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How I Train, Eat and Recover to Stay in Shape and Support My Cystic Fibrosis

👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training

My name is Sophie Grace Holmes, I am 28 years old from Essex, UK. I am a personal trainer, online coach, ultra endurance athlete sponsored by Under Armour living with cystic fibrosis. I am also studying to be a nutrition coach.

I have been training since I could walk – full of energy and raring to go. When I was four months old, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening lung disease called cystic fibrosis, being told I wouldn’t live past 16 years of age this gave me the courage to live life on my own terms, find my own adventure in life and push myself to achieve many things that were deemed impossible.

Over the past eight years, I have summited many mountains such as Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, Grand Paradiso and Himalayas, I have also completed a 100km Ultra Marathon, came 3rd in a 80-mile Paddleboard race crossing the Gulf Stream from the Bahamas to West Palm Beach, Florida, I have completed the LEJOG Ride Across Britain, 1000 mile Ultra Bike race from Lands End, Cornwall to John O’Groats, Scotland and more recently due to Covid-19 causing my Ironman to be postponed, I completed 2/3 this from my house 180km Turbo, 842 laps of my front lawn.

Before I entered the endurance world, I used to compete 400m on track county level and compete my horses in Eventing. Away from fitness, I love to create new recipes, bake and you can’t beat a good coffee with friends.

Fitness I believe has not only saved my life but also given me more than anyone really gives credit for, mental strength and mental toughness.

The reason I do endurance is what you get when you are in the middle of the race and you have to dig a little deeper to simply put one foot in front of the other. You find out who you are, what you want out of life and importantly what you are capable of,

I am also passionate about performance and what our bodies can do if we simply decide to keep pushing ourselves.

⏱ Describe a typical day of training

I train around 15 hours per week usually twice a day, six days a week.

Training is a huge part of my life, not only for my health but I am passionate about it especially living with cystic fibrosis – it can make things more challenging but it’s the challenge itself I thrive off. I believe if we are lucky enough to be able to move our bodies then we have no excuse not to everyday.

For me, training takes up a lot of time and thankfully I have a very supportive network of people around me from coaches to nutritionists, to brands to friends and family.

I train around 15 hours per week usually twice a day, six days a week. I will do strength 5x a week and split it into; 2x upper body 2x lower body 1x full body conditioning to really make sure my body is being supported and pushed.

Away from the gym, I will swim in the sea 2-3x per week, I will run 3x per week and ride 2-3x per week – sessions will vary from slower endurance to shorter speed work and intervals. It’s a busy life around my job but I absolutely love it and ultimately keeps me happy and healthy.

For me, I really enjoy the off-season as it’s the season for really pushing yourself towards the next target and your body to become the best it can be for the sport you do.

It’s important to stay in routine so I have a morning routine and an evening routine for my training and especially to ensure my rest and recovery are good so my performance isn’t hindered.

I usually train alone unless I really want to be pushed for pace in bike, run, swim or my conditioning day – for me head down and headphones in is the best way for me to perform and get results – I am very stats-driven and love to track them. I use a fitness tracker to measure my training and my main choices are Garmin or Apple watch.

With this in mind, pre training I do 20 minutes of mobility with a coffee and to mentally prepare for the session and to be completely focused to perform my best and after I will always do another one hour of stretching and have a shake by Optimum Nutrition to refeed my body immediately after especially as the demands of the sessions are high.

👊 How do you keep going and push harder?

For me, my CF keeps me pushing myself but I don’t rely on motivation to train, it comes down to discipline and wanting to achieve the big goals I have set for myself. Discipline and motivation come hand in hand, the less disciplined you are the less motivation you may have and vice versa.

Training for me is what keeps me healthy, and it is a passion so long as I can keep moving, I will keep training and seeing what my body can do.

I am a firm believer in setting big goals, goals so big they scare you into changing your behaviour so that you progress and reach milestones.

To keep improving, you have to train smart, periodise your training and ensure your rest and recovery is the best it can be alongside fuelling your body. I thrive off of leaning into discomfort and pushing to achieve goals I can’t achieve yet.

My biggest fear is regret, and this usually comes from an excuse and so the line I keep close in my head is ‘The excuses you make today, will be the regrets you have at the end of your life’ and for me I want to make sure I have done everything I can especially for my body.

I schedule my weeks on a Sunday and so i know exactly what my days entail and so I then have enough time for everything I want to do. Training is an outlet for success mentally and physically and so its the most important thing and without it every other area would suffer.

The biggest challenge I have faced which is why I am so determined and strong willed is when I was 19, I was given two years to live and I want not only make sure I did everything I could to be here for along time but to achieve some great things – 10 years later I am fitter and stronger than ever.

🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Training is great, adapted due to Covid-19 but hitting PBs still bike, run, swim with my most recent achievement being 4km sea swim in prep for my 10km. I am looking forward to gyms opening up again to build my strength back up.

For the next few, I am excited to continue on the triathlon racing and doing other types of ultra endurance right now as it’s a great community, my body responds well to the training and I would love to work towards an Xtri Ironman, potentially the Pantagonman by keeping to build on the base I have now and consistency in my training and pushing my own limits.

For me, away from fitness I have just launched my own business, a fitness app, which I am very excited about and I can’t wait to keep pushing that to help as many people achieve their goals and this is something that I will be constantly filming and adding programmes to so I can’t wait to keep working hard on that.

For me, if i were to go back to the start, I would implement rest and recovery earlier as I believe this is still so overlooked and underestimated including mobility work and I would also educated myself on nutrition earlier but more so than ever for my younger self to enjoy the journey towards your achievements as much as getting that medal or that PB.

🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?

Rest and recovery are the most important part of training – if you are missing out on these then your body won’t perform at its best.

Setbacks are something I have had to endure a lot, having CF brings a lot of hurdles and this is so why it is so important to listen to your body and what it needs. Rest and recovery are the most important part of training – if you are missing out on these then your body won’t perform at its best.

Injuries of course can’t always be avoided but having a good stretch and mobility routine in place is important if you are wanting to continue to see results – I stretch 2x a day either around training or before bed to really make sure my body is being kept in the best possible way.

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The best decision I ever made was to ensure I slept more, I have eight hours a night and stick to the same routines; bed 9-10pm, up by 6am and keeping off my phone before bed. This of course can be interrupted by travel so you have to try and do the best you can and especially with nutrition whilst you are out of routine.

For me – I use my Hyperice Massage Gun everyday either pre workout or before bed to get rid of any niggles I may have and I have CBD oil before bed.

I think every failure I have had has led to an even bigger success, luckily for me, these have always been during training due to lack of fuel, lack of sleep or hydration.

I think the biggest lesson is to really understand what works for you and trial and error different routines and foods especially so you can make the most of everyday and your training.

🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?

For me nutrition is key. It is so important to understand the needs of your body and how it needs to be fueled for performance and your sport or goals. I work with a nutritionist to ensure I am getting everything I need to allow my body to work and my CF is supported.

I work on a flexible basis; 80/20 so 80% of my food is nutrient dense and 20 is flexible with what I fancy. I have worked this way for the last 10 years – my biggest advice for someone wanting to improve diet would be to learn your body and educate yourself with a coach or self learning what your body needs to achieve your goals.

Having CF also means I need to eat more calories due to being pancreatic insufficient my food isn’t absorbed well and with my training demand I eat 3000 calories a day minimum.

For me, I track every so often to ensure I am getting everything I do need, for me macros and so my coach can be checking to see if anything needs to be adapted. I will always have a coffee pre workout and I don’t really drink as my body doesn’t respond well to it and I would rather feel good and strong than lethargic so this is a personal choice.

Socialising is a big part of life around the busy training schedule and I enjoy going out for dinner, it’s important to have down time – many people wonder if I worry or choose specific foods on a menu but for me eating out is something I enjoy and I will eat what I fancy rather than be strict because it’s a time to relax and a meal off plan reaps benefits – to me no food is bad or good its how we eat it and how often we do – I have something everyday i enjoy so I don’t have cheat days as its not needed or craved.

Race day nutrition is also something that needs to be worked on and usually this is experimented with eight weeks out so by the time it come I know exactly how the day is going to go and how my body will respond as with endurance you need to be able to be fuelled for five to 12 hours on a variety of disciplines.

I will always use my Garmin or Apple Watch to track to ensure I am moving enough on active rest day but also monitor my working days.

👍 What has inspired and motivated you?

The best advice I have ever received is to never stop believing in who you are and what you want in this life.

For me, there’s nothing better than your morning podcast over a walk or a coffee; my favourite include: Joe Rogan, Inner Fight, Brian Keane who feature some incredible inspiring people who have achieved phenomenal things from overcoming cancer to then being an endurance runner, to people who have overcome adversity and now well respected in their sports.

I think it is so important to find like minded people to listen to or connect with as they will only spur you on to achieve the extraordinary things in life.

The best advice I have ever received is to never stop believing in who you are and what you want in this life. I have lived a life where I have been told I wouldn’t achieve anything or even live past the age of 16 but now reaching nearly 29 I have an incredible life, full of incredible stories and have met some incredible people.

I live by the mantra of ‘Its the excuses you make today that will be the regret you have at the end of your life’ cutting excuses and taking action is essential for me but also ‘Have the courage to seek your own adventure in life and live on your terms’ – the happiest moments my life are when i lean into discomfort, such as mid race, mid mountain climb as that really were you connect and find out who you are, what you want out of life and your own personal capabilities.

Some people I enjoy following are; Tom Otton, Marcus Smith, James Newbury, Ross Edgley.

✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?

If you are new to training, the biggest bit of advice I would give would be to start slow and build up – don’t compare your day one to someone else’s day 300, get a coach if you are worried and want to ensure your technique is good as this is very important to build your body and strength.

I think many people are too focused what they can lift rather than what they can lift with great technique and never underestimate the importance of bodyweight exercise such as push up/pull up and HIIT training as well as varying types of sessions and ensuring you are focusing on building the basics and stabiliser muscles as well as doing your mobility and flexibility work to prevent injury.

For me, I ensure I strength train 4-5x per week to ensure my body is getting stronger for my endurance training and to focus on explosive movements and keep my body conditioning.

The best $100 I have ever spent would be although I do less of it now learning how to box and then enter a white collar boxing fight.

🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?

I have limited availability for 1-2-1 clients but I so also offer online training and I also have a Fitness App with programmes from building strength to fat loss, it contains a nutrition guide and follow along workouts with new workouts added 1-2x a week – it’s a growing community and if you are part of the app there is also a Facebook group, which everyone can chat on.

I have been working in the industry for 10 years now and have trained people from endurance to building muscle to those who have health-related issues and educating them in nutrition – my goal is to not only get people to their goals but to allow them to feel confident going into the gym and doing their own training sessions and training safely while pushing limits. Depending on their adherence and goals clients can start to see results in as little as 8-12 weeks.

The most common question I get is based around motivation to train and what to do if it is lacking – for me this comes down to discipline – the best sessions occur when you get yourself into the gym when the initial motivation has gone.

We have to learn to be disciplined as this is where progress and success happens. Get a good daily routine, plan ahead and know when you are training and what you are eating

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Without discipline you won’t have motivation, the more you do the more you’ll want to do so its about pushing yourself out of comfort and going for it with everything you have – no matter how you felt at the start no one ever regretted a training session.

📝 Where can we learn more about you?

If you want to know more, my Instagram is my most used platform: @SophieGraceHolmes, I also have a website – and YouTube Channel – Sophie Grace Holmes.

I love connecting with people and ensure I get back to every message I get.

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