Sunday 25 September 2016

Game of Thrones' Irma Mali: Training makes me feel alive

For model, mum and actress Irma Mali, exercising is not just about staying in shape - it's about taking care of her mind and soul

Published 02/06/2015 | 02:30

Game of Thrones actress Irma Mali has an iron-clad fitness regime. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Game of Thrones actress Irma Mali has an iron-clad fitness regime. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Irma Mali
Model Irma Mali has a strict fitness regime

She is a mother, one of Ireland's busiest models and has more recently turned her hand to some exciting acting roles including one in Game of Thrones, but Irma Mali (32) still manages to find the time to have an ironclad fitness regime.

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"Keeping fit is very important to me with the line of work I do" says Irma, who is represented by agency 1st Options, "but it is not only for work, I love being active," the Lithuanian beauty who moved to Ireland in 2002 explains. "Staying healthy is a big part in my life. We are what we eat and what we do. So if you stay unhealthy, you feel bad; you get depressed and if you get depressed, you don't want to do anything and that's how I would be.

"I believe that health is your wealth and that your body, mind and soul are connected. Doing exercise is a great stress reliever. Every time I finish training I feel alive and fresh; I feel like I'm walking on the clouds, I have lots of energy and I'm very happy," Irma smiles. "And when you feel good, you want to do good and eat good; it is all connected."

Growing up in Lithuania, Irma was always very into sports. She did athletics, played basketball and joined the gym at a young age, where she enjoyed Thai boxing classes.

It is a habit which Irma continued into adulthood and has no doubt given her the confidence and body to grace both Irish and international catwalks for some of the biggest names in fashion, including Chanel, Chloe, and Dolce and Gabbana.

And being fit has also come in very handy for Irma's acting work (she is set to star in this season of Game of Thrones) which has required her to get to grips with combat training and horse riding amongst other skills.

"I try to go to the gym five to six days a week," she tells me, "where I do cardio and resistance training, and at the weekend, if I'm not working, I'm running races on Saturdays and Sundays, I'm out with the cycling club or I take my family up to the mountains and we will go on a long walk."

Food is important for Irma and she has more motivation than most to eat healthily as she suffers from a number of food allergies.

"My diet is very difficult," she explains. "I'm allergic and intolerant to many, many foods. I can't eat egg whites, cow's milk, barley, corn, gluten, wheat, most nuts, beans, potatoes, soya, rice and yeast.

"That sounds very bad, but trust me, there is an alternative to everything!" Irma laughs. "It took me time, but now I know what to do. So through the years I have learned a lot about foods and how to avoid what I can't eat, but still make tasty dinners. I love cooking, so it's a pleasure in a way. And I'm constantly making my own recipes.

"I love all kinds of vegetable and have a big weakness for fruit, and I eat fish, chicken and other meats, with gluten- and wheat-free grains, and I drink lots of freshly squeezed juice," Irma adds.

However, Irma does share a weakness which many of us suffer with - sugar.

"I'm addicted to sugar, so I am always making sugar-free desserts, which are actually just as nice," she beams. "I have cheat meals at the weekend. When you eat healthy all the time, it's good to have cheat meal sometimes because it shocks your body and speeds up your metabolism, but in my case, even if it is cheat meal, I still have to be careful of what I eat; otherwise I lose all energy and will get very swollen for a couple days.

I love Indian food. So sometimes I would have gluten-free lamb korma and I dehydrate a lot of things, especially fruit," Irma explains. "So they are all natural sugars and as I have sweet tooth, it is a perfect snack."

Irma prefers to do her own thing when it comes to training, but is adamant that one needs to have a strict programme and go into the gym with goals for each session in mind.

"I am very competitive within myself," she admits. "So I make sure I train for a better result and keep pushing myself in every session. I'm addicted to the way I feel after a workout, but if I stop training for a while I get very scared to go back. So I'm trying to always do something, even if it's a short walk after the dinner or if I'm working, and can't go to the gym, I will walk to work.

"It is very important to know what you're doing before you start working out. If you know what you are doing you get prepared for that physically and mentally and you know you have to finish it," Irma explains.

"If you just go with the flow, it is easier to cheat because your head always tells you lies; that you can't do it!" she laughs. "If I'm doing weights I will get in a 20-minute warm-up on the cardio machine and some days I just do a long cardio session from 40 minutes to an hour. If I decide to run, I always tell myself how long I'm going to do, so I won't stop until I finish."

Irma has always found a way to train around injury too.

"I have had some injuries, but there is always a way around it," she says. "I injured my knee on a half-marathon run and couldn't run for about eight months. So I cycled and rowed, which didn't put as much pressure on the knee. I had a back problem too. So I swam."

For Irma, the mental benefits of training and eating healthily are just as important as the physical and aesthetic side to it all. Confidence comes from ownership of one's body, she believes, and treating that body correctly.

"Training is not only to do with body image," she tells me. "It's to do with how you feel after working out. If you feel good, you have all the confidence you need to have. And it's really good for your health, so it is a win-win situation." And Irma is very happy that her daughter Nikoleta (12) has followed in her mother's active footsteps.

"She is a super girl," Irma gushes. "I wish I was just as fit as her. She is training every day and most Sundays she has dancing competitions. She is also an amazing swimmer and has joined a swimming club and does gymnastics too.

"Sometimes on Saturdays she will go for a run with me, or cycle. She is great company and very good at sports. I couldn't be any more proud of her."

A model diet...

I love drinking green tea first thing in the morning; I drink around three to four cups of it. Then I make a smoothie, sometimes with lots of greens such as kale, spinach and avocado.

I change it up every day and try different combinations to make sure I get a lot of vitamins. I snack a lot on fruit and berries - I just love them! I also like crackers with tuna, salmon or goats' cheese. Almond butter and banana is one of my favourites, as it is like a dessert. Almond butter with apple is lovely too and if I'm on the go it's always handy to have some nuts and seeds with me. I make my own kefir and water kefir. I make milk kefir with goats' milk and have it as a yoghurt. Sometimes I mix it with chia seeds and berries. It is a lovely snack in the evening.

Dinner can be any kind of meat or fish with lots of vegetables or gluten-free grains and hummus.

My training routine

I have a resistance training programme that

I change every six weeks. In that programme I have different days for different groups of muscles. So let's say on a Monday I would focus on chest and biceps, Tuesday shoulders, Wednesday legs and Friday back and triceps.

Before each weight session I do 15-20 minutes of cardio, eg treadmill, rower, bike, stepper, cross trainer.

On the days I'm not doing resistance training I aim to do about an hour of cardio. I might do a 60-minute run or row. Other days I might split it up into three 20-minute sessions on different machines. If I'm running for 60 minutes on the treadmill I tend to try out different programmes on it. I always make sure I enjoy it and don't get bored running at the same pace.

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