WHEN IRELAND’S RUGBY squad touch down in Argentina today, they will find their carefully-laid plans already in action.
It is by no means an accident, headed by the IRFU nutritionist, the Union’s staff have been sent out ahead of the squad to ensure that the hotel and facilities are in working order before the finely-tuned athletes arrive in to act as plugs to the accommodating sockets.
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“Two things which come top of a player’s list are good food and comfortable beds,” says Dr. Ruth Wood-Martin, “and if you get those two right, you’re off to a good start.”
Food and water, it must be remembered, are the central tenets to any success in sport. And when gaining and sustaining weight makes the difference between winning and losing, nutrition should be regarded the base layer for all other goals in rugby.
Wood-Martin’s philosophy when it comes to nutrition is to educate first and advise later. So, long before her arrival she had sent guidelines to the Argentine Union from which the host hotels’ catering staff could work around and send back the menu plan they come up with of their own accord.
“I’ve just found over the years that we’re better off doing that than me sending a cold menu plan from here. That’s always going to have a bit of an Irishness to it, and they wonder ‘what the heck is this?’
“I want them to tell me what they’re good at doing and then I’ll fit that around making sure those choices are good choices that give good nutritional values.
“Sometimes you’re down to the wire on getting your responses, depending on where you’re going.”
Going to Argentina, one of the few rugby nations with a completely different language and culture, has meant that the setup routine would make the full use of its deadline. But while the language barrier may be a pre-tour problem, at least the climate does not threaten to pose many concerns during the June training sessions.
“According to where we’re going, I’ll pinpoint my focus,” adds Wood-Martin.
“Last year we were in Houston and it was very hot and humid so we had continuous monitoring of hydration levels and action plans based around the results to to keep them at a hydrated state.
“This year, it’s not going to have to be such a major focus, because it’ll be similar enough weather to what we have – it’s their winter, mid teens – what the lads are used to competing in.”
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So, with less scientific measurement to worry about this time around, Wood-Martin’s chief focus is on the food, and ensuring that there are “no surprises” ready to be dished up.
“Having already agreed the menu plans in principle for our stay, I go out and sit down with the food and beverage people and the chefs to go through all that and make sure they understand what I mean and it’s an opportunity for them to quiz me on things.
“I like to think it’s also helpful for the facility having me there, so when they are setting up I can be the point of contact in respect of how they do what they do.”
One of the big questions this week will be be how the Leinster contingent will recover after their successful defence of the Pro12 title on Saturday. While much of that recuperation will be managed by the strength and conditioning team, the nutrition side will also have their input:
“For the players playing this weekend, I’ll be keeping a close eye on them that they are eating and drinking well to refuel and replenish and repair as best as they possibly can.”
And as for the rest?
“Coming to this stage of the season you’re just trying to keep them well and making sure they have sufficient energy just to get through these last couple of weeks.”
In pre-season, it can be a completely different story, but for a tour such as this Wood-Martin will underline her ethos that she is not on tour to ward players away from the bar or the dessert trolley.
Every member of Joe Schmidt’s squad is a grown man, equipped with the knowledge and incentives to make their own choices whether they are eating from the hosts’ meal plan or out in a restaurant enjoying the Argentinian beef.
“They know what to do, but it’s important we mix up eating in the facilities and eating out from a social point of view. You balance the things, but we will be eating in places where there are good choices available.
“The good choices are there for them to make. It’s up to them whether they make them or not.”