My Fitness Journey: We Meet Lean Mean Momma Cliona O’Connor
#FitnessInspo! Cliona chats to STELLAR about how she manages to juggle keeping super fit while bringing up four young kids.
Name: Cliona O’Connor
What inspired you to start your blog?
It was an itch that I had to scratch. As a busy mum with a small family Lean Mean Momma seemed like a great way to create something fun, give myself back my voice and connect with others in a similar place in their lives.
Did you always have an interest in health and fitness?
Yes. We grew up stinking of chlorine from our local pool due to daily swim sessions and then I fell in love with hockey, which I played until after I had my second child. I studied PE, Sports Science and Chemistry in Loughborough University in the UK which was an amazing opportunity. As the years have gone by I have developed more of an interest on the benefits of different types of training and nutrition on your body, I wish I had kept all my uni notes! Baby brain has annihilated my memory.
Some people are apprehensive about working out while pregnant, is it 100% safe?
It’s important to get clearance from your health provider, there’s no one-fits-all for pregnant woman. As well as staying in shape, exercise during pregnancy can help you prepare for labour and delivery. It also helps you bounce back much quicker after your bundle has arrived.
Are there certain exercises that are better than others?
Low impact exercises such as walking or swimming are ideal. It’s advisable to not take up something new when pregnant. In other words continue to run if you have always done so, but don’t take it up suddenly on learning you’re pregnant. I’m not saying you can’t take up exercise having never done it before, just speak to you doctor and an instructor in your gym and take things slowly.
Can you workout during every trimester?
Yes you can but there are certain exercises that you can do earlier in your pregnancy, that you may have to modify or give up as your bump increases in size.
Any exercise that forces you to lie on your back should be approached with caution after your first trimester. Your balance becomes affected about five months into your pregnancy so you should avoid putting your body in an unstable position. So the likes of horse riding, skiing and gymnastics are best avoided after this point. You have to listen to your body, It will tell you if you are overdoing it. It’s so important to stay hydrated too.
Did you go to the gym throughout your entire pregnancies?
I did! I stopped at 36 weeks on all of them, I was just too tired but I walked instead then. I obviously worked out at a much lower intensity when I was pregnant and the intensity decreased as my pregnancy progressed. But it’s psychological too; the fact that you’re going makes you feel good and keeps you in the habit.
A lot of women worry about their post-pregnancy physiques, was that a concern of yours?
I think every single woman out there has looked at their pregnant body and thought ‘Woah, what’s going on here? Things will never be the same again!’ And they probably won’t, but for the most part, you can get to a place that you’re happy with physically.
In my opinion, the most important thing to remember is to go slow. It takes nine months to grow a baby so it’s perfectly reasonable to accept that it’ll take at least nine months for your body to get back on track. For me getting back to exercising was more about my mind, clearing my head and getting out rather than about looking like the old me. The physical aspect is a welcome and pleasant side effect but not the main motivation.
What tips would you give to women worrying like that?
Slow changes are more sustainable in the long term. Forget starving yourself, restricting your diet and exercising like a mad woman. You don’t get a second chance to enjoy the first few months of your baby’s life so don’t put yourself under pressure. You can eat loads of food if you’re eating the right things. You’ll know when the time is right to get back to sweating if off. Also, look up some mother and baby exercise groups in your area. It’s a great way to meet other new mums, you can bring bubs and nobody judges! You’re all in the same boat.
How long did you wait to return to the gym after giving birth?
On my first three babies, I went back after about nine weeks but I took things slowly. I got nowhere near my pre-pregnancy exercise regime for months after that. This time I had to wait five months as I tore my plantar fascia and developed an edema in my heel bone so had my foot in a boot. I still can’t run and that’s tough for someone who ran four days a week for the last 10 years.
I completely changed my diet after my third child, as a result I was more toned with less body fat than ever before. I basically reduced the amount of refined sugar I ate hugely. I also reduced my carbohydrate intake and increased my fat intake. I eat a lot of nuts and avocados. I use pretty much full fat everything. I absolutely don’t drink any sodas and if I’m having carbs, they’ll be brown or complex. Brown rice, pasta and sweet potato being good examples. And I eat loads of veg.
What does a day on your plate look like now?
Breakfast is usually a smoothie. At the moment I’m having frozen pineapple, cucumber, celery, spinach, coconut water and a scoop of This Life supplement from Terranova. Sometimes I add half an avocado in there too. I usually have this pre-school run or bring it with me. Mid morning I may have scrambled eggs and feta or some porridge.
Lunch can be anything really – leftover Quinoa with veg and chicken, a salad made with whatever’s in the fridge or homemade soup and a wrap.
Snacks at 4pm are a must! Sometimes some hummus, sometimes a nut ball and coffee, and sometimes fruit.
Dinner could be a quinoa bowl, or a steak with Ottolenghi broccoli and some sweet potato wedges in coconut oil and chilli. And a green tea after.
Sounds delish! Do you have a favourite healthy dish that’s easy to make?
My quinoa bowls are super healthy and delicious. I cook the quinoa in stock with lemon juice and I mix it with leftover roast chicken shredded into chilli, stir-fried vegetables. I add a dressing of Fish sauce (Naam Pla), Olive oil, Chilli, lime juice and a dash of sesame oil. I shake all these up in a little jar and pour over for the last 30 seconds of heating.
As a mother of four young children, what advice would you give to other mums who juggle having small kids with a health and fitness regime?
The best advice I could give to other mums is to make one change at time. We’re so busy and bogged down with change in all the other aspects of our lives that things need to be simple. Personally, I would have a meltdown if I had to make a huge life change all in one go. My brain just couldn’t cope. If things go pear-shaped, dust yourself down and try again. Consistency is the key here. And allow yourself treats; life is too hard without them!