20 Questions on Health and Fitness: Paralympic gold medallist Bethany Firth

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Seaforde champion swimmer, Paralympic gold and silver medallist and newly minted MBE Bethany Firth

Bethany celebrates after winning the women's 100m backstroke at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

1. Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

My alarm goes off at 4am and then I drive to Ards or Bangor for a swimming training session. I do pre-pool exercises first, then two hours in the water followed by 30 minutes of post-pool rehab exercises. After training, I set off for South Eastern Regional College in Bangor or SINI (Sports Institute Northern Ireland) for gym with Lisa Costley and physiotherapy with Orla O’Rourke.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for…

Breakfast? Cereal – Weetabix and a glass of fresh orange before I leave the house, immediately after training a protein shake and banana, then porridge or scrambled eggs and toast before college or gym.

Lunch? Usually a salad or soup, then a sandwich, fruit with a cup of tea.

Evening meal? It's a family meal, so whatever is being made, although I would always have three or four vegetables with it.

3. Is nutrition important to you?

Yes, very important. Good nutrition keeps me healthy and able to manage and maintain the heavy level of training I do.

4 Are you a calorie counter?

No, but Lorna Cook my nutritionist in SINI, monitors my diet and helps with my recovery drinks. These are high protein drinks to help with muscle recovery. It is important that I take these drinks as soon as possible after my session and usually before I do my post-swimming exercises.

5. Best meal ever?

I love most food so can’t think of a favourite meal, but I do love Christmas dinner with all my family together. I have two older brothers, Ben and Josh, and a younger sister Evie.

6. Do you have a guilty pleasure?

That would probably be treating myself to chocolate after a big competition. Prior to major competitions I don’t take any chocolate or treats such as cakes and buns.

7. Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

No – in fact, at times, I think Lorna, my nutritionist, wishes I would eat more calories. Though, when I am on holiday and not training, I reduce my calories and don’t eat as frequently, but it's not a diet. It's probably just reducing to the same amount of food as most people eat daily.

8. Do you take health supplements?

Yes, at times I have to, as my bloods are checked regularly by SINI. They then discuss with [experts at Paralympics] GB and recommend which supplements I should use. I can only take supplements which have been batch tested and are checked through GB.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t like the taste.

10. Fruit or fry-up?

Always fruit and plenty of it. I love strawberries and I also love fruit smoothies and always have frozen fruit in the freezer for these.

11. Stairs or lift?

Always the stairs as I am scared of lifts. When I was younger I got stuck in a lift with my mum. Although mum reassured me we would be OK, I have never got over my fear. In Rio they had me on the fourth floor so I only had to run up four flights of stairs. I usually managed to beat everyone else as there was always a long queue for the lift.

12. Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I do my exercise in my training – we swim 5,000-8,000 metres in a two-hour session, then I'm in the gym for 90 minutes to two hours. When I'm not training, I take my dog, Russell – a miniature Yorkshire terrier – for a long walk. I also go to yoga and pilates at the local leisure centre.

13. On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are; how fit would you like to be? Hopefully, I'm a 10 but Nelson Lindsay, my coach, and Lisa at SINI, may disagree. I do try my hardest to keep fit but I find if I am unwell with a migraine or a cold, it knocks your fitness for the next week. Nelson always says that if you miss even one swimming session it affects your fitness for a while afterwards.

14. Best tip for everyday fitness?

I always recommend walking and swimming – I love walking my dog and training.

15. Do you have a memory from school sport / PE days you would rather forget?

No, I loved PE and had a great PE teacher in Mr Starrs of Longstone School, Dundonald. I was in all the teams at school for cross country, swimming, badminton and athletics. I’m not much of a runner and, as someone said, if you see me running, I must be in danger. At one cross-country competition, I had hurt my wrist prior to a big swimming competition so was told I would have to sit out the cross country race, but Mr Starrs took me along to support my friends and advised me to wear wellies due to the mud. I ran the whole race and kept the person who won company to the end. I ruined my wellies though.

16. Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

No – other than restricted training due to injuries, I have been well. In February 2012, prior to London, I had a ruptured ovarian cyst and was hospitalised for three days. Then, eight weeks before London I suffered a shoulder injury, so that is why I was only allowed to do the 100m backstroke. It took a year, with the help of Nelson and SINI, before I was swimming properly again.

17. Best health advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

Keep fit and enjoy doing activities. It doesn't matter what level or what activity you do, as long as you enjoy it and it helps keep you fit.

18. Who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

There are so many it would be very hard to pick one. I met Michael Phelps recently and was encouraged by him.

19. What time do you get to bed normally and do you think you get enough sleep?

I am usually in bed for 8.30 -9pm due to the early training sessions.

20. Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

Yes, as a Christian, I believe God has a plan for me and I know my life is in His hands.

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