How Do Rugby Players Train + Are They More Powerful Than CrossFitters? An Interview With Katy Daley-McLean

katy daley mclean how do rugby players train

Ever wondered how someone at the very top level of their sport trains and eats? How about whether top sportspeople really are more powerful than your average-Joe-gym-goer?

Owner of an MBE, Katy Daley-McLean is the highest England point scorer of all time with 401 in 90 matches and also held the England captaincy for over four years, leading the nation to a World Cup victory in 2014. She’s also an ambassador to England Rugby’s Warrior Camps and patron for children’s charity Team Evie.

I spoke to the England and Darlington Mowden Park Sharks player to find out how she eats and trains, plus her thoughts on how society’s view of women’s sport has changed over the years – along with a video of me challenging her on her power output! Nope, I’m not embarrassing myself by trying to do max burpees on film, but it WAS amusing to compare how my max numbers stacked up against a top athlete’s. Read on for more.

Day-to-day, what does your training look like?

At the moment we’re in our club season, so slightly different to international. We play on a Saturday, so Monday will be the heaviest session I do in a week – generally a lower body session with squats and Romanian deadlifts. I’ll tend to do that in the afternoon, as depending how the game went, I like to do a running, speed or plyometric session in the morning – anything that’s going to be quick.

Tuesday we have a club session in the morning, which might include skills like goal kicking, and again a bit of speed and acceleration work, weather-dependent. Wednesday will probably be a conditioning session; I quite like circuits. Thursday will be plyometrics and explosive work, like boxjumps, into a club session in the evening, deciding what we’ll focus on in the game Saturday. If I do train Friday it’ll be an upper body session, unless it’s been a hard week then I’ll just do some cardio.

Saturday we play – then Sunday will be stretch and foam rolling, or could be 25 minute bike or cross-trainer, but it’d be really light. That’d be my training cycle for an average week at the moment.

katy daley mclean how do rugby players train

How does training differ for professional and semi-professional athletes?

I was professional from 2014 until Christmas just gone. When you’re full-time you do a lot more, as you’re together there’s more opportunity to do team skills, whereas now I’ll probably be training on my own I’ll find it’ll be more running- or gym-based, just because it’s easier. If I do skills it’ll be kicking as I don’t need my friends for that.

Day-to-day what sort of things do you eat – do you follow a diet?

When I was younger I did – I’d be really strict. The more experience I’ve gained with my own nutrition, I’ve realised what works for me so I’m not as strict.

Breakfast will generally be scrambled eggs, avocado, and bacon, or yoghurt, fruit and granola. I’ll have a mid-morning snack of yoghurt and fruit, depending on training loads. Lunch is either chicken salads or if it’s cold something warming, but again it’d be pretty protein-heavy. I’ll snack on nuts and I love cheese so that’ll be in there somewhere in the day! Then maybe a glass of milk, a protein shake depending when I’ve trained.

I do love food so I’ll have a nice dinner of chilli or something fish-based – I wouldn’t say I’m a great cook but I like a bit of variety in what I eat.

katy daley mclean

Your diet sounds protein-heavy – is that a performance-based decision?

We were probably led that way by our nutritionist and for me it’s worked. It means I feel full, I feel like I’ve eaten good foods. I also eat a lot of vegetables – a lot of green vegetables. For me, other than days I’ve done a hard run, the intensity of my training doesn’t need me to be loading on rice and pasta every meal, so I get a lot of my carbs through vegetables.

Would you have something more carb heavy before game day?

On a Friday night I’ll have pasta, with goats cheese and chicken. I do love chocolate and bread too, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is about moderation – I’m quite lucky in that a little bit will be enough, however if I told myself I couldn’t have any, I’d want to nail a full chocolate bar.

katy daley mclean how do rugby players train

How have you seen women’s sport change in society over the past couple of years, particularly from the 2012 Olympics, and the England Rugby World Cup win in 2014? 

It’s massive – I look back to 2010, my first experience of being in a major tournament which was the World Cup in London, and the amount of support we had – then looking forward to now, the landscape has completely changed. I used to have conversations with blokes who’d say “should girls really play rugby?”, and now, seven years on, it’s more like they asking “what sport do you play?” It’s a real positive thing.

When I was little I aspired to be Jonny Wilkinson or Dan Carter, or Sally Gunnell, but I was never going to be a runner. Now you have so many more team sport options [to aspire to] – you’ve got Steph Houghton, the cricket girls have done fabulous, so now there’s a lot more team sports young girls can aspire to be full-time in, rather than thinking “I need to be Jess Ennis” as that’s not going to suit everybody.

2012 was a really good kick-start for women’s sport, and now team sports are holding their own, the next thing is to keep growing that legacy of sport. The opportunities like Warrior Camp where women just get the chance to come out and give it a go – that’s massive for me.


I hoped you learned something new about how rugby players train and eat – I found Katy’s approach to eating really refreshing and something I work towards with my own diet. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to play rugby again and also to watching Katy and England Rugby’s women hit the field again!

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Photos and interview opportunity provided by England Rugby

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