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Celebrity Health - Thomas Barr

Raising the Barr

Thomas Barr is an Irish Olympian who competes in 400-metre hurdles. He plays an important role in the Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge, a six-week fitness challenge for secondary schools designed to show how exercise can impact on their fitness levels.

How important is nutrition to sporting performance?

Nutrition and sporting performance go hand in hand if you ask me. If you’re not fuelling your body with the right foods you will not be able to train and compete to the best of your ability. As a sprinter who runs 400 metres I need to be quite lean, a lighter, springier athlete than for other distances. Need the right kind of carbohydrates for energy and the right kind of proteins for muscle repair.

What do you eat on an average day?

For breakfast I might have scrambled eggs, brown toast, spinach and ham. For a snack after training I might have an energy bar, although you have to be careful of too much sugar in those, and I like Avonmore vanilla protein milk. For lunch, maybe an omelette, chicken and rice and vegetables or a sandwich with ham, chicken, cheese and lettuce.

In the afternoon before going to the track to train I could have a snack of fruit or a rice cake with peanut butter. Dinner might be a stir fry, bolognaise, chicken and rice and vegetables – something pretty simple.

I might have a protein shake if I know I cannot get food in within 30 minutes of exercise, but I try to get the vast majority of my nutrients from food. I can’t pile on the calories like some sports people – I try to keep lean.

What sort of exercise do you do to keep in shape?

I exercise and train six days a week. Mondays it’s gym work and track training, Tuesdays I do circuit training, Wednesdays it’s circuit training again with maybe a medicine ball, then a session of hurdling, running technique and speed drills on the track. Thursday is rehabilitation or a flexibility session then a speed session on the track. Friday is gym work and flexibility, Saturday is hill running and Sunday is a day off. I would tend to do one session in the morning and one in the evening. We tend to work in cycles with heavy training followed by a week where I ease back, and that’s when I can socialise and see friends.

Do you take any natural supplements?

I try not to so that I can keep as clean as possible as a professional athlete, but I do take a Vitabiotics multivitamin and cod liver oil. I find that if you keep it in the fridge it doesn’t taste as fishy.

Do you ever worry about your health?

Yes of course – if I’m not healthy can’t train or compete. In London at the World Championships in August last year I was hit by the norovirus and had to watch a race I should have been in from my bed. If you’re not healthy when training you’re not going to be able to do the work you need to get to championships.

What are the benefits of exercise for young people?

Exercising benefits your physical health, as well as your mental wellbeing. I’ve always used my athletics as a break from studying – nothing cleared my head like getting out for a training session with my friends. It’s so important that teenagers start exercising now and have fun doing it, to ensure that healthy lifestyle habits are established early on. At school I enjoyed sport for sports’ sake – it was addictive but in a good way. I wasn’t highly competitive and certainly not the best, but I enjoyed running.

Many parents find it difficult to get kids out and active. The Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge brings physical and mental benefits – the programme has them competing against themselves.

Do you have any health tips for Rude Health readers?

Diet is so important – get enough variety and balance. The right foods, vitamins and nutrients are essential for everyone. My tips for parents are get your kids out and active, as well as yourselves. Encourage them to take up a sport with friends and find a sport they enjoy.

© Photo courtesy of Andres Poveda


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