By Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
A lot has been written about the short intervals between pool matches during the Rugby World Cup. The short interval between matches is not a new challenge for American teams that play in meaningful competitions. Examples such as the Pan American Championships, which sees test matches played on a Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday schedule, or the former national collegiate championship tournament required teams to make good use of the interval between matches. Until the College Premier Division began last year, college teams that made the regional playoff had to compete on consecutive days. This format carried on into the national semi-finals and final played two single elimination matches in twenty-four hour period. This piece will highlight a handful of important areas of focus when trying to, as we say here at Cal, “win the interval” between matches.
How a team uses the interval is as important as how long the interval actually is. There is considerable sport science research to be considered when building out detailed plans for short turnarounds between contests and to this end, I have previously written about recovery and regeneration techniques (September 4th 2009), Two in Twenty-four and the use of compression garments (April 26th 2010). This time out, we will begin by looking more closely at the role nutrition (fuel) and sleep have in winning the interval.
Nutrition is not neutral, it either helps you or hurts you. Refuelling begin immediately post match in the changing room and fall into what Cal Sports Nutritionist Dr. Susan Nelson refers to as the Four R’s. First is to replace muscle glycogen with carbohydrates. Having appropriate fuel sources in the changing room means the players can immediately access those food items best positioned to help them begin to recover. Ideally this occurs within the first thirty minutes of the final whistle. The second R is repair muscle using protein. Successful teams feed a well-balanced meal to its players within two hours of the post match snack. The carbohydrate to protein ratio should between 3-4:1. The third R is replenish fluids and electrolytes, and the fourth R is rest. It is important to marry the right nutrients with research-based timing/delivery. If either aspect of the refuelling interval is off, optimal recovery will not be obtained.
A significant area to focus on when winning the interval is sleep. There are numerous sleep research studies, including those done locally at Stanford University, that draw strong correlations between the quantity and quality of an athlete’s sleep and performance. In the case of rugby players competing in different time zones, this aspect of performance becomes of heightened importance. A tool that is becoming more common in high performance team environments is a sleep log. This log begins during the weeks before the competition (Rugby World Cup, Pan American Championships, National Collegiate Finals) and not only notes the number of hours a player has slept on a daily basis, but captures the perceived quality of that sleep.
The Stanford sleep study recommends between eight to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep, but for young adults this number can rise to ten hours of continuous sleep. As sport science expert and coach Dr. Phil Wagner says, “Sleep doesn’t offer rollover minutes” meaning you can’t sleep more one night and less the next, balancing the totals out over days and weeks. Further important aspects of gaining the “right” type of sleep include achieving the sleep via a regular schedule referred to as the “sleep-wake cycle”. We all have a circadian rhythm that, when disrupted, increases cortisol which is the termed the “stress hormone”. Increased cortisol can cause blood pressure and blood sugars to rise, which in turn reduce immune responses.
There is sleep and there is deep sleep. Deep sleep is achieved when an athlete makes their hotel into a temporary cave. Dark, cool, and quiet. Deep sleep is desirable because it allows us to feel more recharged in the morning. In the case of making the most out of a short interval between matches, it is critical to understand that after the first hour of deep sleep onset, our body will naturally release human growth hormone (HGH) the most potent (legal) performance-enhancing drug. Coaches wanting to win the interval must appreciate the vital role sleep plays in athletic recovery.
Two additional “tools” available to rugby teams that want to win the interval are compression garments such as “Skins” and the use of foam rollers. As previously discussed, the benefit of using compression garments are numerous and include minimizing tissue inflammation.
Foam rollers are ideal for self-myofascial release and massage therapy and have become a standard in high performance recovery methods.
Winning the interval takes an understanding of what teams can control and how to make the most out of the time they have between matches.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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