My Fitness Journey: STELLAR Chats Nutrition & Training With Bodybuilder Dr Fionnula McHale
She's Doctor of functional medicine and counts Conor McGregor as a client. We chat to pro-bodybuilder Fionnuala about what's on her plate and the moves she loves at the gym.
When did you start training properly?
I guess I’ve been training my whole life. I began competitive swimming when I was six which continued up until I went to Trinity to study Medicine. I started going to the gym then, but I just hammered down the miles on the treadmill. I felt like it was a good form of exercise and I was too nervous to use the weights section because it was largely male dominated. Then one day a coach gave me a programme and I was hooked! It became what I thought about morning, noon and night. With such a stressful life, it was my outlet and made me feel fantastic.
How long has your journey taken?
I’ve been training hard consistently since I was very young. I credit my swimming history for my very high work capacity, my discipline and ability to tolerate pain and my powerlifting history for developing my relative strength and muscular and movement awareness. When I switched to more hypertrophy based (body building) training, my physique transformed very easily.
What does a typical gym session entail for you?
It depends on what type of training I’m doing but at the moment it would be a lot of volume and short rest because I love the feeling of pump and pain. I split body parts each day. For example, I have a quad day, a chest and shoulders day.
How often do you train?
When not in prep for a competition or shoot, I do seven sessions per week. So that would be two double days as I need two full rest days.
What has been the most rewarding part of your fitness transformation?
Seeing the numbers in the key strength lifts (squat bench deadlift) improve as my physique continues to grow and take shape. I like to say an aesthetic physique is a strong physique and I hope I can prove that through what I have achieved. It’s an extremely difficult process to sculpt an aesthetic, lean physique and maintain and improve performance. Especially for a female. That’s why I signed up for the IFC Champs this November: a true measure of aesthetcis AND performance. It’s nice being lean and looking good…but show me what you can do with it!
What has been the most difficult?
I love it all so much that I couldn’t say any of it is really difficult. I soak it up, I relish it, I love every minute. I love preparing my mind for the training session the next day, I love thinking about what I’m going to eat based on what will fuel my next training session so I can perform optimally. We all have struggles however. I did initially find it difficult prepping for competitions with my work as I do travel very frequently.
What’s your diet like?
Immaculate at the moment as I am preparing for the IFC Champs in 11 days. Outside of preparing for a competition, I’ll eat very high calories (4000-5000 kcal a day) because I like being able to train hard, recover well and let my muscles grow. Average carbohydrate intake per day is 350-500g, higher on lower body day. Protein intake is generally 180g per day.
In your opinion, what is a perfect body?
I think you just have to be happy with your own physique and sculpt it in the way YOU want it to look. My body looks the way it does because I sit down every few weeks and decide exactly what I want it to look like. I want nice well developed shoulders, a tiny waist and big legs. I like big glutes, big quads and big hamstrings because I think it shows how strong and powerful I can be in the gym. I think, especially as females, we need to embrace what we have…and if we’re not happy change it. That’s what I did.
Are you 100% body confident now?
100%. I love every part of it because I know that it is the ultimate manifestation of what I do day in day out. I’ve made it this way through eating well, training smartly, sleeping appropriately etc. If I didn’t love it, there would be something I was going wrong and it would be pointless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. I get bloated some days, I hold water, I’m not always sub 10% body fat but ultimately I know it’s all a process and we have good days and bad days but inherently yes, I love my body!
What do you think is the best exercise for weight loss and toning?
The biggest bang for your buck exercise in terms of creating a metabolic effect is probably the squat! There is no such thing as ‘toning’. The ‘toned’ look implies that you have muscle tissue. So to achieve that look, the squat again (when performed correctly) is a great exercise for building muscle in the lower limbs.
Is the feedback you receive always positive?
No it certainly isn’t. Many people will say I look ugly, or I’m too masculine or I look like a man. I recently attended the WBFF World Championships in Las Vegas with my best friend Vinny Gough (who won!) and I heard a lady in the queue behind me say it was ‘a sin to do that to my body’. But as with everything in life, you take the good with the bad. I love what I do and that’s all that matters!
How do you deal with that?
It can be hurtful and upsetting but you develop a thick skin especially with social media where it’s a lot easier for people to make negative comments. I just remind myself of all the positive comments and knowing that I’m doing what I love and helping other people keeps me positive!
Do you ever let loose and fall off the beaten track?
No. being healthy, fit, training and eating well is not something I see as a sacrifice. It’s my life and I absolutely love it. If it was hard or I didn’t enjoy it then I can see why someone might feel the need to ‘let loose’ but I don’t feel like that. Sure, I’ll eat a burger and chips every now and then (and enjoy it) or I’ll have a night out if I’m away or I’ll take a week off from training after a competition but this is not a 12 week prep or an eight week diet, this is what I live and breathe and love every single day.
What are the best things we can do for our bodies?
Eat veggies, train hard and sleep well !
What are the worst things we can do to our bodies?
Try to control the stresses around us. We can’t control external factors, we can only control our reaction to them.
Any tips for someone wanting to take on a fitness journey like yours?
Figure out why you want to embark on the journey first. Once you know why you’re doing it, staying motivated is easy. Understand that results don’t come overnight…not days, not weeks not months; it takes years! I see lots of people scouring instagram looking for someone that has great abs or great biceps…forget about what everyone else looks like. The reality is, we only put on instagram the best version of ourselves (I’m guilty of this too). Follow your own journey, watch your own transformation and be happy with the progress you are making yourself. And remember absolutely no one is ripped all year round!