Rhys McClenaghan: I'm a 10 – gymnasts are among the fittest athletes in the world

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Newtownards gymnast Rhys McClenaghan

Proud winner – champion gymnast Rhys McClenaghan from Newtownards
Gail Bell

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

I don't check my phone until one hour after I get up as I like to keep my head clear and mentally prepared for the day ahead. It helps me keep in a more relaxed state. I like to get up before 9am, even if I don't have early training or college.

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

Breakfast? A typical one would be three eggs with wholemeal toast and a cereal like Weetabix or porridge with fruit.

Lunch? Anything handy that's high in protein – an omelette or chicken wrap is sometimes on the breakfast menu.

Evening meal? Favourites are steak and mashed potatoes and stir fries with noodles.

3. Is nutrition important to you?

It is important because I need to help my body recover and also maintain energy prior to sessions. I train 30 hours-plus per week, so I need plenty of fuel. My diet is high in protein with lots of fruit and vegetables. A healthy, balanced diet, really.

4. Best meal ever?

Steak, definitely. My dad makes the best steaks and he knows just how I like it. A bit of mash on the side, with lots of green veg and a drizzle of peppercorn sauce.

5. Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Pepperoni pizza – I can't eat it too often, but it's nice for a treat.

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

No, I have never been on a diet, but in the run-up to competition, I am more careful with what I eat. I want to be in top physical condition and what I eat is part of that preparation. To be honest, I don’t really like junk food and takeaways anyway, as they just don’t taste good to me.

7. Do you take health supplements?

No – I think a good, balanced diet gives me all that I need. The best thing for recovery after training is milk and I always have a really big glass of it after training. It’s great for muscle recovery and it tastes great.

8. How do you relax?

I chill out with my girlfriend, play Xbox with my friends – just normal teenage stuff, only I have a lot less time for it. I also have two dogs, Finn the Labrador and Sui Lu, the miniature schnauzer. I miss my dogs a lot when I’m away and I always get the best welcome from them when I get home. They’re always waiting for me right by the front door. Sui Lu is named after a famous Chinese gymnast.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

Tipple – but never in the lead-up to competitions for at least two months beforehand. Nice, though, to celebrate with a drink afterwards.

10. Stairs or lift?

Stairs, as I like running up them. I'm not sure why, but I can’t seem to just walk up or down a flight of stairs; I always have to run. It gives you a good cardio burst. But I did fall down stairs several times as a child. It never stopped me running, though. I’ve just always been active; that’s why my mum took me to gymnastics.

11. Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I train six days a week, 30 hours weekly. I usually do two sessions per day with specific gymnastics conditioning, prior to moving on to skill work on apparatus. I am an all-round gymnast, so I train on all six pieces: floor, pommel horse (my speciality), rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar.

12. Best tip for everyday fitness?

Make it a habit to do regular exercise. If you can’t make time for exercise now, you will need to make time for ill health later.

13. On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I'd say I'm 10. Gymnasts are some of the fittest athletes in the world.

14. Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I have had acupuncture on my wrists and have seen improvements in my wrist mobility. I have had some issues with wrist pain and had three stress fractures in my wrist last year, so I take extra care to keep them in good shape, with physio, special exercises and acupuncture.

15. Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

I enjoyed every sport I participated in. I played hockey and rugby at school and I also played football and swam competitively when I was younger. I had to make a choice when I was eight as to which sport I would focus on, so I chose gymnastics – that worked out quite well for me!

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

I had a change in mindset towards conditioning and in relation to my training. I think your mindset changes as you get older and more mature. There was certainly a point where I realised that I could be up there with the very best in the world of gymnastics – that was when I resolved to do everything in my power to make it happen.

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

Look after your mental and emotional health on the same level as your physical health.

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

My coach, Luke Carson, inspires me with his positive outlook on life and his healthy lifestyle. Luke has been such a positive influence on me and I really wouldn’t have had the success I have had without him by my side.

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

I try to get between eight and 10 hours sleep each night which I think is enough. Sleep is often an overlooked aspect of preparation and was really important for the Commonwealth Games. Some good tips: no screen time an hour before bed and pre-sleep glasses which cut out the blue light which can disturb our ability to fall asleep.

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

Yes, I want to make every day count.

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