked George about what he thinks is the most important thing to remember when trying to create a tailored and balanced diet plan for yourself.
“I think you hit the nail on the head right there, it’s all about balance. Balance is so important. I would always recommend cooking from fresh and preparing things at home, so you know what you’re eating and you can take control over what is going into your diet rather than processed foods you may pick up somewhere else.
“Preparation is key and not being too restrictive, or else you’ll have to deal with cravings later on.”
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