Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 13 - Slowly increase your training levels as we return to normality

7th July 2020

The Mardyke Arena UCC have teamed up with The Echo for our new campaign ‘Keeping Cork Healthy’ series to give the Cork community weekly tips on how they can stay fit and healthy during this lock down period.

In this edition how to return to play after semi-inactivity, changing diet habits, and another healthy recipe. 

Considerations for activity after a long layoff

As we return to some kind of normality, it is increasingly important to keep in mind the topic of discussion that has recently been highlighted by fitness professionals: the importance of a gradual return to play after a long period of semi inactivity, writes David O’Connell, Strength &Conditioning Coach at the Mardyke Arena UCC.

A few aspects of this return to play paradigm cannot be overlooked, as they will help you greatly in your pursuit of your training goals.

One of the processes affecting the return to play can be described as the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): it is a three-stage process describing the physiological changes the body goes through when under stress or any kind of external/internal stimulus.

Stage 1: Alarm or Reaction Phase

This fight-or-flight response occurs in the alarm reaction stage and this is where your body adapts to situations and/or stressors.

This natural reaction prepares you to either flee or protect yourself in dangerous situations. Your heart rate increases, your adrenal gland releases cortisol (a stress hormone), and you receive a boost of adrenaline, which increases energy. The more your body is gradually exposed to this the better your fitness or strength will become.

Stage 2: Resistance

After the initial shock of a stressful event and having a fight-or-flight response, the body begins to repair itself.

This is the sweet spot where you just catch yourself improving and reaching your goals. It can be a great feeling but a fine line as well as you can over reach very quickly and slip into the Exhaustion phase.

Stage 3: Exhaustion

This stage can become detrimental to your overall health and quite relevant to our societal context.

Due to a prolonged confinement over the past five to ten weeks, it is paramount to slowly increase the training levels (loading and intensity) in order to put yourself in an optimum position to reach your goals.

Struggling with stress for a long period of time can drain your physical, emotional, and mental resources. Signs and the various “red flags” could be fatigue, burnout, depression, anxiety, decreased stress tolerance.

As mentioned above, a steady increase in your training volume/intensity with the inclusion of recovery protocol will allow you to reach your goals without having to suffer some injuries setback.

A structured consistent return to activity is the best way forward.

Changing diet habits

Are you finding it hard to follow all these “simple” diet tips? You are not alone, writes Cliona Twohig, Research Dietitian at University College Cork.

For many of us, the current pandemic has turned our lives upside down and wreaked havoc on our usual routines including what we eat.

As restrictions are relaxed, many of us may be thinking about prioritising healthy eating again.

BUT if you, like many other people, are struggling to know where to start, keep reading as we’ve got some tips to help.

The 3 biggest mistakes when making diet changes:


1. Being too hard on yourself

Do you put yourself down a lot or feel guilty about your diet or body? Scientific studies show that being overly critical of yourself won’t help achieve your goals. When we feel bad about ourselves, we are more likely to do things that provide comfort rather than pushing ourselves to make healthier choices.

2. Setting goals without a deeper meaning

It’s essential that you know the reason “WHY” you want to eat healthier. Go beyond weight loss or appearance goals (these can quickly turn into self-criticism). Dig deep and think about the things that are REALLY important to you. Consider CORE VALUES (the things that bring meaning to your life) such as your family, having energy to walk a pet or doing a favourite activity.

3. Having an all or nothing approach

Have you ever been on a boring diet plan that made you give up all your favourite foods? Be wary of any diet plan that lists foods as “BAD” or “GOOD”. Healthy eating should NOT be a punishment.

Because if it is, unhealthy foods become a reward! Focussing too much on avoiding foods makes them more tempting and makes long-term changes seem impossible.

Things to try instead:

  1. Commit to eating healthier from a place of SELF CARE (not of self-criticism). Would you speak to a parent, partner or friend as critically as you speak to yourself? If not, it’s time to offer yourself some compassion. You are doing your best.
  2. Remind yourself daily WHY you want to eat well. For example, you want to feel proud about role-modelling for the kids; your “WHY” might involve eating more vegetables to encourage the kids to eat them too!
  3. Try the “80/20 approach”. Eat “healthy” 80 % of the time and make space for less healthy, with the remaining 20% for less healthy foods that bring you joy. The “Safefood Food Pyramid” is a good guide, available on
  4. Start with ADDING something healthy to your usual routine and build from there. One extra portion (80g or a fist-sized amount) of colourful vegetables daily can reduce your heart attack risk by 5%. Increasing it to 10 portions per day reduces your risk of dying by 31%!


Deciding to make changes is hard, ESPECIALLY during a pandemic. If you would like more information or support, see the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute website for a list of registered dietitians by clicking here.


Recipe of the Week: Salad of Apples, Coolea Cheese, Hazelnuts, Sprouts & Apple Syrup by Rory O’Connell, Irish chef, see

This is a lovely combination of ingredients that delivers a very fresh tasting and delicious salad. In another meal it would be lovely served alongside grilled or roast pork.

I search out Irish home grown apples and I use an apple syrup from the marvellous High Bank farm in County Kilkenny.

The Coolea cheese is from Macroom in County Cork and is another outstanding example of the quality of some of the artisan food being produced in Ireland now.

I have added myrtle berries as an optional ingredient here. If you do not have them growing as most people will not, the salad is still great without them. However the berries which come from the shrub, Myrtus Ugni, are really delicious and the plant which is pretty much maintainance free will grow in a large pot or directly in the ground. It is evergreen with small and pretty glossy leaves and produces sweet little red berries late in the year when virtually all other fruit have disappeared for the winter. I use the berries in starters, main courses and desserts and would not be without it. I highly recommend it as a beautiful thing to look at and a beautiful thing to eat and in my experience it is pretty much the least troublesome plant in the garden. It fruits year after year.



4 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 Lemon

2 teaspoons apple syrup

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper


8 Brussel sprouts, outer leaves removed and thinly sliced on a mandolin or by hand

1 dessert apple, cut into quarters, core removed and cut by hand into 5mm slices

25g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled and coarsely chopped

8 – 12 leaves of radicchio

8 – 12 sprigs of watercress

20 shavings of Coolea cheese


  1. Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together and taste and correct seasoning.
  2. Combine the brusells sprouts, apples, hazelnuts, radicchio and watercress in a large bowl. Give the dressing a good shake and pour over the ingredients. Use your hands to lightly lift and toss the salad.
  3. Place in a mound on a large wide serving dish. Scatter shavings of Coolea over the salad and thread a few through the leaves as well. Add the myrtle berries now if using.
  4. Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper over the entire salad and serve as soon as possible.


Free Fitness Classes Online

The Mardyke Arena UCC will run the last week of their Fitness Classes Online via the Mardyke Arena UCC Facebook page this week. Here is the schedule:

Monday – HIIT – 6pm

Tuesday – Legs, Bums & Tums – 6pm

Wednesday – Pilates for all – 6pm

Thursday – Legs, Bums & Tums – 6pm

Friday – HIIT – 1pm


Ready to re-open

The Mardyke Arena UCC have announced that they will re-open to members on Monday July 13. The Arena have carried out significant changes which includes a spectacular new gym on what use to be the indoor running track – circa 650m2, overlooking the River Lee and Shanakiel area. For more visit

Keep Your Children Active with Mardyke Arena UCC Summer Camps


The Mardyke Arena UCC are delighted to launch their Summer Camps 2020 programme – Starting Monday July 13 and will run until the end of August. Camps will run from 9am-1pm and 2pm-6pm Monday – Friday. The numbers within each camp are very limited this year, so early booking is advised.

Visit for more information to book.


Next Week:

The importance of good digestive health, mood-boosting foods, managing stress and anxiety and more.


Catch up:

Click link to all our home work-out videos.

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 1 – Keep fit, in your home

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 2 – Strong body & mind

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 3 – Minding your mental health

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 4 – How to stay injury-free while working out at home

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 5 – Beware of common injuries

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 6 – Diet tips to help boost your health

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 7 – Mindful eating

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 8 – Fitness for all abilities

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 9 – Flexibility is your friend

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 10 – 10 top tips for fitness

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 11 – Changing your goals

Click here to catch up on Keeping Cork Healthy: Week 12 – All in the movement


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