James' Pre-Match Nutrition

James' Pre-Match Nutrition

Pre match nutrition is of vital importance as a professional rugby player and it is something that has changed a lot for me personally over the years. Like anything in regards of training and nutrition, this is a very individual thing, what works for me might not work for you. However I want to give you an outline of the kind of protocol I am following at the moment which has been put together by my nutritionist and trainer Phil Learney.

As my knowledge has increased regarding nutrition and training, so my approach to things has changed markedly. For example when I was at school playing for Wellington college u18, the first team had a tradition of meeting the evening before a game and having a big pasta cook up with all the carbs, fats and loads of protein. We would then go to sleep on a full stomach then wake up, and follow the usual school day. Which would be just breakfast and lunch, with no supplements or extra food. There was no routine other than the cook up.

This is still the norm for lots of people. Only the other day I was watching a documentary on Sam Burgess and his brothers who play in the NRL. They have a tradition of sitting down together as a family the night before they play, and have a huge feed. That's what works for them, and from the looks of it, it’s working pretty damn well. The idea of this big graze is all about a form of carb loading, as well as just something that has always been done. If it ain’t broke don't fix it.

Personal routine

The night before a game I tend not to do anything overly special for my nutrition. A lot of the time I just follow my usual diet plan, which is to eat 5 times a day, for breakfast I go with a steak and nuts or a variant of that sort, as long as it is a protein based start to the day. Then the remaining meals all contain 250g protein, 300g carbs and unlimited vegetables. The idea is that this is the core of everything I do, as I need to fuel my training and performance goals. Remember I am eating to play, not eating to look good. A variation on this diet that I have started to do is adding in nut butters in replacement of the carbs on alternate days. So I go from eating protein with carbs like brown rice, butternut, squash, and sweet potatoes, to having my protein with nut butters. I have a nut butter mix which is a combination of cashew butter, almond butter, flaxseeds and my virgin coconut oil Tagaloa.  The idea behind this is to get my body very efficient at switching between energy systems.  So when my supply of carbs runs out, I am able to properly utilise fat as an energy source. However following this alternating diet plan at the moment is not always possible to do as much as I would like, because of my training and business commitments. I end up eating out or getting what clean food I can down me, and don't often have the nut butters to hand. However what I have detailed is the ideal.

Pre match food

As I have mentioned already I would eat normally on the day before a game, which is usually a Friday. Pre the days working with Phil Learney, I would lay in on a game day, perhaps have some porridge for breakfast when I got up, then eat a large pre match meal 3/4hrs before the game, and that would be it. Now however I wake up at my usual daily routine time, which is relatively early. This is the same if I have an evening kick off. I then commence with my first meal of steak and nuts, then a couple of hours after that I’m straight into a meal of protein and carbs again, consisting perhaps of; brown rice, butternut squash and of course unlimited green veg. Then 2/3 hrs before I play my match I would have 200g of chicken with the nut butter mix and some vegetables. Essentially I am eating as much as I can before I play. This used to be a real struggle for me, for a number of reasons, like nerves or lack of preperation. However I am really at home with eating like this now, and have been getting great results. The only change for an evening kick off is I have one more normal meal of protein, carbs and veg, before I switch to my final meal of chicken and nut butters.



Throughout the morning of game day, or any day in fact Iwould be massively hydrating; this is an area I really tend to focus on pre match as I often wake up dehydrated. If I don't get this sorted then I feel terrible.One of the methods I use to help me hydrate is a supplement called H2Pro, which is an effervescent electrolyte tablet; I take this with water as my first port of call upon waking. Then throughout the morning of the game I will continue to drink water right up till kick off.



Pre-match I take my pre-trainer Hades from my own supplement range to give me a boost. Hades is designed with performance in mind, with caffeine and B-vits to provide the energy.In terms of supplementation, mine is pretty limited on the day of a game. After waking in the morning I have the H2PRO tablet with water as I told you. Mixed with this as well is a spoon full of Glutamine. I often have a green tea, with a spoonful of Tagaloa mixed in.

Post match the focus is all about recovery and hydration. I will always have a couple of cherry active drinks, mixed with 500ml of water, so that's a litre of fluid back on straight away. I will then take on board a recovery shake from Maximuscle’s range.


The important thing to note is that there are loads of different methods and you have to find the one that makes you feel good. The key with anything to do with nutrition or training is that if you feel good when you are performing then you are doing the right thing. Obviously you can look at the 1% to try and improve yourself, which is what you should always strive to do. You can play about with different things, it is of course about trial and error really. If you eat just two meals before a game then make a note of how you feel, if you feel great then that’s the plan for you, if you don’t and you need more energy, then try eating 3 meals or utilising some supplements.


I am always wary about putting down what I eat as I wouldn’t recommend anyone to follow what I do exactly as this is specific to me, peoples ability to deal with carbohydrates for example differs greatly. If you are over weight then you may have some underlying issues or your ability to deal with carbs isn’t great. When you are looking to lose weight the whole idea is to get your body to deal with carbs more efficiently and to digest and utilise them properly. My diet is very carb heavy because I can tolerate it and I need that to fuel myself. Some people aren’t able to do that; they may have food intolerances etc. so you have to be wary, try things out first when there is no risk. Try the nut butters but remember it is a point of experimentation, don’t just rush out and do it before a game as you may feel bloated and not able to play properly. Try things in training.

– Entry was posted on January 29th, 2015 by James Haskell

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