Last Week in Trinity – Letzte Woche in Trinity

Spring is finally here! I just took a few pictures on my way to work last week. I feel lucky to see these beautiful trees and building in the centre of Dublin,  every morning.

Der Frühling ist endlich da! Letzte Woche habe ich ein paar Bilder auf dem Weg zur Arbeit gemacht. Ich freue mich, jeden Morgen diese schönen Bäume und Gebäude im Zentrum von Dublin zu sehen.

My Powerlifting Journey

Yesterday a colleague asked me how I got into powerlifting – at my age. This is a question I was asked many times before, so I thought I write a blog about it, to describe the beginning of the journey, the painful lessons, the successes, the benefits and what powerlifting does for me.

 

The Beginning of the Journey

I started lifting heavy weights in summer 2015 at the tender age of 54. As I had a month of work I thought it would be nice to get really fit and in shape, see what I achieve with exercise and good nutrition.
I had been a member of a lovely hotel health and fitness club for 20 years. However, none of the fitness routines such as treadmill, stepper and bike aerobics had improved my body, perhaps just kept me in reasonable shape.
I asked one of the fitness staff in the gym to tell me what else I could do “to get rid of the wobbly bits”. I was lucky as the guy I asked was also a strength coach in another gym. He advised me that I should start lifting weights.
I told him that I did not want to get bulky, look like a bodybuilder, but he said that there is “not a chance” as I would not have enough testosterone in my body to build big muscles.
So I thought I’ll give it a try. After a few weeks I saw results, my clothes felt more comfortable, I felt more energetic and lifting heavier and heavier weights made me feel very good. I slowly changed my nutrition, mainly more protein, less sugar, more vegetables. I learned about the importance of sleep, as the whole strength building process happens while sleeping (I’m sure there is a scientific rationale).
Soon I noticed in the gym that I lifted heavier weights than the young guys working out beside me. I looked up the weights I lifted on the web and the world records in my weight/age category were not miles away, in fact, I had already beaten the standing world record in deadlift many times in the gym!

Painful Lessons

So, thinking that I may have a talent for weightlifting I went to get a few lessons in powerlifting. Powerlifting is a form of competitive weightlifting in which contestants attempt three types of lift in a set sequence, squat, bench press and deadlift, which is called “Full Power”. Competitions are also held that include just one of these lifts which are called “Single lifts”, or a competition of two lifts.
In August 2015 I joined the Irish Drug Free Powerlifting Federation and in September I took part in my first competition in Ballina, Co Mayo, a “push – pull” competition, meaning bench press and deadlift.
What a (painful) learning opportunity! Similar to boxing, powerlifters compete in weight category and I thought, and still think, the weigh-in in the early morning is the worst part of the competition. Then I made so many mistakes, wrong shows, wrong belt, wrong technique, nerves….
I was disqualified after not being able to get one successful bench press. I wanted to drive home and cry! What had I been thinking! However after many encouraging words from another female powerlifter, I partook in the deadlift part of the competition, even though none of the lifts would be counted. I achieved three successful lifts, got a lot of applause and again I got a lot of encouraging words. Even though I left Ballina empty-handed, I decided to try again in another competition.

Successes and further goals

By now I took part in four world championships, in Wales, Italy, Belgium and Boston, USA. I broke and set some World and European records. I met other powerlifters from many countries, also passionate about powerlifting. My next goal is to partake in the European full power championship in the UK in May and beat my personal records in all three categories.

Benefits of lifting heavy

So far, I am enjoying the sport. Other powerlifters have described the relaxation aspect of this sport and the reduction of anger, the emotional wellbeing. I agree with them. No matter how much is going on in my life, I can put it out of my head for a few hours every week, without taking drugs. When I am preparing for a big lift there is this intense concentration with one single purpose – to get that weight of the ground. This is a quiet and meditative moment, I notice nothing else but the bar.

What does it do for me?

I think that my competitive sport enables me to manage the other aspects of my life – my hectic personal life, my managerial role in Trinity College as well as my scholarly work. Thanks to my sport I can completely switch off for a few hours a week.
I am now in better shape than ever. I am stronger, feel calmer, the best is really that the training, the discipline and determination gives me the ability to face better everything that life might throw at me!

Nutrition – Strong, Simple and Sustainable

Many people have asked me what I eat and drink to give me energy for my competitive sport, powerlifting, while leading a busy life.

Over time, through trial and error, experimenting with different foods I learned that there are three principles that work for me. Nutrition for me has to make me strong, give me energy, be simple to prepare and the overall diet plan has to be sustainable.

Strong

When I started experimenting with my diet I used to call good nutrition “strong food”. That was before I heard the term “clean food.” But strong food means more to me, it is food that gives me energy for my sport and busy life. It does not make me feel sluggish and tired. I now see food as nutrition, as fuel for the day, helping me to stay strong and healthy.

Simple

Once I get the so-called “macros” right i.e. protein, fats, carbohydrates and making sure the food is varied so all necessary minerals and vitamins are covered I don’t worry about a detailed nutrition plan.

I am getting protein from natural sources, for example from dairy, such as kefir, buttermilk, yogurt, cottage and other cheese, and from eggs, chicken, turkey, beef or fish.

I don’t worry about the fat intake too much as I guess there is enough there in combination with the protein.

Changing my carbohydrate intake was the hardest. As I ate more protein and fat since taking up powerlifting, I had to limit my overall calorie intake from carbohydrates,  so I would no put on weight and stay within my competition weight category.

Carbohydrates can come from three key sources, sugar, starch and fibre. As sugars have a higher calorie density, I switched to more complex carbohydrates, starches and fibres,  for example vegetables, nuts, grains and legumes.  Nuts and legumes in particular have the added benefit of being  a good source of protein.

I now eat lots of vegetables, leafy greens, such as spinach, kale and cabbage, and other vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower,  peppers, beetroot, sauerkraut and asparagus.

Sustainable  ­

Sustainable means for me that I can stick to a diet for a long time – for life!  The food I eat needs to be easy and quick to prepare and available everywhere I might travel. For example, eggs, natural yogurt and cottage cheese are available in all countries I travel to, and so is spinach, peppers and most other vegetables.

Of course there is temptation to eat sweets. My weakness are chocolate and ice cream. So I usually eat chocolate during competitions, as a quick source of energy.  I stick to good quality chocolate though, ice cream and other treats, and thoroughly and consciously enjoy them!