Leading By Example – Nutrition For Training

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve been on a fitness journey to help me be a stronger, fitter and healthier Mum.

With the help of Avena Leisure in Sligo, after 8 months, the results are as follows :

  • Weight lost – 53 lbs
  • Inches lost – 30 
  • Dress sizes dropped – 3

Adrienne O'Suna shows that weighing scales don't reflect success

Exercise has brought me to this happy place, but nutrition has played a huge part in this journey too. Now, I want to start by saying that I am no expert in the area of nutrition, this is my opinion and what has worked for me.

Poor food choices

Food has always been a huge part of my life. I’m a food blogger after all!

I’ve always enjoyed teaching my kids about nutrition, real food, cooking and eating. We have all eaten well in our house but I, perhaps, ate too well.

Excess sugar - Debbie Woodward Saucepan Kids

Poor food choices, over-sized portions and excessive sugar have all played a role in making me overweight and, as it happened so steadily over the years, I adjusted to the extra weight very well. However I did always think, “sure one day I’ll lose it”. But that day never came, until now.

When I embarked on my fitness journey at Avena back in the July 2016, my personal trainer James asked me to keep a food diary for the first two weeks so that he could see where I was going wrong.

I didn’t really need this as I knew exactly where I was going wrong, I had just made bad food choices for all those years. Too many biscuits with the cup of tea, too many chocolate bars, too much bread and butter, huge portions of pasta and potatoes with my evening dinner, to name but a few…

I had to start again. I knew what I needed to do, I think that maybe deep down we all do, it’s the actually doing that’s the hard part.

As I was now going to the gym regularly, food became more important than ever. I needed to give my body the fuel it needed for energy, the right fuel this time!

It all started with my attitude. I had to break the vicious cycle of sugar spikes. I had to learn that I could have a cup of tea without actually eating anything with it. I had to realise that I could finish a meal without having to have something sweet!

The ‘d’ word

I hate the word ‘diet’ as it has so many negative connotations.

During this journey I haven’t followed any particular ‘diet’, I’ve just eaten healthy, well balanced food, the same as the rest of my family. I’ve also indulged occasionally without feeling guilty. After all it’s about living and I never feel I’ve been able to live when denying myself everything on diets.

I almost wrote ‘traditional diets’ at the end of that last sentence and I stopped myself as traditional diets are really about moderation and not denial.

I felt that it was important to show my three kids that it was better food choices and hard work at the gym that has made Mummy fitter and stronger now, not depriving myself with a fad diet.

What I eat now

Breakfast was always easy for me, I’ve always loved breakfast and was happy to start the day with a slice of wholemeal toast, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (but only one slice of bread, not three!) Porridge is now a more regular occurrence but instead of honey on top, I sprinkle my oats with seeds and fresh fruit.

Nairn Rough Oatcakes & Biona Peanut Butter - the perfect high protein snack - Debbie Woodward Saucepan KidsMid-morning, I now have a couple of Nairn rough oatcakes with Biona crunchy peanut butter (my new best friend). That always keeps me going until lunch and makes sure that I don’t overeat out of total starvation at lunch time.

Mid afternoon, I’ll eat a high-protein snack like some almonds and a cube of cheese, a bowl of natural greek yogurt with fruit or a homemade flapjack.

Dinner has been the most interesting transition for me, I used to have a huge portion of everything but now before I serve up, I always throw a handful of salad onto my plate before loading up the rest of the food.

Not only is the salad really good for me, it also gives me less of the plate to load up with the rest of main meal, helping me control my portions.

I’m a huge believer in moderation. At the weekend, I still have a glass of red wine (or two), we make homemade pizza as a family every Saturday and we occasionally go out for dinner.


Protein has been the most interesting and challenging aspect of nutrition for me over the last eight months.

Most people need about 0.8-1g of protein per 1kg of body weight everyday. If you are strength training you will need about 1.2-1.7g per kg of body weight each day.

This is where I was struggling, especially getting that much protein in a regular, balanced diet on days when I was having a gym session.

Protein is particularly important after exercise as that’s when muscles need it so that they can recover.

Eggs are a great source of protein - Debbie Woodward Saucepan Kids high protein snacks

I knew I wasn’t getting enough as after a big session at the gym I was sore the next day and sometimes for a few days afterwards. This was my body telling me that it needed more protein.

Whey protein, good or bad?

I’d heard a lot about protein powders but wasn’t sure about their health benefits or risks. I did a lot of research on line and came across the usual conflicting opinions. For every site telling me that whey-based protein powders are the best thing since sliced bread (hmmm maybe not the best analogy) there was another site telling me to avoid them at all costs.

On the negative side apparently whey-protein may cause changes in cholesterol levels, liver damage, risk of osteoporosis, abnormal heart rhythms and much more rather nasty side effects due to its processed nature and abnormal nutrient composition.

I understand that this type of protein supplement may work for some people and it’s all down to personal choices. As I said earlier, I’m not in anyway qualified in nutrition to make sense of all this information myself let alone give advice to anyone else.

So I’ve made the personal decision to keep my ‘diet’ as near to what I would call wholesome and natural as possible. To that end I’ve decided to supplement the protein my diet with natural products rather than processed whey powders.

On the days when I’m having a training session at the gym, I blitz myself a high protein drink containing some milk, natural greek yogurt, spirulina, bee pollen, peanut butter, fruit and a spoon of a plant-based hemp protein powder.

It all sounds very new-age, yoghurt-knitting, sandal-wearing I know but since having this concoction after my strength training sessions, I find my body recovers much more quickly and I am much less sore.

For the other non-gym days I keep my protein topped up by making sure I include some of the following foods into my daily diet : eggs, chicken, fish, seeds, unsalted nuts etc.

I’ve only recently started to get on top of this and I really believe if I’d done it earlier I’d have saved myself lots of pain and also probably have seen results even quicker.

Better late than never and a good lesson to any of you considering embarking on a similar journey.

Don’t rely on scales

I have lost a considerable amount of weight during my fitness journey however I have come to realise that the scales don’t reflect my success. I even thought twice about whether I included my weight-loss at the top of this post.

Like many women, I have been more than a little obsessed in the past with what those weighing scales say, sometimes weighing myself daily hoping to see that next pound disappear. Slimming clubs members can probably relate to this!

This is a whole other blog post (maybe next time) but one reason is that muscle (that I now have much more of) is much denser than fat (which I now have much less of), so muscle takes up much less room than the same amount of fat.

So the weight I am losing as fat (and therefore inches) I am gaining back to a certain extent as muscle. Not necessarily at the same rate but it is counteracting.

I’ve realised that obsessing over my weight and frequent weighing is dangerous to my well-being as it sabotages how I feel about myself. If I weigh myself and have not lost anything it depresses me whereas when, 2 minutes later, I have to put a new hole in my belt I realise I should never had weighed myself at all!

Saucepan Kids Debbie Woodward - Getting fit with Avena Leisure Ballisodare Sligo Before and After photo 2

In the past month I have lost only 1lb however it is in the past month that I’ve seen the most significant changes to my body shape and, in this time, I have received the most compliments from people who have seen the difference in me.

To back up my thinking on this, I saw a really interesting photo on Instagram the other day of a lady called Adrienne O’Suna who showed how unimportant that number really is.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 16.38.30

Don’t get me wrong, weight loss is a good indicator but it needs to be considered as part of a wider set of measurement.

So get off those scales ladies, focus on how you feel and how your clothes feel on you.

Read here why I started this fitness journey in the first place. During this time, I have discovered that this fitness challenge is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.

Also, read here why I recommend that every woman should consider lifting weights.

Don’t be afraid of the gym

If you want to take time out for yourself, get fit and lose weight, get down to your local gym asap and sign up.

If you’re in Sligo, I highly recommend Avena Leisure in Ballisodare, Sligo. A huge thanks to everyone there, I just couldn’t have done this on my own.Avena Leisure - Sligo - special offers for gym membership in January 2017

Avena Leisure centre run special membership deals throughout the year. Check out their website or Facebook page or give them a call on 0719130882.

Disclaimer : I was given my two month membership and eight personal training sessions by Avena Leisure centre for the purposes of this review. My opinions are, as always, honest and 100% my own.


    1. Thank you Maeve. That’s really lovely of you to comment. I’m glad you found the information about protein shakes useful.

      Kind regards

  1. Debbie you are flying it and you look great! I think once I can get my diet sorted I’ll be on the right road and that means learning about the right foods for me. I totally agree with the scales. I got myself a Fitbit last week and it has really shown me how inactive I am, the joys of a desk job but it’s also been a great motivator this week. keep up the good work 🙂

    1. Thanks Louise. It’s great that you got that fitbit last week. I’m sure it’ll motivate you to become more active. If you need any hints or tips about the food side, let me know. I’m no expert but I’ve learned so much over the last eight months. Go for it!

      Kind regards

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