Female Fitness : Vegan Edition

We´re back again with Lara, our favourite bodybuilder and lady crush.

Lara started her journey as a Vegan in May last year, and we´re having a follow-up interview with her to see how she is fairing.

Before we get started, I would like to mention two things, one, this interview was not done live, i.e, I did not ask Lara a question, and she answered it immediately and we moved to the next one. I sent Lara a set of questions which she answered in her own time. So you will notice that I do not respond to any of her answers, I go straight to the next question. Second, none of Lara’s answers were edited in any way.

I sincerely enjoyed setting up these questions, and I loved reading Lara’s responses. I hope that you will enjoy this read too (bad puns included)

Lara, you have been a vegan now for over a year, tell me about what got you interested in becoming one?

The first time going Vegan occurred to me, I remember standing in my kitchen ready to start preparing meals for the week ahead, taking out a tray of chicken breasts to defrost and almost gagging at the site – there was something within me that just couldn’t stand the site or smell of the chicken as it thawed. As someone who prides herself in listening to her body, I realised then that it was time for a change. As I became more entrenched in the CrossFit Community, I found that more and more people around me were turning to the anti-inflammatory properties of a meat and animal byproduct free diet. Naturally, being the curious Personal Trainer I am, wanting to be able to both understand and offer a broad spectrum of options to my clients, I had to try it and haven’t looked back since.

Did you gradually transition into it by slowly cutting out certain products and foods, or did you go cold tofurkey?

Love that play on words! I definitely transitioned, although faster than I imagine most would. I hate wasting food so first set out to finish the meat and animal byproducts I had left in my fridge and then switched to non-dairy milks while keeping eggs in my diet. I don’t recommend that anyone considering going Vegetarian or Vegan goes cold tofurkey as it may leave one feeling lacking choice when it comes to alternatives. A phased approach is best and gives the body (and mind) time to adjust.

What were the initial, short and long-term responses your body had to this new way of life. (After one week, one month, and three months)

Week one was definitely tough on my digestive system. Many people experience difficulty in making the switch and often, go back to their original way of eating, because of this initial phase. For me, this discomfort lasted about three weeks before my body adjusted but I have heard that it can take months for some. It is here that the phased approach to removing meat and animal by-products becomes crucial.

After one month, I noticed a major spike in my energy levels and while I have never had particularly bad skin, the flare-ups typical around the time of my period had eased dramatically, with very few break-outs occurring sporadically in between.

Three months later, I felt like a new human being. My recovery rate when it comes to training seemed to have doubled, leaving me feeling capable of doing twice the work without feeling as stiff or sore as I had in the past. My sleep also improved, with me waking to feel more rested and less anxious about the day ahead.

Tell me a little more about vegans in the fitness world that inspire you.

The following Vegans in the fitness world come to mind, with the first being Sara Sigmundsdottir considering that CrossFit is closest to my heart.

Sara Sigmundsdottir (Icelandic CrossFit Athlete) https://www.scmp.com/sport/outdoor/crossfit/article/3120182/who-crossfits-sara-sigmundsdottir-vegan-diet-games-finishes

What she has been able to achieve as an athlete in a world that punts meat as the be all and end all for muscle growth and athletic performance is proof that a plant based diet is just as if not more effective than any meat based variety.

Patrik Baboumian (Iranian born German-Armenian Strongman and Bodybuilder) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrik_Baboumian

Patrik Baboumian is a testament to the fact that in order to be as strong as an ox you don’t have to eat one. The international records he has set as a Strongman are incredible and what he later went on to achieve in terms of his physique as body builder is phenomenal.

Nimai Delgado (American Bodybuilder) https://www.muscleandfitness.com/athletes-celebrities/interviews/how-nimai-delgado-built-championship-physique-meatless-diet/

Nimai Delgado was raised by Hindu parents. Having been Vegan for the majority of his life, he further debunks the myth that athletes that have only recently gone Vegan only achieved the results they have from the foundation of a meat based diet. The muscle mass he has managed to both gain and retain on a plant based diet is more than many meat eating bodybuilders have been able to.

Has going vegan had a significant impact on your daily training regime? Do you train more or less now; have you had to make any allowances?

Going Vegan has transformed the way that I train. In particular, the way in which I recover.

I recently started athletic programming with one of our more renowned South African CrossFit Athletes and Coaches, Mick Stocchi at Motley Crew CrossFit. Having finished my first week under his wing, 10 sessions later, I feel recovered and ready for a new week of training.

While still consuming meat, I would have been happy to finish 6-7 sessions a week with my energy levels at an all time low. My fitness levels have definitely improved since, but I don’t believe I would be where I am today without a plant based diet.

The biggest allowance I have had to make as a Vegan when it comes to training relates to the volume of food I eat. I consume up to 6 meals a day with 2-3 snacks in between depending on what my body needs (I eat intuitively), whereas previously I would consume 3-4 meals a day and 2 snacks in between each on a meat based diet.

Let’s talk a bit about protein supplements. Do you use any and do you have a preference (soy, pea etc.)

I have not been consistent with the use of plant based supplements and honestly find the pea proteins I have tried to date to be very pasty/granular. I generally prefer to get what I need in terms of nutrients/macros from the meals I consume rather than supplements.

This said, my iron levels have been perfect since going Vegan but I do recommend an iron supplement for those struggling with fatigue on a plant based diet.

Has being a vegan bodybuilder had a social impact on your life (have any of your relationships with your friends, family, etc. changes for the better or worse)

I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who are incredibly supportive of my life choices but social gatherings can be somewhat difficult to navigate in terms of meal choices.

Regardless, more and more restaurants are opening their menus to include more plant based options. I tend to double check the menu ahead of time if possible and will fill up a little more before going out if necessary. Failing which, while not ideal, a plate of chips will do.

Enough meat eaters have been attacked by Vegans who are dead set on enforcing their belief system on those that haven’t chosen the same path and while I do believe in education, I believe wholeheartedly in not making my choice to be Vegan a burden on others.

Overall, I have faced some criticism but largely by meat eaters not confident in their meal choices insistent on justifying/projecting the same. Otherwise, the old adage: ‘You are who you surround yourself with’ applies.

Have you been met with any pushback or ignorance, for now not only being a woman in fitness, but also a vegan?

Having gained some muscle mass since we last spoke, while also taking my training more seriously and therefore improving in all areas of CrossFit, I have had a few men approach me to tell me that I would not have retained the muscle mass I have without having started as a meat eater or that I must be ‘juicing’ (on steroids), which I am often amused by.

Other than that, the ignorance I am faced with rests predominantly around protein and how ‘plant based proteins simply cannot compare to meat’. The proof is in the chia pudding when it comes to the aforementioned Athletes (and hundreds more) if you ask me.

Tell me more about how your journey has had an impact on things other than training or diet (think shopping, travelling, charity, relationships, books or articles you read)

Going Vegan has forced me to rethink my entire lifestyle. I am more conscious about what I put into my body now than ever before, which has trickled into EVERYTHING I consume, mentally and spiritually too.

There is something so soul-shifting about becoming part of a community that strives to do no harm and preserve life on this earth. As a consumer, I have become more focused on supporting local businesses and knowing the true source of all I purchase in an effort to boost our economy while cutting out mass-marketers and retailers, who more often than not end up undercutting our farmers.

Where I shop, what I read and what I watch has definitely evolved.

Lastly, what advice do you have for people who would like to follow in your footsteps?

Stop caring about what others think. There are too many lazy, fearful people out there invested in your life because it takes too much effort for them to invest in their own.

If you make the choice to change your lifestyle, do it for yourself and nobody else. Commit to it.

Take the time to research your options and take it day by day, being imperfectly Vegetarian or Vegan is better than not bothering at all.

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