Tuesday 25 July 2017

A real power couple

They train together, live together and eat together. And now these bodybuilding champions are off to compete in the WTF Universe together

Bodybuilding couple Alan Collins and Liz Clifford training in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Bodybuilding couple Alan Collins and Liz Clifford training in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Picture: Arthur Carron
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Alan Collins (28) and Liz Clifford (29) are at the top of the bodybuilding game in Ireland and now hope to literally take over the universe.

The couple, who grew up together in Blanchardstown, are not only travelling to compete in the World Fitness Federation (WFF) Universe contest on June 27 in Marseille, but they will then journey on to Tuscany to take part in the WFF Europeans on July 4.

"We met years ago through friends," Liz, who is studying to become a personal trainer, explains. "Alan was into bodybuilding a lot earlier than me, I only got into it about two years ago and he pushed me towards competing then too."

"I have always trained. The gym that we are in now Asylum Gym, it's not your average fitness gym," Alan adds. "There are a lot of people there who compete. So about six or seven years ago I started training there, and then the other people there who were competing pushed me towards it; I competed in power-lifting first and then moved into this."

It has been a meteoric rise to the top for both Liz and Alan; each of them won their class at the NABBA championships in 2014, with Alan winning the novice category and Liz victorious in the bikini class.

Before bodybuilding, Alan and Liz were both involved in other sports; Alan competed in rowing and kayaking, while Liz was an avid swimmer.

Then, as Alan puts it, bodybuilding "took over."

"Bodybuilding is so new to girls over here, it's really only in the last two years that it is taking off," Liz says. "A lot of women have a fear of bulking up when they lift weights, but that doesn't happen; it is so hard to do. My trainer told me that I needed to lift the weights to get the shape that I wanted because if you are just doing cardio all of the time, you are just losing muscle, so that's what I did.

"It is really hard to build muscle, but you just get a better look," Liz adds. "It is tough, but as hard as it is, it's actually more enjoyable lifting weights rather than just being on a treadmill for an hour - and you get results."

Diet is a huge part of Alan and Liz's training regime. However, having two people eating similar meals in the same house is an added bonus. What has become affectionately known on many fitness-related Instagram posts as #tublife, is apparently easier when you have a partner to prepare your meals with.

"We eat really clean, so it would be your chicken, fish, sweet potatoes, there are no really bad meals unless you have a cheat on a Sunday," Liz explains. "We get it all together and often prepare for two and three days at a time. It is handy because it is near enough the same foods, just different amounts of it."

"Diet is king," says Alan. "You can train as much as you want and you won't get anywhere unless you pay attention to what you are eating. As regards supplements, we take whey protein shakes, just one a day, our BCAAs (branch chains amino acids)in our water as we work out, and a multivitamin in the morning. We focus more on getting our nutrients from our food; that is the number one source. You see people taking lots of supplements and not eating properly, that is not the way."

Training varies for the couple. Off-season, they will visit the gym five days a week. However, in the run-up to a bodybuilding show this jumps to six and seven days of numerous daily sessions.

"When you are in off-season you are generally bulking or trying to build up a certain part of your body, and then coming up to the competition, we start prep from 16 weeks out," Alan, who is a carpenter, explains. "So that involves increasing cardio and cycling carbs; trying to manipulate your body into losing the fat. On a daily basis I would be up at half five every morning, do my cardio, go straight to work, then from work straight to the gym and do our weight training, and then after the weight training do our cardio again, and it's basically that six days a week."

"And for the final three weeks it would be seven days," Liz adds.

The pair enjoy training together.

"It's great because we are both there to push one another and we have another guy with us as well and he is usually pushing the two of us," Liz explains.

When the competitions roll around there are additional factors to consider while keeping on top of one's training and nutrition. Posing is an intricate exercise, which must be perfected ahead of all routines, not to mention the style requirements for each show.

"Posing is very important," says Alan. "It doesn't sound hard, but there is a lot to it, you have to tense certain muscles, learn to hold your breaths at certain times and know all of the mandatory poses too. So ahead of shows we will go into the gym with our trainer JJ Dune and just practise posing for an hour in the mirror sometimes.

"With the clothes then for me it's fairly handy, I just have a little pair of posing trunks and the fake tan you have to wear unfortunately," he adds. "That's all I have to do, but for Liz it's a lot more planning."

"It's more glam for me," Liz agrees. "I have to get all the jewellery and the bikinis - the one I have now is from Las Vegas and they are quite expensive. My one was cheap enough it was €270, but you can pay so much more for them. They are made specifically for you to fit your measurements and show off your body in the best way, so it's important to have a good one."

So are there ever any rows as a result of training so closely together?

"No, once we get to the gym it's down to business," says Alan. "We know our goals and we are just pushing for them."

"But towards the end there is a little bit of moodiness!" Liz laughs. "It becomes such a big part of your life; it just becomes your routine."

"You don't have that feeling 'oh no I have to go to the gym!' You want to go," Alan adds. "It's enjoyable. It's not an effort; it is just a part of our daily routine that we do together. I find it as easy as going home and sitting down to watch telly."

Liz's diet

Off season:

Meal 1: 240g egg whites, 54g oats and 40g almonds

Meal 2: 145g chicken, 54g oats/ 150g sweet potatoes and green veg

Meal 3: 145g chicken, 54g rice and green veg

Meal 4: 145g steak and 150g sweet potatoes, veg and 40g almonds

Meal 5: after training one scoop protein powder and 40g almonds.

three to four litres of water a day. I'd also drink green tea in the morning and one to two cups of black coffee a day.

This would be the same every day, but on a Sunday I allow myself a cheat day.

Contest preparation:

Carb cycling: low/ medium/ low/ high

Medium day: 135g protein/ 67g carbs/ 60g fat

Low day: 200g protein/ 0 carbs / 60g fat

High day: 135g protein/ 135g carbs/ 0 fats

4-5 litres of water a day.

Alan's diet

Off-season  (building muscle):

250g protein from chicken, steak, eggs or fish

500-600g carbs from rice, potatoes, pasta or porridge

100g fat from almonds or oils over five meals

Contest preparation:

This changes weekly depending on how your body condition is coming along, but a typical week would be:

300g protein a day with carbs intake changing daily from 100g to 200g the next day, 300g the next and just keeps cycling in that order.

Fats per day 60g all over six meals from same food sources as before.

All meals same time everyday: 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, and 7pm 10pm.

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