From Endurance Training to Bikini Competition: My Plant-Fuelled Journey
I have been a competitive athlete since I could stand. I was in gymnastics at age three, martial arts by age six, and placing first in citywide and regional championships for 800meter track by the age of twelve. I’ve since moved on to the world of triathlons, endurance cycling, and marathons. As my family likes to put it, I am a bee-in-a-jar: constantly on the go, always searching for my next big adventure, and pushing myself through one arguably crazy physical challenge after the next.
As an athlete I have always been motivated by performance, not just with my training, but also with how I fuel my body. So it’s with a bit of irony that I decided to venture into the world of fake tans, muscles, and clear heels. This year, I entered my first fitness competition and man, did I ever learn a lot.
The whole journey started off as a bit of a joke. For one, I am a self-professed feminist and the thought of being judged purely on aesthetics was something that took a lot of moral reckoning in order for me to find peace with my decision to compete. Secondly, the fitness world is a culture of serious pro-supplementation and high animal-protein consumption. Yes, there is a time and a place for supplementation, but I strongly believe that everything your body needs should come predominantly from whole foods.
Oh, and did I mention, I’m 100% plant-fuelled and decided to do this journey supplement free? Seeing as the general populous like to believe that vegans are malnourished, emaciated, un-kempt hippies; one can only imagine the shock and disbelief as people discovered that my 150lb, 5’9” athletic frame is tofu-powered.
I did not parade around the gym chanting, “meat is murder” or hand out pro-vegan leaflets – people expressed interest in my training, which I will get into later, and I simply let them know what I was training for and how I was fuelling my body. I will say that it felt pretty great when I shifted a few preconceived notions on what vegan looks like. Plant-jacked, baby!
So how exactly does a vegan endurance athlete get stage-ready? It’s simple: work hard, have an open mind, and a whole lot of trial and error. Luckily for me, I had an amazing friend and trainer, Rey Macaranas, who took me on as his guinea pig and got me where I needed to be. Our program started four months out from my October 11th show date, and those four months turned out to be one of the most rewarding training experiences I have ever had.
Rey, an athlete himself, designed my training not just so I would look the part, but made sure that everything I was doing would enhance performance in my other sports: he made me stronger, faster, and more powerful than I have ever been before. It felt amazing getting up on that stage and knowing that my body did not just look the part, but had been transformed into a high-performance powerhouse.
For me, the training was the fun part. I love pushing my body to its limits and watching it adapt and transform. The toughest part was nutrition. It was tough, not because I eat poorly, but in having to flip everything I know about fuelling-up for performance, completely upside down. My nutrition did a 180 the month leading up to my competition; it was not about keeping me strong, it was about leaning me out and conditioning my body to run off of fat instead of glycogen.
Needless to say, when you are training twice a day, with no carbs (fruit included), minimal fat, and eventually no salt, it is a huge physical and emotional push. My advice to those of you who are considering doing a show, especially if you are a carb-loading endurance nut like me, apologize to your friends and loved ones well in advance of becoming a carb-depleted angry-pants. You can thank me later.
In the end, this newbie ended up competing against some incredible national athletes and qualified for Provincial championships. I am very proud of myself and the most important things that I am taking away from this experience are:
1. The importance of doing and following through with something completely out of your comfort zone.
2. To succeed in any sport, genetics are great, but hard work and dedication is better.
3. To not let closed-mindedness be your crutch in achieving what you want.
4. Carbs are your delicious friends.
5. You don’t have to eat seven chicken breasts a day to build muscle like a champ.