Now I'm a mum, I train harder'
Siobhan Byrne may have a new baby to keep her on her toes, but when it comes to finding time for exercise, there are no excuses.
Siobhan Byrne has spent years advising female clients on how to enjoy a healthy pregnancy and how to keep their heads amid the tsunami of new parenthood. And, after giving birth to a baby daughter on May 16, she herself joined the ranks of new mums grappling with hectic schedules and an intense emotional experience. And not even helping new mums get their well-being on track could have prepared her for it.
"It was all a bit surreal," she reflects of the 15-hour labour. "I can't believe sometimes I've actually done this.I look at Regan and think, 'wow, I actually have to look after her!'
"I do find that these days my mind is a constant list of things to do, but I'm sure all mums find that!" she laughs. "These days, I find it much harder to get business stuff done or writing an article.
"Regan is a very good baby, but every 10 or 15 minutes, she's looking for attention or a feed. My mum came in earlier today and said 'you've done really well today, you managed to have a shower!' Before I had the baby, I'd never have gone without a shower after a workout, but it's no longer a priority now."
It was always a given that, after exercising and eating well for two throughout her pregnancy, the Dublin-based trainer would be back in her pre-baby jeans before long. Yet, after giving birth to Regan, she admits that it was a slower process than she originally envisaged.
"I was doing proper workouts when I was pregnant, but I wasn't going hell for leather," she explains. "I stepped it all up a level after giving birth and got back to my pre-baby weight two weeks ago, but not necessarily my pre-baby shape.
"And, as a trainer, I tend to not look at the scales but focus on whether the shape looks good. And while you wouldn't necessarily notice the difference, I would. I admit I was a little surprised in my mind how you don't snap back into pre-baby shape completely."
After focusing on core work, weight training and cardio during her pregnancy workouts, it's now back to the crunches, light planks, nose-ups on the medicine ball and oblique side-planks in a bid to blitz any trace of baby belly.
"My ab muscles didn't close back over until about three weeks ago, so they're still a bit on the soft side," she laughs.
"When it comes to clients, I'd definitely be cautious of advising ab work too soon as you can mess your muscles up."
Granted, getting those pre-baby abs is often a distant dream for many women who haven't been working for years as personal trainers. A distant dream . . . but not entirely impossible, according to Siobhan.
"In fairness, I've very low body fat around the abs section, but if you struggle with body fat around mid-section, you want to get (the body fat) as low as possible," she advises.
"It's not hard to get back in shape, but it requires work. Most mums don't want a model body . . . but they do want a toned body. Because we don't have a lot of testosterone in our bodies, it takes us women a lot of work to stay toned. And if you're not in great shape to begin with, it'll be more difficult."
Breastfeeding mums burn more calories than those who bottle-feed, and there's no reason why they can't get back to the gym while nursing, either.
"I did (breastfeed) for nine weeks and went straight to bottles, and we will start Regan on solids in the next few weeks," says Siobhan.
"I wanted to have a couple of drinks on the weekend or some spicy food, and the baby would become colicky if I ate something that didn't agree with her, so I was like, 'right, that's it, on to bottles.'
"In terms of training, I was leaking all the time, and I became conscious of coming off a training session before leaking again. But there's no reason why you can't train around it, once you get back into it slowly."
Given the enormity of the lifestyle change, Siobhan admits to having much more empathy for new mums who will attest time and time again that they have no time for the gym.
Still, she's not about to let them off the hook: "I do understand why women say this now, but still, it's an excuse. There's a lot to be said when you go down that road yourself, and there's an understanding there, but I'd be harder on them now. I know more than ever that you have to put the work in even harder."
That said, Siobhan is a firm believer in taking things easy right after childbirth, and doesn't see many clients until 12 or even 16 weeks after the big event.
"It's important for every woman to feel comfortable when they come back," she explains. "I didn't feel like running for nine weeks."
And, for time-pressed mums, Siobhan is now fully aware that having nutritious meals to hand is more than half the battle towards feeling match-fit.
"Before Regan came along, I was definitely queen of the kitchen," she laughs. "I was a big fan of having everything prepped." And now? "To a certain extent, I do," she says.
"I do a lot of cooking in large quantities on a Sunday so that the freezer is full of prepared meat, fish and sweet potatoes. My husband (fellow trainer Paul) then takes them out as he goes every day.
"I admit that I don't have time to make him a big dinner in the evenings as I've just got no time, but we've resorted to good, easy options. Poached eggs on wholemeal bread has been our dinner for the last few weeks, and we're okay with that. It's a good, nutritious meal which means we have no insulin spikes."
And, when Siobhan hears mums talk about having no time or headspace to do much more than eat their kids' leftovers, she offers the following advice:
"Try and find something you like that's easy and quick, or make in bulk on a Saturday," she advises. "Nibbling off kids' plates means that the calories creep on quickly. Egg-white omelettes are a big thing in our house, as are smoked-salmon darnes. They're high-calorie, but full of essential fats.
"We also use frozen peas that you can pop in the microwave, or a bowl of oatmeal. Bran muffins aren't too complicated to make and only take about 15 minutes. And on the days when you need something quick to just pop in your mouth, raspberries, protein shakes or nuts are really useful."
Few experiences will make a woman feel like a superhero more than becoming a mum. And, amid the intensity, the emotional rollercoaster, the delirium, and the delight, having a happy and healthy body is the icing on the cake.
"For some, it will take superhuman willpower to get back to their pre-baby best . . . but it's not impossible.
"The reality is, if you want to get back in shape, get food under control," says Siobhan. "Stand up and say, 'this is what I have to do'. Do you want to be a person in good shape who gets happiness from wearing nice clothes, or will you be the type of person who gets happiness from treats like food?
"Being in shape makes me happy. What happiness would I get out of a blueberry muffin that's 300 calories that I wouldn't get out of looking in the mirror and liking what I see? Not enough."