Interview | Katy Daley-McLean MBE

World Cup Winner & Olympian Katy Daley-McLean MBE has been at the top of elite womens rugby for a decade; racking up over 400 points in 94 appearances in an England shirt. Katy was also an integral member of the first Team GB Sevens squad, who competed at Rio 2016.

Ahead of the launch of the RFU's Inner Warrior campaign, designed to increase women participation in rugby at the grassroots level, we had a quick chat with Katy about how she's fuels her performances at the top...

So Katy, ahead of a game, what sort of foods are you eating, and how long before Kick Off should you be having them? "So at the moment we're in the middle of the club season, so a lot of the games are kicking off at 1400 or 1630... so for me, ahead of a 1400 kick off, I'd have quite a big breakfast, probably about half 9 or 10 [in the morning]... things like bacon, avocado, toast, that kind of thing. 

Then, as I'm getting close to game time... probably about two hours before kick off, so around 12 O'clock, I'll probably have some form of shake; something light thats got some oats in it, maybe some banana, little bit of milk. If I wasn't feeling that, I'd probably just have a banana".

So at half time, do you take on any food, or shakes, or just water? "Sometimes I might have a carbohydrate-gel, but it really depends on how I feel. I'm not a big eater on match-days anyway, I hate that feeling of being full. For me it's about eating little and often. If I was feeling a bit depleted, then just a gel is what I'd look to, rather than eating anything". 

Are you touching protein shakes or bars at half time, or after the game? "Yeah, definitely after the game I go for a protein shake."

Does your diet change much between on & off-season? "Yeah, definitely during 'on' season I am much more strict whereas during the off-season, I've got a bit more of a chance to be more 'normal'. So if you want a take-out more than once a week or that kind of thing, it's alright. You don't have to meal-plan as much too; that's the biggest thing for me, when you're eating well it does take a lot of preparation... off-season it's nice to be able to just pick-up something when I'm out". 

Are you able to drink much alcohol during the season, or is that off-limits? "For us, it's all about moderation; I'm personally not much of a big drinker anyway, I'd rather eat my calories. I wouldn't be drinking the night before a match, but mid-week, a glass of wine or something like that is definitely acceptable to us as a group".

Are there any particular foods you avoid? "Yeah [I avoid] your really high, fatty foods... your obvious ones like fish & chips, big stodgy pizza's; that type of thing I defiantly try and eat in moderation, and see it more of a treat than a regular part of my diet". 

When you are on International duty, you can be living out of a suitcase & not have a huge amount of control over your diet; is that ever an issue? "Yeah it can definitely be an issue. When we're in camps, it's easier because the food is provided by our nutritionist so there is still an element in our control... and you know the food will be good for you, and good quality. 

But definitely when you go away, there are times when you're just... especially in Sevens when you're competing so much, it's just about getting the calories in".

At this level, a number of athletes have spoken about the importance of hydration; is that an important element to your own performance & recovery? "Yeah massively, I've always got a big litre & a half bottle of water with me. Actually, it's really good in the off-season, as I can go to the cinema and just get a coffee, instead of having a coffee & a big bottle of water.

It really is so important, it has such an impact on me & my diet; I find if I haven't hydrated and drunk enough, I'll have a massive craving for sugary foods, and other bad stuff. Whereas if I am constantly hydrating, I don't notice [the cravings] as much".

So what is your cheat meal then? "oooh I'd say it's tied between a Thai Green Curry or just a pizza... I really like stodgy food, so something that's got loads of cheese on it".

You've been a pro player now for a number of years, has your nutrition and diet developed as you've grown with the game? When you consider what you were eating in your early 20's, is it much different to what you have now? "Yeah definitely, and I think it's changed more because of age and experience. My diet has changed as I've become more knowledgeable about when I should eat, what I should eat, and what I can get away with eating.

I don't think I have the strictest diet, but I know myself well enough to know that I can balance what I eat. So I can still have some chocolate, or a packet of crisps here & there, and know how much of those things I can eat before I start to see an impact on my performance. That's the biggest lesson I've learnt... you don't need to be super strict, you just need to be consistent and have everything in moderation".

Do you have any pre-game rituals? "Err, I used to when I was younger, about which sock I would put on first, and I didn't want to put my shirt on until I got outside. When you get a bit older, you realise that actually, these things don't really help. The world doesn't end if you've not got your boots, or you put the wrong sock on first".

So moving on to the development of women rugby in the UK, how do you see it growing over the next ten years? "Everyone involved in the game, and as an athlete [currently playing], you want it to happen immediately, but it will happen over the next ten years, which is going to be massive for the womens game. If you look at what has happened in the previous ten years, its [growth has been] huge. 

I think that is the brilliant thing about womens rugby, it is really now beginning to become accessible. So if you talk about the Warrior camps, theres 185 camps to help women aged 18-35 to get involved in the sport. Thats what has been missing before, the game hasn't always been easily accessible whereas now you can go to a warrior camp, or O2 Touch, theres so many different variations of the game throughout the year, that if you want to get involved in rugby, theres an easy way to do it. 

Last year, which was the first year of the Warrior Camps, over 10,000 women & girls got involved, and 3,500 went on to become a regular players, which are phenomenal numbers. Rugby has always been very inclusive, but now you have different types of the game, which play to different peoples strengths, which is brilliant."

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Katy was talking to us to promote the RFU's Inner Warrior Campaign. 

The RFU wants to empower women to find, connect with and free their inner warrior spirit by giving rugby a try and experiencing the dynamic, exhilarating sport of rugby for the first time within a fun-packed, commitment-free environment. The Warrior Camps aim to encourage more women and girls to play contact rugby, teaching participant’s key introductory skills and drills within a non-committal, social and fun environment. Participants will be introduced to the basics of rugby, including passing, kicking and tackling, along with enjoyable fitness routines.

Women interested in attending a Warrior Camp between 12 – 28 January 2018 should visit www.englandrugby.com/InnerWarrior to find their local event.