3 hour workouts, 8 meals a day and bed by 10pm: How Kelly Donegan went from Tallafornia party girl to female bodybuilder
Former reality tv star Kelly Donegan reveals how taking control of her body helped her find a path and a purpose in life.
Two years ago, the now 26-year-old found herself lacking in focus and drive.
“2013 was a really difficult year for me. I found myself depressed and lost. I always had big goals and aspiration, and to find myself without that was really difficult.”
To find a new outlet, Kelly created a health, fitness and lifestyle blog called Bikinibrawn, as she was keen to gain more knowledge about female bodybuilding in Ireland.
Kelly, who rose to fame in TV3's reality show Tallafornia, admits that at the start, she found the whole idea "ostentatious" and "ridiculous".
“My impression of the sport back then was definitely negative, which makes me look back and laugh. I couldn't comprehend why anybody would want muscles or go out of their way to get bigger,” she says.
“I guess at that time I didn't understand the sport and I was totally oblivious to the hard work and dedication involved.”
The Dubliner soon discovered the ‘Bikini Category’ - a new class within the bodybuilding industry and her interest was piqued.
“My mind was totally blown away by these women. They were strong, powerful, inspiring and looked out of this world.”
“These athletes looked feminine and sexy, not the masculine butch image I previously had of female bodybuilders.”
With the help of her coach Calin Brehaita, Kelly made the decision to compete in her first show in April 2014, which she says irrevocably changed her life.
“I am addicted to the sport and I am so thrilled to see the public being more receptive to it. Strong is in,” Kelly states.
“It’s a pretty unique experience developing muscle. It’s so much more than just the physical changes, it was an emotional journey for me as I tried to take back control of my life and rediscover my inner strength.
Always a slim size 8, Kelly said she is now more content with her body than ever.
“Now I look at myself and know I have the capabilities to improve my own physique and then there are some aspects of my body that I need to just accept,” she says.
“Most women want everything to be smaller and slimmer, now I want everything to be curvier. I am actually a size six now, but have much bigger legs, a bigger bum, a bigger back, bigger shoulders and a smaller waster.”
“I love the changes my body have gone through and even though I am a bodybuilder, I have never felt more womanly, curvy, sexy or empowered.”
Kelly trains twice a day, six days a week. She will spend 90 minutes in the gym every morning at 6am and then return for two hours in the evening.
“I take a rest day on a Sunday,” she reveals. “This plan is only because I am so close to competitions. I always do a combination of cardio and weights, with a bigger emphasis on weight lifting.”
To keep on top of her fitness and nutrition, Kelly says a lot of preparation and dedication is compulsory.
“When I return from my first workout of the day at 7.30 am, I prepare all my meals for the day. The diet is so important and having everything ready to go is absolutely vital.
To keep her body adequately fueled, she needs to eat every 2.5-3 hours, which can mean between 6-8 meals a day.
The lifestyle also requires a lot of sacrifices.
“I’m in bed really early most nights, about 10 o’clock. I don’t have any social life when I am getting ready for a show, if there is something really important on like a family party I will make a big effort to go, but that also means bringing my lunch boxes and drinking water for the night,” she says.
“The diet is by far the hardest part of the sport, it takes 100% focus and dedication. I think the competition element to the sport makes the diet that little bit easier, as you know you have to look your best on the day. Cheating is simply out of the question. No athlete wants to step on stage and think 'Oh I shouldn't have eaten that bar of chocolate, what if.’”
“My preparation usually lasts 16 weeks. The food is very basic and simple but it’s there for function not for fancy.
“It’s difficult and there is days you want to quit. There are days you are so tired you can barely get out of bed. You just push through and keep your goal on your mind. It’s one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my entire life, if not the most difficult,” Kelly admits.
Kelly is three weeks away from competing in the IFBB Olympia Amateuq Europe which takes place in Malaga 12th-14th of June. She has also just returned from representing Ireland at the IFBB European Championships.
After her next contest, she will take a break. Interestingly, her idea of a break is climbing Machu Picchu in September as the face of The Irish Cancer Society's 'Trek4life' campaign.
“I was blown away to be asked to front the campaign encouraging others to get fit and healthy to reduce their risk of cancer. I also plan to raise €5000 for the charity.”
Follow Kelly's journey on Instagram here.