Alcohol and Sport

16 Sep 2011

As England's rugby players face the wrath of negative headlines for going on an alcohol binge at the Rugby World Cup just days after an unconvincing win over Argentina, I recall a fascinating conversation with New Zealand 7s coach Gordon Tietjens a few years ago.

Sitting next to Tietjens at the New Zealand Ball a few days after the Kiwis had won the Dubai Rugby 7s for the umpteenth time, I noticed none of the players were drinking alcohol and curiously asked him the reason. "We don't let em" was his abrupt reply. "Everyone agrees and signs up to team agreements at the beginning of the season, which all of them agreed no alcohol. Anyone who breaks it is out". 

We then went on to discuss the strict nutritional regime he has the players on to maximize their performance. It seems to have worked. Rugby 7s teams are the all-round fittest sportsmen on the planet, in my view, combining speed, strength, endurance and stamina like no other sport, including the 15s version of the game. And New Zealand are the fittest of the fittest; Tietjens the most successful coach in the sport by miles. A passionate and strict nutritionist like myself, Tietjens knows just what an edge can be gained from eating the very best there is - and avoiding rubbish. Alcohol falls into the latter category, a poison that the liver goes overboard to counteract; that de-hydrates, impairs metabolic function, muscle coordination and so on.

Whilst I enjoy a drink a couple of times a week and don't begrudge anyone else who drinks far more, when I'm in peak training for an expedition, fitness challenge, ironman or whatever, it's not rocket science to state that any more than this would handicap my training and performance. Massive alcoholic binges don't even enter the equation. All sportsman competing at the highest levels knows this too (apart from many professional soccer players it seems). So just what were England's rugby players thinking of when they embarked on a drinking spree at the Rugby World Cup, the pinnacle of their careers requiring performance at the very top of their game? You tell me. Or maybe the England Management team can.... 

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