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Dublin: 7°C Friday 15 January 2021

Liver and broccoli - the new steak and spuds? A day in the lives of the O'Donovan brothers

Ireland’s Olympic heroes talk fitness, nutrition and their hectic lives.

THEY’RE PROBABLY IRELAND’S most famous brothers at this stage, and for all of the right reasons.

ILCU DONOVAN BROTHERS AMBASS  MX-9 Gary and Paul O'Donovan were officially unveiled as the new Credit Union Youth Ambassadors at the weekend. Source: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

They shot under the spotlight in Rio last summer, and since then it’s been hard to imagine how we never knew them before that.

Their historic silver medal, matched with their glowing personalities and brilliant sense of humor helped Paul and Gary O’Donovan become national heroes in the space of a few days.

Fresh back from a training camp in Spain, the brothers who truly put Skibbereen on the map insist that their lives haven’t changed that drastically since.

They remain focused on rowing and training to be the best, and fastest, they can be.

On a day-to-day basis, they both have college and study to factor into the equation, but on their two-and-a-half week camp abroad, they lead their idealistic training schedule.

Baiscally: Up, eat, row, eat, nap, eat, row, eat, bed.

“We had no distractions,” Gary tells The42. “We wouldn’t have college, we wouldn’t have external things going on. We lived across the road from the venue and the food is prepared for us so we can do as much training as we can.

“You get up in the morning, have a bite to eat and head out on the water for two hours. Then you come in and have another bite to eat straight away so you’re optimising your recovery.

“Head to bed for a couple of hours and have a nap during the day after the training so you can train harder in the evening. Get up and have lunch and we train for a second time then.

“Come in and almost immediately have the dinner to optimise the recovery and then hang around the lobby with the gang from the team and play a game of cards or whatever for the evening. And then head to bed nice and early and get up and do the same thing again seven days a week.

“It’s great out in Spain that we can do that, the training and recovery time is good, but at the minute now we’re in college so we have to factor that in. We spend a couple of days a week in college and we do a bit of study around it. It’s a bit tougher then to try and train and recover and do college and that kind of stuff.”

Gary and Paul O'Donovan celebrate winning a silver medal The brothers with their silver medals in Rio. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

When they’re at home, their midday nap is usually substituted for lectures and study, and they just have to be more efficient with their time management.

But that’s not too difficult as it’s something they’ve done their entire lives.

“It is and it isn’t [tough to balance],” Gary continues. “All we’ve ever done all our lives is rowing and study so nothing changes and we don’t know any different. We manage it and we’ve always managed it so we continue to train for that.”

The pair’s training on the water is pretty straightforward: row from A to B as fast as you can.

But then there’s the gym side of things.

“We do that twice a week,” Paul jumps in.

“In an ideal world, we’d be on the water all the time and then do weights two days a week,” Gary continues as his younger bother agrees.

“At the minute in Ireland with the weather the way it is, there isn’t the guarantee that we’re going to be on the water so we’d be on the rowing machine in the gym sometimes. But mostly water and then the weights two days a week.

“Upper body stuff would be minimal really. We do a bit, but mostly the legs. Then a lot of dead lifting and that type of thing.”

“The legs and the glutes,” echoes Paul. “The core and the trunk. Split squats, box jumps, thrusts, we do pull-ups then. A bit of body weight stuff as well as lifting then. Pulling weights then too – you tie a belt around yourself and attach a weight to it.”

So the general consensus is that they’d prefer to be on the water than in the gym? “Yeah,” they both answer at the same time.

But the Olympic silver medalists know it has to be done if they are to succeed.

Another thing of huge importance is their nutrition. Gary offers to take us through a typical day when it comes to their eating habits.

At the minute there now you’d be trying to eat a good bit, because when you’re doing a lot of training you burn a lot of calories, when you’re burning calories you need to replace them to refuel and recover so you can train again the next day.

“You could eat two or three bowls of porridge in a day but you’d be bulking them up, putting nice stuff in them like a bit of honey or peanut butter or berries and that sort of stuff to make the porridge a bit tastier and flavorsome.

“Then you’re looking at lunch, that could be anything like. Then you’d have the dinner and that’d be a bit of chicken or steak or a bolognese or whatever’s good.

“At the minute we eat a good bit of liver like, when we’re training so much it can be hard on the iron stores in the body. So we’d be trying to keep the iron levels up, which helps the energy levels so we can train harder again. Liver would be a big thing in the diet now, that sort of stuff.

ILCU DONOVAN BROTHERS AMBASS  MX-3 Gary and Paul O'Donovan with local children on the banks of Lough Ree in Athlone where they were officially unveiled as the new Credit Union Youth Ambassadors. Source: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

“Black pudding’s good, there’s iron in that. And loads of broccoli,” Paul adds.

Back to Gary: “I eat an awful lot of broccoli at the minute now. It’s grand, you just fire it into the pot there with the boiling water and it’d be ready in about 30 seconds so you can eat a big head of broccoli.”

Some athletes find the healthy eating aspect almost a chore, and would rather take a more relaxed approach when it comes to the food pyramid.

The two Cork rowers see otherwise though.

“You have to eat, yeah it’s important. It’s tasty food.”

Gary takes the lead: “You’d be getting better at it all the time, the more cooking you do the better you get at it.

“Years ago when I started cooking first, I’d have been making a mess in the kitchen and it would have taken me ages to cook the food. But now, you’d be keeping the kitchen tidy and you’d have a meal prepared in no time.”

“I think really, because we’re sportspeople doesn’t mean that we have to be particularly healthy,” Paul adds. “Everyone has to be healthy you know, whether you play sport or not. I think just because of rowing, we have to eat a greater volume of healthy food.”

And of course, it’s everything in moderation. They allow themselves an odd treat here and there.

“It doesn’t really matter at all,” says Gary, while Paul joins in. “When you’re eating healthy all the time you can afford to have a bite to eat, if something wasn’t that healthy after the dinner. Sure there’s no harm in that either. Once you’re relative and in proportion.”

“We wouldn’t go out and have bad food for the week, but we’d have a snack now and again.

“Ah sure, we had a bit of ice-cream just there!”

Gary and Paul O’Donovan were recently announced as the new Credit Union Youth Ambassadors at the Irish League of Credit Union’s Youth and Marketing Conference. They will be heavily involved in the ‘Inspiring the Next Generation’ social media campaigns.

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The Donegal captain with Clermont and the Welsh rugby great playing for Glenswilly

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Emma Duffy

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