Mechanical and Electrical
Premiership Rugby Player
7s World Series competitor
Team GB Olympian
XVs World Cup Finalist
VIIs Rugby World Cup
Commonwealth Games Medalist
An experienced and decorated rugby player. A demon on the pitch, in the gym, and in the lab. Amy now looks toward her next big milestone; Tokyo Olympics.
But as with us all over the past year, it has been a journey far from planned. Not to mention some pretty big barriers; the postponement of the Games, a halt being called to the World Series, and being made redundant amidst England Rugby budget cutbacks (Thank you National Lottery for coming to the rescue!).
But amongst a season of seemingly unlimited uncontrollables, there remain a few things that athletes can control; near the top of that list for Amy is nutrition.
Thanks to popular Netflix series like GameChangers, we all know going meat-free doesn't necessarily limit sporting potential, though regardless of what they may like to suggest, nor does it guarantee it either! However, that's not to say all the nutritious Vegetarian alternatives are always available to athletes.
Amy chats to us about the positives and the difficulties with being Vege, the changes in education, and how Vege food can provide more flavoursome and cheaper alternatives to meat.
So, why become a Vegetarian in the first place?
I’d never been a massive meat eater anyway, but I was probably more attuned to it because my Dad has been a vegetarian for as long as I have lived and he would always preach it, preach it, preach it! At home with my mum that mainly brought me up, we still only really had white meat.
I just decided to do my own research and make a decision from that. I felt it was better for the environment, for me to limit my meat intake.
For a good year that was taking meat out of my diet completely, fish included. I cut down on dairy, started using oat milk in my coffee, things like that.
Being asthmatic dairy products and milk always affected me. As a kid, I was told not to have as much dairy because of my asthma, so it all made sense to try it.
In the last month or so, I’ve started to introduce fish again. One because it’s easier to get more sustainably sourced, you get a bit more information about it, and if you do your research you can find it more ethically. Two, to make it a little easier to hit all those amino acids that you need, that you have to try a bit harder for when you’re a vegetarian.
However, Amy was a rugby player long before she decided to remove meat from her diet. A decision made 18 months ago. By this point, Amy's international career, which begun with a XVs debut in 2013, was already incredibly successful; the Rio Olympics, the Rugby World Cup in Ireland, the 7s Rugby World Cup, the Commonwealth Games and several seasons on the 7s World Series.
So how did being Vegetarian affect things?
I was in one of the best shapes I’d been in physically, without eating meat, I was training really well, and felt like I had so much energy during training. I just thought 'It’s working for me, so I’m going to carry on.'
I realised I was eating better because I had to plan more. You couldn’t grab a sandwich when out, because there would be only 1 option. I also hate coriander, and most vegetarian options have coriander in!
It seems that even with the growing popularity of Vege and Vegan lifestyles, and the increasing awareness around the benefits of reducing our meat intake, the availability of options from mainstream supermarkets and cafes remains limited.
This led us to discuss the difficulties of having a strict diet, of any variety, when you are also in and out of training camps, competitions and tours. These environments mean somebody else is cooking (yay) but there is also a limited menu, and perhaps even a language barrier to overcome in explaining what you can or cannot eat.
It can be difficult especially with 7s. You’re travelling to all these countries all over the World, and you may only have 1 vegetarian option. Even in places like Australia where they tend to be quite ahead with diet. When I went there, I remember having to have tofu or chickpeas for every meal. They would bring out a bowl of chickpeas, with nothing on, or a bowl of fried tofu.
That’s where you have to ask yourself questions, because we’re there to perform, at an elite level, and 7s is so physically demanding, that the lead-up week to those 2 or 3 days you’re playing is vital. That’s probably why I’ve made myself a bit more flexible now so that if I did come into that environment where I wasn’t getting the nutrients I needed, I’m not sacrificing my performance. Instead, I’ll have a bit of meat to make sure I’m getting the right nutrients I need to perform.
While some sports teams and individuals enjoy unlimited room service, private chefs, and personalised menus, we aren't quite there yet in women's rugby. But perhaps corporations can play more of a role in providing vegetarian meals. I'm not talking about a vegetarian alternative to a meat meal, but rather supplying highly nutritious plant-based main meals.
It’s tough, because corporations will have a budget to stick to, and it’s challenging for them, but I think that pushes the complete vegetarian side a bit more. You can create vegetarian food very cheaply, like lentil stews, casseroles, bolognese. So if they can’t afford the better quality meat (organic, free-range, well looked after animals), why don’t they provide more vegetarian options.
There are not many types of meat you actually get a lot of flavour from, some you do, but a lot of it comes from what you put with it. And some of the vegetarian food you get is so incredibly tasty because there’s a lot of time and care thinking about what ingredients you’re putting into it.
Now don't get me wrong, I think there would be more than a few turned faces if a women's rugby team, or any team, rocked up to dinner and the only option was a lentil casserole. However, it all comes back to changing norms. If we continue to learn that meat is the only good source of protein and amino acids, then we will always be reluctant to change, and we will always expect meat as an option.
And so Amy and I found ourselves returning to education around nutrition. The importance of increasing awareness of the countless options available to us to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet, as well as where our food is coming from.
I think nutrition is a really simple thing, and it’s always been missed. You’re taught that you need to get your protein source, that’s your meat, your veg and your carbs. But it’s very rare, that there are schools saying protein sources can also be '...'. You can nearly guarantee there will be very little on the source of these things either.
David Attenborough is talking about these things. That's my rule of thumb, if Attenborough says it, that means it’s absolutely true advice (you heard it hear first!). It takes those kinds of programmes to educate (One Planet, A perfect Planet, Seven Worlds One Planet).
You and I are in too early of a generation to rely on parents because it’s not their fault but they weren’t taught either. I think it’s the kids now, that maybe can rely on parents, hopefully, because they’re getting a better education on nutrition. There are more accessible resources.
Individuals like David Attenborough are making environmental concerns far more mainstream. It's no longer a sidelined topic. We do care, or at least the majority do. And we definitely know more about our planet, how things are connected, and the impact our current behaviours are having on climate change.
Yet, we have athletes like Amy (and I'm sure many others), who are trying to be Vegetarian, who are trying to make a difference, stuck in awkward decisions where they have to choose between the nutrition they need to perform, and sticking to their morals.
But if we start learning that protein is not synonymous with meat, but rather that meat is just one source of protein, we can start changing behaviours without worrying about nutritious lags.