Haley competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and won the brutal cycling event Cape Epic earlier this year. We ask her how she deals with her menstrual cycle as an elite athlete and why learning more about her body has changed everything from her wellbeing to her performance.
Haley starts her story by talking about her experience of being told it was OK by professionals to not be menstruating as a teenager.
“When I was younger, I thought it was pretty normal that I didn't get my period and we would go to doctors and be like, ‘I'm 16, is this normal?’ And most of them were like: ‘Oh, yeah, well, you’re a pretty competitive athlete. You’re training a lot. So it’s totally normal.
“A lot of nutritionists I worked with when I was younger also said the same thing and you kind of get the impression that it’s OK to not behaving periods.
“My mom was kind of curious about it and started doing more research and I think I just started to question whether or not this was a normal way of thinking and whether it was actually accurate or healthy.
“I’ve learnt from working with Dr Georgie Bruinvels and the team at Orreco that having a regular menstrual cycle is a sign of health and I found that information very empowering. The knowledge I gained was fundamental in allowing me to have a really good season in 2021.”
Haley speaks about the small changes she made after learning more about her menstrual cycle and how it helped her as an athlete.
“It all started with tracking my cycle, and then honestly, just small nutritional changes, like implementing the timing and the types of macro-nutrients I was eating and within two months of working with Orreco I got my period.
“For me, I just needed to fuel more whilst on the bike and then fuel more after the bike. And a lot of that was taking on simple carbohydrates. Before, I was going for more salad and complex carbohydrate-based options. After workouts I was eating brown rice or sweet potatoes, that kind of thing.
“Looking back I was probably under fuelling and felt scared of carbs, but in an endurance sport where you want to be lean and have race weight goals, I thought carbohydrates didn’t support that.
“However, now I know there’s definitely a place for those simple carbohydrates such as white rice.
“And it's just a small change, like the type of rice that you cook. But at the end of the day, once you understand how your body is using nutrition to actually fuel the hard work that you're doing and calories you’re burning it makes sense and is just about being aware.
“Other nutritional changes that we made was making yogurt pods in the evening and getting that hit of protein right before you go to bed.This knowledge can make a big difference in how your body recovers.”
“The FitrWoman App is my favourite thing ever. I think it's genius because it's so easy. Sometimes, when I'm at the grocery store, I open up the app quite routinely and put a couple of things in my basket that will help with my symptoms and use the recipes on there to better support my body. I just like to add a couple of things to the cart that I know will support my training and overall well-being.
“I track my cycle pretty consistently and it helps me prepare for when I do really challenging events like the Cape Epic stage race in SouthAfrica, which was eight days of the hardest rides I've ever done. I took the right steps fuelling every single day during that race to make sure that I was in a good place.
“And literally the week after that event I got my period which I could never really do after an event of that magnitude before. So that's pretty cool that my body was giving the signal that it was healthy and recovering well.
“It's all these little things that are empowering, including knowing what your symptoms are and how your body's changing through each phase of the cycle.
“I think communication and education are number one. It’s about highlighting and celebrating female bodies and what they’re capable of in sport and not hiding from our periods.
“As athletes, we always want so much from ourselves, and we expect the best. I’ve been informed and empowered by learning and speaking openly about my menstrual cycle and it will continue to be a huge part of my journey as an athlete.”
Haley has added her voice to FitrWoman's 2022 Summer of Women's Sport education campaign where we are encouraging more people to speak openly about their menstrual cycles. You can find more resources to help support this mission by following us on social media via Instagram and Twitter.