With England and Wales set to clash in the Six Nations this weekend, TRAIN discussed fitness and nutrition with Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees. Twelvetrees has worn the white of England on 19 occasions.
© Martin Bennett / Gloucester Rugby
Training time: overcoming obstacles
Many of you reading this will have undergone some form of physical transformation since beginning your fitness journey. This is a fact reinforced by Twelvetrees’ transition to the top.
‘I came into rugby quite late, as a 19-year-old – I’d never touched a weight or anything like that! Coming into a professional environment where I started weightlifting in addition to the other physical training was tough. I wasn’t strong enough to play in the Aviva Premiership at that time, and had to play catch up.’
Bulking up in muscle mass is hard work, but can be achieved if you apply the principles of volume and progressive overload.
Keeping track of the weight you manage to lift with each exercise is effective in seeing incremental increases in strength.
Your body will grow bigger and stronger to cope with the increasing physical demands placed on it.
Training once a week just won’t cut the mustard. Muscle protein synthesis is re-booted every 48-72 hours, so hitting a muscle group every two to three days accumulates the right amount of volume for growth.
One bad workout won’t necessarily negate your progress, but similarly, a single great one won’t suddenly spark miraculous size and strength gains.
Consistent training is the key to improved performance, Twelvetrees states, and this also ensures that body composition (ratio of muscle mass to body fat) is maintained throughout the season.
‘The modern rugby season is quite a long slog. Most weeks are quite similar, from the middle of August onwards, when we start playing competitive games. But, weeks can differ – if we’re training particularly hard one week then nutrition-wise, we’ll load up.’
Fit fuel: game day nutrition
Twelvetrees makes an important point. If you are training with sufficient intensity and looking to maximise your performance, then you need to fuel-up favorably. The Gloucester man provides an insight into his match-day nutrition.
- Breakfast: ‘For a Saturday game, and a 3pm kick off, I’ll wake up and have a bowl of porridge and a couple of poached eggs on toast.’
- Mid-morning: ‘I’ll have a coffee and a banana.’
- Pre-game: ‘I’ll have the classic Spaghetti Bolognese. We all used to eat lunch at home before coming into the stadium, but this year under Johan (Ackermann, Gloucester’s head coach), it’s changed a bit and we all come in and eat lunch at the club, prepared by our Performance Chef Will Carvalho. There are variations, of course, but it’s traditionally high-carb based. Spaghetti Bolognese or Pasta Carbonara both feature, alongside sweet potatoes.’
Eggs are a fine protein source, but don’t throw out the yolks. Recent research from the Universities of Illinois and Toronto found that whole eggs boosted muscle protein synthesis by as much as 40%. Game-day nerves are sometimes a problem, so if you struggle eating solid food, shakes come in handy.
There are certain foods more likely to lead to weight gain due to their high calorie, fat and sugar content – and Twelvetrees acknowledges how tempting these are.
‘I have to stay away from sweets! I have a terrible sweet tooth. Chocolate, sweets and pastries aren’t good for me. My wife also bakes, so that’s a difficult one to stay away from.’
Got a fervour for fast food? Turn off the TV. You may not think the two are linked, but a report published by Cancer Research UK found that those who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to binge on extra junk food items.
Marginal gains: one step ahead
While training and nutrition take ultimate priority, some supplements definitely bring about benefits. Twelvetrees makes good use of the best as the season takes hold.
‘I’ll take probiotics and a variety of vitamins for immune function, and to stay away from coughs and colds. For example, I’ll take Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Cod Liver Oil.’
Illness and poor immunity can impact severely on your progress. Thankfully, supplementing with various vitamins and minerals can enhance your efforts.
The University of Hertfordshire conducted a systematic review of 12 studies and found that Vitamins C, A and E are all hugely important for curtailing the common cold, in addition to the amino acids Leucine, Taurine and Glycine.
The word ‘supplement’ means to add to what already exists. If all you’re adding to is a sub-par workout and diet plan, then you should fix these first.
Mindset is as important to optimising performance as any nutrition and training strategy. There are a number of visualisation techniques that Twelvetrees employs to make that in-game mind-muscle connection work.
‘If I know that I’m going to be kicking, mentally visualising what I’m going to be doing is important. We also visualise game management scenarios and the best outcomes for the team. I try and stay pretty relaxed so that, when the pressure is on and I have to make a call, then it’s all second nature. All the knowledge is there, it’s ready to go and it’s all about executing it on match day.’
A study published in the journal Life Sciences showed that similar pre-training mental programming can boost size and strength gains by 20%. If someone catches you flexing in the mirror, tell them you’re just visualising your workout…
Gloucester Rugby have forthcoming home Aviva Premiership fixtures against Leicester Tigers (Feb 10th), Wasps (Feb 24th) and Newcastle Falcons (March 3rd). Tickets are still available from gloucesterrugby.co.uk