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Source: University of Waikato

University of Waikato researchers have found rugby players’ eating habits generally improved during the Covid-19 lockdown, but their motivation to train suffered.

Led by PhD student and registered Associate Nutritionist Charlie Roberts, the research explored how pandemic restrictions impacted athletes’ habits.

The first survey received 258 responses from male and female amateur, semi-professional and professional rugby players in New Zealand, Australia and the UK during April and May.

Better eating

Lead researcher Charlie Roberts

During lockdown, most respondents said their nutrition habits were the same or better than previously. More than a third reported eating more fruit and vegetables and fewer packaged and convenience foods than before.

“Originally I was a bit surprised at that, because when I was in lockdown I know that I wasn’t following an optimal eating pattern,” says Mr Roberts.

“But then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that because these restaurants and fast food places were closed, of course that definitely limited access to quick and easy foods – things that these players might normally eat. It may also have given the players the opportunity to become more creative in the kitchen.”

Locking down with family

Once New Zealand’s restrictions were relaxed, the researchers sent a follow-up survey to domestic players. They saw a significant change in living circumstances, with more athletes living with family during lockdown and in shared flats afterwards. Similarly, players were more independent post-lockdown, with a larger number purchasing and preparing their own food.

“A lot of people decided to live with family during lockdown, likely to save money or to be with the family so they weren’t isolated from them,” says Mr Roberts.

Reduced motivation

Although players’ eating may have improved over lockdown, their motivation to train flagged. Of 112 respondents in the follow-up survey, 57.9% said their motivation to train and exercise was higher once the restrictions were relaxed.

“Previous research has found rugby players are motivated by things like the physical and aggressive nature of the game, interacting with teammates on and off the field, and a sense of achievement and success, which would have all been disrupted by the restrictions,” says Mr Roberts.

“Also, having gyms and training facilities closed, and the additional stress caused by the pandemic, was probably part of their demotivation.”

Good and bad advice

When it came to eating advice, most athletes said dieticians or nutritionists within clubs were their main source of information. But many also looked to family, social media, and the internet for guidance.

“It’s important for athletes to make sure that they’re getting their information from a reliable source,” says Mr Roberts. “If you see something on Instagram, go on the person’s website and see what it is they actually do, rather than just taking them at face value because they’ve got a good set of abs.”

Mr Roberts said if teams do not have a dietician or nutritionist, players can can find one to talk to on the Nutrition Society of New Zealand website.

The paper The Influence of COVID-19 Lockdown Restrictions on Perceived Nutrition Habits in Rugby Union Players was authored by:

  • Charlie Roberts, University of Waikato
  • Nicholas Gill, University of Waikato, New Zealand Rugby Union
  • Stacy Sims, University of Waikato