2020 will be remembered as an unprecedented year, with the impact of the global pandemic affecting all people and industries, including athletes and sport.
Despite disruptions and pressures, the Queensland Reds Super Rugby team rose to the challenge, turning adversity into resilience and strength, having one of their most successful seasons in recent years. As the Official Nutritional Supplement Supplier to the team, we couldn’t have been prouder!
Players faced gruelling training and game schedules and needed to be in optimal health to endure the demands placed on their bodies so they could continue to perform at their highest level. As the team rose through the ranks this year, maintaining their best state of health was more important than ever – and has been critical to their success.
We chat to the Queensland Reds Sports Performance Dietitian, Kerry O’Bryan, about how the team stayed physically and mentally well in the challenging circumstances.
How important was it for the players to maintain optimal health and well-being and how did you work with the team to manage that?
In order to perform at the highest level, an athlete must first be healthy and have a positive sense of wellbeing. At the Reds we have numerous systems of checks and balances that provide high-performance support staff with valuable feedback as to how an athlete is fairing. Daily online check-ins provide timely information that can be used to best support the player’s health and wellbeing whether it be excessive muscle soreness, poor sleep, life stress or managing optimal body composition.
As the team Sports Performance Dietitian, I provide nutrition support using up-to-date and relevant evidence-based strategies at both the individual and team level that will drive peak performance and assist optimal recovery. Throughout the season we regularly utilised healthy meal services at Ballymore which not only provided the team with a targeted nutrition focus on heavy training load days, it also facilitated a positive social environment which is an important consideration for wellbeing. Due to the competition changes involving same day turnaround for interstate games and additional restrictions on social interaction, we had to be very organised with our meal and snack options to ensure the players were adequately hydrated, fuelled and ready to perform.
To ensure our players are only taking safe and effective supplements to support optimal performance and wellbeing, we only use specific products that have undergone rigorous testing for banned substances as well as being backed with scientific research. Supplements are used on a case-by-case basis for a particular purpose. Players are educated on how best to use a particular supplement through ‘Best Practice Protocols’ and also the risks associated with using untested supplements.
In 2020, the QLDS Reds were fortunate to have the continued partnership with BioConcepts as our Official Sports Nutritional Supplement Provider. The Orthoplex Reds Range provided us with a range of probiotics (S. Bifido Biotic, Multiflora), fish oil (Bioactive Lipids), curcumin (Curcuminoid Ultra Pure) and vitamin/mineral supplements (MagOpti) that were all fully HASTA certified. HASTA is a leading supplement testing company that Sports Dieticians and athletes can trust. To be completely HASTA compliant is an extensive and costly process which is reflective of BioConcepts’ commitment to providing high quality, safe supplements to professional sports bodies or to any athlete susceptible to drug testing.
What adjustments did you have to make to the player’s nutrition and supplement regimen to provide the best support for both performance and recovery?
While each individual athlete has their own goals and specific areas of nutrition that they can develop, ‘Game Day’ systems are in place to ensure players are primed for peak performance whilst also facilitating recovery once the final siren has sounded. Hydration protocols are well-established and implemented by several members of the Performance support staff. Nutritious team meals are provided to ensure athletes are well-fuelled. Meals include carbohydrate-based options with high-quality lean sources of protein and nutrient-dense salads containing polyphenols.
Due to changes in the domestic competition travel schedule as a result of Covid-19, we also had to be smart with our post-game snacks which had to be nutritious, individually packaged, portable, and not require refrigeration. With regard to supplements, we used Orthoplex ‘Multiflora’ ahead of travel to reduce the incidence of travel-related illnesses and to support healthy gut microbiota among the athletes. The ‘BioActive Lipids’ fish oil was also used in the 48hours post-game to reduce inflammation associated with exercise-induced muscle damage caused through the high impact collisions involved with the sport of rugby union.
Unfortunately, we had several injuries within the squad this season that required surgery. Nutrition is an important consideration in supporting optimal repair of soft tissue on the road to recovery. Athletes were provided with additional support to ensure they were doing everything they could through eating healthy food options. Collagen support was also utilised strategically at certain times of the recovery phase to provide the building blocks for connective tissue repair as part of ‘tendon repair protocol’. Curcuminoid Ultra Pure and BioActive lipids were used at times in an attempt to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress associated with postoperative recovery.
Damien Marsh is the Queensland Reds Physical Performance Manager, who has given us additional insight into the players’ wellbeing during this season.
The uncertainty during this time has had a psychological impact on many people, including sportspeople. How did the team manage mental health and wellbeing during the season? And how did mindset impact performance?
We always look at mental wellbeing as part of our daily check-in with players. During isolation, the coaching and management team were allocated groups of players to check in with. Players were provided with gym equipment and programs during the isolation period as their physical health has an important link to their mental wellbeing.
Once we were back training for the new season, mindset was crucial as we had to become comfortable with uncertainty – as did the rest of the world. There were greater challenges regarding the way we had to approach training, along with flying in and out to games on the same day. However, the way we framed these challenges and accepted them was important to grow as a group and become more robust.
How did you and the team optimise their performance in new ways? What did you learn and how do you think this season made the team stronger?
In the early days of returning from isolation, training in smaller groups allowed us to be more targeted in our training programs. We also looked at different ways we could be more efficient with our schedule – we did not want to waste time.
We are always looking to achieve physical outcomes through rugby modalities to ensure the greatest specificity and transfer. This is something we improved through the season.
We spent a large proportion of the playing season in a ‘bubble’, so being together more made the group tighter.
Eleven of the players have been selected for the Wallabies to play the Bledisloe Cup, while the other players will need to maintain their health and wellbeing during the off-season. What performance support will these players need to follow?
Access to BioConcept products to support their health whilst on leave!
Mentally, it’s important for them to have some time away from structured programs but to remain active.
They are given programs to complete to ensure they return at a level that allows them to build on last season and minimise risk of injury as training load increases in pre-season.
-- Queensland Reds Sports Performance Dietitian, Kerry O’Bryan, and Queensland Reds Physical Performance Manager, Damien Marsh