Ireland U21 hockey player Jenna McCarlie: Balancing my dentistry degree with my training schedule can be overwhelming

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Jenna McCarlie, student and elite athlete hockey player at QUB

Jenna McCarlie
Jenna McCarlie

Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

During the semester I live in a student house with my friends, so I'm lucky that I don't have to commute far for classes. I like to leave myself as little time as necessary in the mornings to maximise my sleep. I normally waken at 8am and I'm out the door at 8.40am. I always pack my bag and get my lunch ready the night before, so the morning literally consists of 'wake, shower, change, eat and go'.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

I think breakfast is one of the most consistent parts of my daily routine as without a good breakfast, I never feel ready for the day. A substantial breakfast for me would consist of porridge with peanut butter granola, topped with a banana and honey or eggs, avocado toast and a few tomatoes on the side – plus, a large coffee.


I always eat a substantial lunch, especially on training days, as sometimes there could be a long delay between lunch and dinner. If it's not leftovers from dinner the night before, I like making salads as they are quick to prepare. A typical one would consist of lots of avocado, chicken, tomato salsa, rice and cucumber.

Evening meal?

I try to switch it up as often as possible and also, my dinner time varies each day, depending on training times. It's hard to choose a favourite – Thai green curry and fajitas are definitely up there.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Nutrition is very important. I love food and have never been a picky eater, so I don't find it difficult working out what I want to eat. It's not until you don't fuel your body efficiently for match days, training or even rest days that you realise how important the correct fuel is. I don't take many health supplements, just a vitamin D tablet every day.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

No, I've never been on a diet.


Weekend treat?

It has to be an Indian takeaway on a Saturday night – I'll never get bored of the chicken tikka masala from my local. Also, you can't beat a lie in on Sunday morning.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

I am currently halfway through my dentistry degree and trying to balance this with my intense training schedule can be overwhelming at times. The best way I cope with this is always having something planned in the week which doesn't involve either, such as seeing my friends or going out for a nice meal. Going out for a walk always clears my head.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Move your body every day and make sure you get lots of fresh air – fresh air always makes you feel better. Also, fuelling and resting your body is just as important as moving it.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I was always into sports when growing up and I loved trying new things, so PE in school was right up my street. I have many memories I hope to never forget.


Teetotal or tipple?

Most of the time I either have class or training every morning, so I don't have that much time to socialise, but I do love a Saturday night out with my hockey team after a win in the afternoon – when a tipple might be involved...


Stairs or lift?

I don't really have a preference – whatever is handier.


What book are you currently reading?

I am actually not reading anything at the moment, but, generally, I enjoy reading sporting autobiographies as I find them very inspirational.


Best Netflix?

I am hard to please when it comes to watching movies or a TV series; I either get bored or I'll end up binging on the whole thing at once. One of my favourites is The Crown.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

The pandemic made me realise how I like to be kept busy, as initially I struggled with not having a routine.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I really enjoy cooking and baking. During lockdown, I would have baked something nearly every other day to give me something to do and that's when I realised how much I enjoyed it. Living at university has really helped broaden my cooking abilities.


How do you relax?

Going out for coffee with my family or friends is always relaxing for me. I also love going out on long walks – I live right beside the sea and there is a beautiful lighthouse path walk which we are so lucky to have right on our doorstep.


What are your goals for 2023?

To pass all my dentistry exams, allowing me progress to fourth year. I also want to have a successful summer of hockey with Ireland U21s.


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

I aim to be asleep before 11.30pm every night so I get my eight hours, but sometimes, around exam time and training nights, this can vary. I feel I do get enough sleep most nights, though. If I don't, I definitely feel it the next day.


Biggest gripe or regret?

I don't have any regrets. It's really important to not dwell on things you can't change or that are out of your control, but instead to learn from them.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Enjoy the period of your life you are in, because one day you will wish you were the age you are now.


Has coronavirus – or any major life event – changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

Yes. Life is short. Appreciate the people around you and never fall asleep on an argument.

:: Jenna McCarlie is one of the student athletes on the Kingsbridge Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic Elite Athlete Programme in partnership with Queen's University