I never really think of myself as any kind of “inspiration” and I am beyond flattered every time someone refers to me as one. I’m just a regular, ol’ vegan girl who has a deep love and respect for animals and spends an obscene amount of time hammering weights in the gym.
I grew up just outside a small, hunter-filled village outside of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere—with a population of about 40 people. We produce some of the best maple syrup in the world though! My family homestead is a log house on 12 acres of forest. We didn’t have cable TV, we had nature.
My mom was my biggest hero, always feeding the birds, raccoons & deer, taking in stray cats and even raising orphaned baby squirrels. Sometimes we would have 30 deer behind our house. And it would truly break our hearts to see many of them disappear each autumn when hunting season was in effect. I just couldn’t understand why people would hunt and kill such beautiful, sweet creatures. And it horrified me to learn that the meat on my plate was also once a living, breathing creature. Following in my older sisters’ footsteps, I went vegetarian when I was eight years old. For many years, I was a compassionate vegetarian but I was ignorant to the fact that animals were still dying because of my milk and egg consumption. I was a really unhealthy vegetarian too—living off of fries and salad— uneducated on proper plant-based nutrition.
Thankfully moving to Vancouver in 2005 and making friends with the women well-known on Vancouver’s vegan scene as “The Vegan Project” (www.theveganproject.ca), I learned just how easy (and delicious) it was to dine on solely plant-based foods. So in 2011, I made the full transition to veganism. It was the most rewarding, ethical decision I’ve ever made.
I’d always been a bit of a “gym rat” or “meatless meathead” as I like to say. Forever in awe of the women’s bodies that graced the pages of fitness magazines, I was always so curious to know if I could get similar results on a vegan diet without the use of hormone blockers or fat burners. In October 2012, I decided to finally give it a “go” and compete in the bikini division of an amateur bodybuilding and fit- ness show eight months later in Fort St. John, northern British Columbia.
I was determined to break the stereotypes that all vegans were scrawny, protein-deficient and unhealthy. And I thought “what better place to promote my cause than in the testosterone- fueled, protein-addicted world of bodybuilding?”
When I told my pals that I was going to compete up north in rural, middle-of-nowhere B.C., The Vegan Project crew were all over it. We decided to take it even a step further and make a little road trip out of it called “Jacked on the Beanstalk: A Vegan Bodybuilding Adventure.”
I literally devoted my entire life to winning that competition. For eight long months, I pretty much lived at the gym and gave up my social life completely. I ate the most plain, bland vegan foods imaginable—protein powder, yams, asparagus, tempeh, spinach, oatmeal— the exact same things, without any salt or much flavour — day in and day out. I weighed every bit of food that entered my mouth and used every ounce of willpower to not shovel other forbidden foods down my throat.
I did cardio on an empty stomach every morning and intense weight sessions at least four or five evenings per week. I only had one day of rest each week. On that day I’d be busy cooking, preparing and measuring my food for the week. I’d also use this day for my one weekly hog fest: the joyous “cheat meal.” Yes, once per week, I’d go hog wild and FEAST on as much nut butter, dates and refried bean pizza I could pack into my svelte stomach.
When I finally hit the stage—win it I sure did! Eight LONG months of sore muscles and extreme dieting was all worth it when they announced that I got first place in my division. A first place win in my first-ever fitness com- petition on a completely natural, strict vegan diet! The whole experience was truly life changing for me.
My placing now qualifies me for the BC Provincial Championships which take place in Vancouver in June of 2014. It is another untested show, this time going against all the other winners from the various competitions across British Columbia. I am beyond excited to compete again and will give my very best once more. It’s truly such an empowering, motivating feeling to represent for the vegans of the world and I would love to be able to compete on a national level after Provincials. I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m to be doing in life and I hope to share what I’ve learned with others and maybe even convert a few meat eaters along the way.
How exactly did I do it?
Well first off, with A LOT of cardio! Anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour every morning (depending on how close to competition I was.) It was a lot of high intensity interval training (HIIT style) cardio like running and walking lunges on the treadmill, the Stair- master, Stepper Machine and peddling on the exercise bike, with my ass always off the seat. With bikini division, there isn’t really a bulking period so I generally never allow myself to get any bigger than about 135 lbs. (I’m 5’7). On the day of my competition, I weighed in at around 120 lbs. I basically added in more cardio over time and very gradual calorie reduction to lose the weight.
I also changed my weight sessions as I came closer to competition by incorporating more sets with higher reps. I went from three sets of 12 to 4 sets of 15 reps to 5 sets of 20 reps. I would also do a lot of supersets so that my weight sessions were also a cardio workout— burning even more fat. The only body parts I worked with really heavy weights were the those that I really needed to build, like my shoulders and glutes. For these areas, I did a lot of drop sets (starting as heavy as possible and lightening up with each set.)
Right now, I’m not in crazy competition mode so I’m doing both cardio and weights every second day which works out to four days of exercise and two or three rest days per week. I only do 20 minutes to half an hour of cardio in the morning and about 45 minutes of weights in the afternoon or evening. My current train- ing program is an upper/lower body split. So I do upper body one session then lower body the next, but I switch my program every six weeks or so.
I also like to do a plyometrics workout once per week. Plyometrics are an “explosive-reactive” type of “jump training.” I do stuff like squat jumps and stationary lunges.
Like most competitors, to get really cut right before competition, For instance, I ate asparagus constantly (a natural diuretic) and consumed dandelion root (another natural diuretic) before my last competition. These supposed natural diuretics help to flush out the excess fluids in between skin and muscle.
Generally speaking (whether training to compete or not), I get most of my protein from tempeh, tofu, beans and high quality, plant- based protein powder. I paid very close attention to macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat). My go-to starchy complex carb sources are yams, squash, quinoa and oatmeal. For fats, I love almond butter, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and flax seed oil. I also make sure to drink a minimum of two or three litres of water per day and I ALWAYS give myself a day of rest every week. Rest days are so important!
My best weight loss/muscle building advice for others would be to commit to exercising 30 minutes a day, four days a week. Pick days and times that work for you and stick with it, no matter what. Mark those workouts in your calendar. Make sure everyone knows that those times are for your workouts. Even if you only have the energy or desire to walk during those 30 minutes or do a half hour yoga video at home, just promise yourself that you are committed to exercising for those 30 minutes, four times a week.
Then every month, increase the intensity (not necessarily the time) of those workouts. Jog for 30 minutes, do a 30 minute cardio kickboxing video at home etc. And most importantly, remember that diet is so important!! I wish— oh how I wish—that I could eat dessert all day long and not get fat, but it just doesn’t work like that. Make the majority of your meals healthy and adhere to proper portion sizes! Eat six small meals a day. And if you’re only willing to make one change to your diet, my advice is to eat a big, green, leafy salad every single day.
Remember the words of the greatest philosopher of all-time: Yoda of course! “Do or do not. There is no try.”
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