Speaker Profile: Fiona O'Donnell

The inaugural Triathlon Ireland Women's Health & Wellbeing Conference takes place on Saturday 19th of October. Nutritionist Fiona O'Donnell MSc will be hosting a workshop and taking part in our panellist discussion on the day. We caught up with Fiona to chat about fuelling your lifestyle and the associated health benefits of good nutrition.

Fiona O'Donnell_Schull2018

Women's Health & Wellbeing Conference

So, what can we expect from Fiona’s workshop at the Women’s Health & Wellbeing Conference?

"Ensuring you are getting enough (nutrition), number one. Number two is periodisation, in the same way that we periodise our training. Coming up to an event you might have a twelve week training period where your training shifts a little bit from maintenance to a performance period and then you have a recovery phase afterwards. The same has to be done with your food, you’re not going to try and create a calorie deficit coming into a peak training period, you want to ensure that you’re fed properly. I would like to discuss periodisation of your nutrition and your energy intake in and around training phases as well so that’s going to be the main portion of the talk."

The importance of nutrition

For women, finding the balance between maintaining a hormonal balance, fuelling performance and ensuring you are getting enough nutrition is a delicate one that, as Fiona explains, can be a difficult one to master. 

"We so undervalue the importance of nutrition when it comes to everyday life and when it comes to its input into athleticism...I think sometimes that health can take a back seat when performance becomes the intrinsic factor that we focus on. It’s important to maintain the balance there. For me certainly, fuelling myself and ensuring that I was correctly nourished and fuelled for events versus putting myself into an energy deficit so that I’d become lighter and hoping my performance would improve. Again I think the education in and around that can be poor and that’s what I base my business model on, educating people about the difference between performance, how to cycle that with a series of weight loss before high training periods and finding the balance between the two of those."

"We’re running all the time, swimming, cycling and these all contribute to bone health, any of those high impact exercises. But if you’re not fuelling your body properly this can result in osteopenia, stress fractures, and there’s such a huge area that people don’t consider when it comes to nourishment. It’s not just about weight loss and it’s not just about being light and performance isn’t just about being able to go faster. Being able to maintain health throughout your race season, not becoming sick, not becoming injured and maintaining hormonal health as well. Maintaining a regular menstrual cycle is a huge reflection of that."

switching gears

Fiona changed careers from being a Cardiac Clinical Physiologist to set up her own company, West Cork Fit, coaching women to help them with their nutrition, fitness and lifestyle goals.

"I became qualified in health and fitness as an instructor and went on and did some qualifications in strength training. Then I actually left my job in the health service and went got a Masters in Nutrition and Sport Science." 

A keen member of West Cork Triathlon Club, Fiona's journey in triathlon started with learning to swim;

"A number of my friends were getting involved in triathlon and you really do become the people you surround yourself with. I was afraid of water at the time. I would get in up to my waist and doggy paddle but I was getting more and more envious watching the crew. We’d go down at the weekend to Lough Hyne in West Cork and I’d watch them disappear into the distance and go round the back of the island. They’d come back talking about “Oh did you see the seal and did you see all the starfish?!”. I was just so gutted that I was afraid to get into the water."

"A friend of mine is an Ironman and she’s also a swim coach so she said “Why don’t you come down to me?”. Initially I was afraid to get into the deep end of the pool so we were kind of doing half of the 25 metre pool and she pushed me a little bit. Sure here I am five years later doing triathlons and loving that I have the insight into being afraid and not being a triathlete."


The big question is, do you swim around the back of the island now?

"Oh yeah, weekly! It’s about two kilometres, yeah." 

"It’s like a huge life lesson you know, it kind of translates to anything you think you can’t achieve or anything you think might be difficult, you kind of go 'Well, f I never start or I never try, I will never know. If I can do a triathlon then maybe I can give this a try.' You just find yourself getting there."

Overcoming Adversity

We last met Fiona when she had just completed her first triathlon since receiving a kidney transplant. Last year at the Centra Fastnet Schull Triathlon, we caught up with Fiona and clubmate Grainne O'Keeffe, you can watch their inspiring video below.


How to get tickets

Fiona will be giving her workshop at the Triathlon Ireland Women's Health & Wellbeing Conference, taking place at the Clayton Hotel Liffey Valley on Saturday 19th October from 9.30am to 3.30pm. Tickets are €20, all proceeds from the event will be donated to the Tri4Pieta Campaign.

View the full line up for the day and purchase your tickets!