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How to feel fab and look great . . . from the inside out

POST-COMPETITION slump is common for athletes. After sticking to a strict nutrition plan and a full-on training strategy for so long, it's essential not to lose your way once you've reached a big fitness landmark. As someone who has competed in figure-bodybuilding shows and has been through the mill myself, I can confirm that it can be quite a rollercoaster ride after you've finished something like a marathon.

From the emotional highs and lows to feeling lost in the gym, from having no idea how to eat to being confused by the multitude of messages you might be getting, knowing how to cope after you've reached a milestone is vital. I've learned these strategies for success and for keeping going:

1. Structure your training.

Don't be afraid to ask for advice from a qualified fitness professional. They can give you valuable assistance on structuring your training plan carefully and sensibly so that you can maintain a high level of fitness all year round – and which only needs to be adjusted periodically so you can reach your goals. This way, you will never end up over-training and getting injured.

2. Eat well.

After following the more restrictive diets necessary to achieve different goals, your body will be starting to feel depleted. These kinds of serious restrictions may make you crave foods which are not so healthy. Your hormones are begging you to cut loose and you'll want to, big time.

Therefore, the best plan is to eat whole foods (fruits and vegetables, complete proteins and healthy fats, starchy carbohydrates of good quality) timed around your workouts so you get what you really need and keep on functioning at maximum efficiency.

3. Plan rewards.

Studies show we are more driven by a multitude of small rewards as opposed to one large reward. So, whatever your interests are (like entertainment or pampering), categorise them and then choose a reward from one of these categories whenever you deserve one to help you keep on track.

Here's an example: Complete three strength-training sessions in a week and give yourself a reward from your entertainment category such as cinema tickets. Or: Lift 2.5kg extra in every exercise in a workout and get a nice reward from your pampering category, like a full-body massage.

4. Get interested.

This is probably my best point. Use the after-achievement period to find out what you're good at and what makes you happy.

Although routines are essential, you should never be afraid to try something different. There are lots of ways to keep and continue to improve, your physical condition.

The new activities might even help you achieve your next goal more easily. For example, play new sports and try different training methods like cross-fit, suspension training or conditioning routines. Also, learn some new skills, like kettle bell training, Olympic lifting, power lifting or cycling.

Another part of this process is to find recipes that you like the sound of (containing lots of whole foods) and try them out yourself. Who knows? Maybe you'll find you're a good cook, too? The key here is to discover what you have a flair for. Most importantly, always make sure you're having fun.

5. The bigger picture.

Reaching high levels of health, fitness and wellbeing are not just about the end result of having the body-image you want. Training can definitely get you in the best shape of your life, but you should be aware of all the other benefits it brings – like reliable energy levels, less stress and anxiety, reduced food cravings, better digestion and clear skin.

For this reason, don't concentrate entirely on one goal as your motivation can fall fast once you've reached it. Instead, look at the wider picture and notice all the improvements that choosing healthy habits has made to your life. If you're just starting out, have patience. Bear in mind that success is like an egg. All the big developments are happening on the inside. Once the human body gets healthy on the inside, the outside will soon show it.

Even when things get tough, don't lie down in a foetal position, but stand tall and see it all as a challenge, and the latest hurdle to be overcome. Accept where you are is not where you feel you should be, and get motivated.

While some people get through by themselves, others need help so it never hurts to talk to someone in the same position. Also, professional support from a qualified training coach and nutrition expert can make a big difference in deciding what your next set of health and fitness goals are.

Don't be afraid to ask because, chances are, we've been in the same spot too at some point and will empathise with you. We don't judge, we love this stuff.

Anna O'Hare is a personal trainer, precision nutrition-certified coach and student of physiotherapy at Trinity. She is based in the Iveagh Fitness Club, Christ Church