How to Train, Eat and Sleep Like a Professional Rugby Player

It’s no secret that rugby league is considered to be an extremely tough and fast-paced sport. It’s highly noted for its hard, physical play and it takes a lot of commitment to become an eligible player on the field of this full-contact sport. Amongst other skills and qualities, players are expected to be extremely fit, especially during peak season. Intense training sessions can take place up to five times a week to increase fitness levels and reduce the risk of injury. We sat down with super league champion, Jamie Peacock, to uncover the details of what it really takes to be on the team.


The Workout Routine

Rugby league is not for the faint-hearted and nor is their training regime. Following a strict training plan is a crucial part of the job as an elite athlete. To excel, you have to be incredibly dedicated and self-disciplined with a competitive nature. An immense amount of your time will be spent working on your performance, and so being driven and staying motivated is key.


  • How often did you train off-peak and during peak season?

During off-season, the training load would be high. We would usually train five days a week with the only exception being Wednesday and Sunday when we had the days off. The emphasis in the off-season is to gain power, strength, muscle and improve skills. You are shattered most of the time. It is a tough, intense time but it gives you the base to lead up to a successful season. If you put the effort in during pre-season and work hard, you will reap the rewards during the in-season. Training sessions would include a mix of weights, power heavy lifting, HIIT (high intensity interval training), wrestling, stretching, swimming and wattbikes. We would also have to watch footage of training, take ice baths and get massages. In-season, the week would be different as the focus is on being mentally and physically ready for the game on Friday night.


  • Can you give us an example of what a week in training would look like for you?

Monday would be the big work day, starting off with stretching and reviewing the previous game. This would be followed by weights and wrestling. Post-lunch you would have a hard workout on the field with a focus on rugby-based skills. Tuesday’s we would weight train again and have one-on-one meetings. We would also look at footage of the opposition. Wednesday we would work on rugby skills and have a team meeting and Thursdays would be the last training session before the game, which would include power weights and captains run. Friday’s, of course, would be the best day of the week being the game and Saturday we would complete a recovery session which involved light aerobic circuit and weights.


  • What skills and personal qualities are required in order to excel in this sport?

To make it all the way to the top you need a large number of skills and personal qualities. Firstly, you need to be resilient as you have to learn to deal with failure and know how to improve. You also need to have a strong work ethic and be mentally tough. You need a high pain threshold to be able to push yourself through pain in training and games. It is also important to be honest with yourself and others and to be self-disciplined. You have to live the life, which means saying no to a lot of things that are nice to say yes to!


  • How old would you say you were at your peak fitness level?

At my fittest, I was probably around thirty-four or thirty-six. I retired from international rugby and so it meant I could have a full pre-season. Instead of four weeks it was tweleve weeks and I trained as hard as I possibly could. I made every session count and during those years I understood my body and what worked for me.


Super league champion Jamie Peacock playing for Leeds Rhinos
Source: The Daily Star


The Diet Plan

Whether you’re a professional player or simply partake in sports just for fun, the food you choose to eat has a massive effect on your athletic performance. Each individual has their own unique nutritional requirements, especially when it comes to calorie intake, and so it is important to determine what these are. Ensuring you are getting the right balance of nutrition will help to keep you at your best. For optimal performance, you need to be including the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients in your diet.


  • Did you have to stick to a strict diet plan off-peak and during peak season?

For me, eating the right diet was as important as training hard. I believe that the constant self-discipline required to resist temptation and eat what was right and not what tasted nice, carried itself from my diet to the pitch. Meaning, you had a double effect from a strict diet; you ate well and made sure your body was in the best shape and you developed a mental toughness that you could use during training and on the pitch.


  • What type of foods were a vital part of your diet?

During my first ten years as a professional player (1996 – 2006) the emphasis was on a high carbohydrate diet and consisted of things like Jaffa Cakes and pasta with some protein for muscle building. Then, during 2006-2008 the emphasis changed to a high-protein diet with plenty of vegetables and reduced carbs. Particularly those which had a high GI (glycemic index) rating, such as sweet potatoes. This train of thought is still widely being used now.


  • Did you have a professional sports dietician to assist you and if so, what did you learn from them?

Yes, I think the most important aspects I learnt from the dieticians was to make sure you ate within twenty minutes of training hard. I think this is key to refuelling your body and the gives you the ability to train hard day after day. Also, for me, hydration is hugely important. I drank a lot of water as a player and I still do now. I think when you are dehydrated your muscles become like sandpaper, rubbing against each other and which can be problematic. When you are well hydrated, it is like two oily steaks, so you have less chance of injury.


  • What is your go-to breakfast to fuel a busy day?

I like to have 500ml of water and a double espresso before I train. After this, I will have another 500ml of water and a fruit smoothie with coconut water and 60g of flavourless protein powder. This will normally keep me full until well after lunch. I have this with Cod Liver Oil and Vitamin C supplements.

Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Champion Jamie Peacock
Source: North Leeds Life

And the Rest

Getting enough sleep after an exhausting day of training is incredibly important. Studies suggest that getting enough sleep can help to keep you focused and attentive the next day. So, in order to be on top of your game you need to ensure you are getting enough rest at night.


  • Did you have a regular sleeping pattern?

As a player, this was a nightmare and it’s the one thing I really don’t miss from playing. Since the majority of the time the games would be on a Friday night at 8pm you would get no chance of a decent night’s sleep since you were still hyped up with adrenalin. I would probably doze off at 5 or 6am for a couple of hours and then feel shocking the next day. On Saturday you would probably oversleep from being so tired and maybe get something like 11 hours sleep, then find it hard to get to sleep on Sunday. Finally, by Thursday your sleeping pattern would be close to normal and then you play again on Friday night and are back at square one!


  • How do you feel your sleep pattern affected your performance?

An old coach once said to me “anyone can train well when they feel great, champions are the ones who train like a champion when they feel their worst.”  I love this saying and applied it when I felt terrible from lack of sleep – I didn’t want to let it affect my performance.


  • Did you have to travel often?

The furthest we would travel in Super League would be to play Catalan Dragons in Perpignan, France. When we first started travelling there we would stay for about three days. Then, in 2011 we flew in the morning, played a playoff game (and won), then flew out after the game. This became the norm. Internationally we would play in Australia and New Zealand, which for the first ten days would bring its problems with jet-lag, but you would soon adjust and be ready to play.


  • What other lifestyle choices may contribute to your performance?  

Alcohol! I think as a younger player I would like a drink and it was part of the culture of the game in my first five to seven years. As I grew older, my body took longer to recover and the culture changed, which meant I drank a lot less. In my final few years I would drink once a month or less than that (sometimes 12 weeks dry) and honestly, after you haven’t drunk for a couple of weeks your performance starts to go to another level. It’s like having a car with 5 gears and then after not drinking for two or three weeks you discover a sixth gear! It is something I would recommend people try if they have never done it before. Try a month without a alcohol.


After a tiresome day of running around the field, your skin puts up with a lot. Harsh weather conditions, sweaty training sessions and high stress levels can cause your skin to go into overdrive. Jamie recommends Admiral’s high-performing Facial Skin Care Scrub and Antioxidant Moisturising Balm to restore and strengthen damaged skin. The face scrub helps to remove built up dirt and excess oils whilst the moisturising balm diminishes toxins and protects the skin.