Wednesday 24 September 2014

Shaping up for Saturdays

Una Foden may be busy combining a chart-topping career with life as a new mum, but she still finds time to exercise, writes Tanya Sweeney

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The Saturdays star Una Foden might be right in the thick of the glittering pop industry, but when it comes to keeping in shape, the Tipp-born beauty is decidedly back to basics. "I read all these interviews in celebrity magazines about people's diets, and they're talking about all these little seeds that they eat, and how and when they eat them. Like, it's not that complicated.

"I'm lucky that I don't have a sweet tooth, but I love a bag of chips or crisps every so often," she adds.

"If I don't get to have a hearty meal at 6pm, I go a bit mad. I really enjoy food.

"I like to start the day with a probiotic drink followed by a banana if I am on the go, or a soya cappuccino in the morning. I love to drink tea in the afternoon with a digestive biscuit or slice of toast, and then for dinner I love chicken, fish, or meat with vegetables or salad and rice, potatoes or pasta."

It's a decidedly realistic, sensible and unpretentious regime, but then Una has long grown up with plenty of energy. Delve into the background of Thurles-raised Una Healy (her maiden name before marrying rugby star Ben Foden) and the child significantly explains the woman.

Before studying both nursing and primary school teaching, Una admits that sport was a huge part of her life.

"As a child, I was a competitive champion swimmer from the age of six until I was 14," she explains. "I lived in the pool. I was also part of the local athletics club. In school, I was on the hockey team. In fact, I was more into sport than music growing up. I was still quite girlie, but when I was in the Croke's Athletic Club, we'd be running around fields with cow poo. That's about as muddy as it ever got.

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"It's in the family, too – (track and field athlete) Paul Hession is my cousin, while my mum's sister was a marathon runner."

And now that she's at the top of her game in the music industry, Una readily accepts that staying in shape is an intrinsic part of the deal.

"I remember one gig I did when I came back after the baby," she recalls (Una gave birth to daughter Aoife Belle 19 months ago). "It was a big one in Thurles, and I was so out of breath dancing around because I wasn't as fit. That's when it hit me that I needed to be fit for singing. And even if you don't dance about like we do, fitness is great for your lung capacity as a singer. We also have a lot of photoshoots and I like to feel body confident."

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Una's not the only working mum in the Saturdays, either: both Frankie Sandford and Rochelle Humes have become first-time mums in the past year. And while they get in shape with daily choreography sessions, they still find time to bond over their post-baby bodies.

"We are always slagging ourselves off," she smiles. "I remember saying to Rochelle, 'wow, you've snapped back into shape', and she was like 'hey, the Spanx are holding me in'. On my wedding day, I wore a pair of Spanx. They were nice ones though, the sexiest pair you could hope to get."

Pinging back into shape may have looked effortless for Una, but she admits that, despite a few hard yards in the beginning, slow and steady eventually won her back her enviably flat stomach.

"It's the hardest place to lose weight from," she reveals. "It was very squidgy for a long time, but (the abs are) back now. But it took over a year. I remember a physio telling me I was one of the lucky ones, as a lot of women just lose their ab muscles after a baby."

With Aoife Belle now getting in on the fitness action (Una can often be seen power walking with her pram across London), being a positive role model for her young daughter is also a consideration.

"She is at the age where you literally cannot take your eyes off her for a second and she is running around and I never like her to fall over so I am constantly chasing," admits Una.

"We're encouraging her to go to little classes, like Baby Gym or Monkey Music, but it's more about making friends than pushing her into sport or anything."

With an athletic mum and a professional athlete dad, it stands to reason that Aoife Belle is one active toddler. Famously, Una met her scrum-half husband through their respective agents, and despite her athletic background, the pair didn't initially bond over a mutual love of fitness.

"It's definitely his job to be sporty and fit, but I don't ever get to see that side of things unless I go to the games," she explains. "When I see him on the pitch, I get really excited and proud, but when he's at home, he just wants to relax, so he's a bit of a slob to be honest. I only see him sitting down with a cup of tea or packet of biscuits. Apart from the odd round of golf that we do together, it's very relaxed."

Incidentally, Una's as surprised as anyone that she has recently taken up golf.

"I remember my dad doing it and it always looked so boring to me," she laughs. "But I got into it over the summer. I went to Popgolf (in the UK) with my friends and got the bug."

Off tour, Una manages to fit small bursts of exercise into the day: even shoehorning in a few lunges and sit-ups while she cooks dinner.

"I do find it harder to find time to go to the gym," she admits. When I used to go regularly, though, I did 10 minutes' warm-up on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the cross-trainer, 10 minutes on the bike, 10 minutes on the rowing machine, 10 minutes' floor exercises for abs, and 10 minutes stretching or warm-down."

But like any time-pressed mum, Una reasons that a 20-minute blast is better than nothing.

'Workout DVDs are very convenient and handy, and they're best for me when I'm at home and I want to be with Aoife," she says. "I can get one done while she's having her afternoon nap. I love the Jillian Michaels one as it's just half an hour. And I love working on the fitness ball in the front room and work my core, as it's my weakest point for sure."

Regular squats and lunges also help with those parts of her body that she's less than crazy about.

"Lunges and squats have become this massive craze, haven't they?" she says. "So many women are like, 'I want this type of bum'. And I'm one of them, I have the flattest bum ever. It's like a pancake! I don't want to lose weight, but I'd love to be more toned."

Yet given the girlband's young – and impressionable – following, Una's healthy and body-positive approach is something she and her Saturdays cohorts are very mindful of.

"Lots of people in pop aren't thin," she reasons. "We'd never say to anyone 'you have to be thin'. It's much more important to be yourself."

Una is the face of Reebok's FW13 women's fitness product line, available in Ireland exclusively in Life Style Sports stores nationwide as well as online at and

Irish Independent

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