Monday 19 March 2018

Waking hours: Claire McGrath, Miss Fitness Ireland

Claire McGrath (31) is Miss Fitness Ireland and an all-round fitness fanatic. When she is not working as a creative director in a graphic-design company, she spends the rest of her time training. Born in Tipperary, she lives alone in Citywest, Dublin

Bodybuilder Claire McGrath. Photo: David Conachy
Bodybuilder Claire McGrath. Photo: David Conachy

Ciara Dwyer

I get up at 5.30am. I take a caffeine tablet, which helps burn fat first thing in the morning, and then I'm in the gym by 6.15am. It's a gritty gym in Ballyfermot, with a boxing ring in the middle. If I roll in at 6.30am, the girls give out to me, but in a fun way. They are my friends. During prep for a competition, I go on the StairMaster for 45 minutes. It's the only thing that makes me sweat. I'm usually half asleep, but I just go into robot mode. Some mornings, when I'm sore from training the day before and have only had four hours sleep, I ask myself, 'Why am I not in bed?' But there's that little drive inside me that makes me get up and go. I know I have to do this, because it sets me up for the rest of the day. Before I leave the gym, I take a photo of myself in my underwear and send it to my coach in the UK. He looks at my condition and advises me about my diet.

Then I'll shower, get changed into office gear, and go to work. I'm creative director in a company which designs packaging, mainly food packaging. It's quite a demanding job, but I love it. In work, they think I'm nuts when they see me coming with my food for the day. I have a special diet for training, so I have to prep all my meals. I come into work with six Tupperware boxes, which I put in the fridge. I eat chicken, sweet potatoes and greens all day long. For breakfast, I will have chicken, or if it's a low-carb day, I'll have steak. I usually cook everything the night before, and then eat it cold the next day. We have a George Foreman [grill] in work, but I don't want to stink up the office by cooking steak for breakfast. In the beginning, it was hard to get used to having a dinner in the morning, but now I love it. Everything that I eat is weighed and measured. It's very scientific. I have to eat every two or three hours, and the main thing is that I don't leave it until I'm hungry. I really enjoy eating like this and I feel good, but at times I feel deprived, because I can't go out for dinner or lunch. I used to be a very social person before I started bodybuilding.

I finish work at 5pm, and then I head straight to the gym. At the moment, I do CrossFit training in the evenings. It's about strength and conditioning. You have to be able to lift heavy weights, run fast, run long distances and do gymnastics. For this, I go to a personal trainer three days a week. I'm able to train myself, but when I have someone saying to me, 'Come on, one more rep,' I will push myself that little bit harder.

I only started doing bodybuilding last year, and now I am Miss Fitness Ireland. As a kid, I was very active. I did Gaelic football, gymnastics and Irish dancing, too. I remember watching Miss Fitness USA at 3am on Eurosport. I was intrigued. These women were dancing around, doing gymnastics and strength moves. It wasn't like anything I'd ever seen before, and I used to try to copy them.

All my life, I've been training before and after work. I went from doing ashtanga yoga to CrossFit training, and then, after an injury, I started bodybuilding. I'm always training for a competition. I need to have a challenge, and I always have a goal. It could be weightlifting, or bodybuilding where you stand in a bikini and jump around as well. For my category in bodybuilding, I have to do a routine with some dance and flexibility moves. There's another round in the bikini, in the tan, where you flex your muscles and do certain poses. The competitions are usually on at weekends. I don't know what most of the competitors do in their day jobs, because they only talk about bodybuilding. For my fitness category, you have to have a certain type of bikini. They are custom-made and extremely expensive. You have to wear false tan, because it shows up your muscle definition. I don't like the tan, because it's really dark and it looks weird, especially with my blonde hair, but you get marked down if your tan is off in any way.

I've had relations say to me that they don't like what I'm doing. They can see that it takes a lot of work, but they think I'm just prancing around in a bikini. But I think you only really understand it if you do the sport. It's a very visual sport, and you have to take progress pictures because you're trying to change the shape of your body. You can become very self-obsessed, because you are concentrating on how you look. The aim is to be really ripped, with a six-pack stomach. It's a sport of vanity. You look in mirrors the whole time. In that sense, I don't think it's the healthiest sport. I'm quite small in person - I'm a size six - but in photos I look monstrous.

Since I've started bodybuilding, I haven't dated anyone. I don't know why. It's strange. Perhaps men are afraid of me. In the gym, I'm lifting heavier than a lot of guys, and maybe they think they are not good enough for me. If I did go out on a date, I wouldn't be able to go out for dinner because of my strict diet. I guess I'd have to date a bodybuilder, because he would understand. It's a whole world in itself, and there are a lot of fit, bodybuilding couples. But if you're single, I find that it can be quite a lonely place, because you're training day-in, day-out by yourself. Even though I'm alone, I'm not lonely. I have had some moments where I wish I had someone to share my successes, but overall, I love my life. I live it to the max, and I want to keep succeeding. I do what I do to test the possibilities of my body and my mind. Competing has helped me develop a mental toughness that has transformed my life. I feel I can do absolutely anything if I set my mind to it. In the evenings, I go home and do some online work. I coach a lot of people, so I check in with them and do their diets. Then I prepare my food for the next day. When I get into bed, I collapse. I enjoy the way I have punished my body, that sore feeling, as I drift off.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Sunday Independent

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