When I think about body building, the first thing that pops into my head is muscly people walking around in tiny bikinis/speedos, eating bowls full of boiled chicken.
So, when I came across plant based body builders, the popular idea that you must eat animal products to be ‘buff’, was blown out the window.
Shani Vetter, aka @smilingassassinfitness on instagram, let’s me probe into what it’s like in the life of a plant based body builder.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I arrived in Australia from Zimbabwe at 18 years of age all set to study and pursue a career in Illustration with no real passion for food, running or even the thought of lifting weights! Boy have things changed! About 6 years ago I started to take a good hard look, not only at my aesthetic body on the outside, but also how I was feeling about myself inwardly. Remembering a time in my life where I felt most confident, light and full of energy.. I remember it was a holiday I had taken for about a month where I stayed with a friend who was basically eating a Vegetarian diet. Instantly I knew I had to make that change for myself permanently. Flashforward a few years my passion for running and weight-training combined led me to a career in Personal Training – a career I never expected but now can’t imagine living without!
What is your eating philosophy?
I have been Vegan for ethical and health awareness reasons for nearly 3 years now. When making the very abrupt decision to make this step with my husband I was very careful to surround myself with as much advice and inspiration as possible – I knew that this was a lifestyle that was going to stay with me for the rest of my life and I wanted to thrive on it as I knew it could be done! Looking back on how my diet has changed I can’t believe how crazy it really is for instance to be consuming another species milk (?) – I’m positive any adult would turn up there nose at drinking a human mother’s breast milk and yet we are happy to drink a baby calf’s source of milk? It all seems so clear once you take the “blinkers” off in life.
When and why did you decide to start eating this way?
After dabbling in some reading on Facebook one evening it led me to an article particularly describing the process of eggs and how all male chicks are “disposed” of within the industry – it had honestly never even crossed my mind that this occurred and it’s like I opened a flood door of new research and emotions that just couldn’t be closed. Over the next few days my husband and I immersed ourselves in documentaries and articles – one imparticular that we loved as it talked a lot about the health aspect of a plant-based diet was Forks over Knives. From that point onwards Veganism – the diet and the lifestyle, have been a driving force in both our lives – we truly do want to lead with gentle inspiration and allow our fit and healthy lives to be a form of “activism” for going Vegan.
Have you noticed any difference since changing your eating philosophy (if any)?
Absolutely! Initially the changes were a drop in body fat, a feeling of more energy (lightness) and waaaay more regular bowel movements – did I just go there? Yep I did… My digestive system went from train wreck to smooth running freeway within a matter of days. Looking back over the last 3 years it amazes me that NOT ONCE have myself or my husband needed to go to the doctor for any reason whereas prior we had various issues requiring antibiotics etc…
Have you met any barriers to eating this way, if so, how did you overcome them?
In the first few months the challenges we faced were mainly when “eating out” – we still had to educate ourselves on what may contain hidden animal products and not be afraid to politely ask for changes to be made at cafes where possible. Nowdays we realise there is such a great range of whole foods to eat – you start to look at menus differently… anything is doable
What is your favourite dish to make?
Whenever we have guests coming over I love the chance to serve a tasty plant-based spread – my favourite “go to” dish at the moment is grilled Smoked Tofu served with a Spinach, Mango and Avocado salad topped with Walnuts and served with Quinoa, Rice or Sweet Potato. Dessert is Banana ANYTHING!
What ingredients are a must-have for your fridge/pantry?
In our fridge you’ll always find Berries, Baby Spinach, Organic Tofu, homemade Almond Milk, Soy Milk, Veggies and pre-made batches of Roast Sweet Potato, Rice and Quinoa to add to meals.
Staples in the pantry are Rolled Oats, Nuts, Seeds Chickpeas, Lentils, Kidney Beans, Raw Protein Powder and Nutritional Yeast Flakes (sprinkle that stuff on everything!)
Juices or smoothies? What do you prefer and what combination?
I’m definitely a smoothie lover! Even more so when they are made from frozen bananas so it’s like eating ice-cream! My fave combo is Banana, Spinach, Dates blended and topped with Pumpkin Seeds for extra protein/zinc.
Sweet or savoury?
Sweet – that’s why I train – haha!!!
Can you share a fave recipe with us?
During my comp prep I kept my sugars and fats lower than normal but definitely did not sacrifice my carbs! This was a little treat I ate every single day in the lead up – it really reminded me of good old-fashioned Rice Pudding.
1/2 Cup cooked Basmati Rice
Mix with 1 scoop Vanilla Raw Protein Powder (such as Prana Organic)
Enough Almond Milk to make creamy
Top with Cinnamon
Can you describe your day on a plate (from rise to bedtime)?
Upon rising – Oats with Almond Milk and Raw Protein Powder with sprinkle of coconut flakes and Cacao.
Mid-morning – Green Smoothie
Lunch – Chickpeas with Salad and Hummus
Pre-workout – Banana smoothie
Post-workout – Raw Protein shake + rice or sweet potato
Dinner – Grilled Tofu with Quinoa or Rice and stir fried Veggies
After dinner treats – I have a warm cup of tea with Soy Milk every night and occasionally add a square of Pana Chocolate or make a little banana ice-cream bowl
How do you stay fit and what is your training schedule like?
My passions are weight training and running – some may say that’s a little conflicting but I do make sure I focus on one more than the other if it’s in the lead up to a comp or a big run event. At the moment my routine is a little more relaxed so I’m weight training 3-4 x per week and running at least 3 times per week in the lead up to a 28km trail run in January. During comp prep in order to gain lean muscle mass and lean down as much as possible my focus was entirely weight-training, only bringing in cardio sessions such as HIIT and walking about 3 weeks out. My week looked like this in the lead-up:
Monday PM – Chest and Back
Tuesday PM – Legs
Wednesday AM – Cardio
Wednesday PM – Shoulders and Arms
Thursday – REST
Friday AM – Chest and Back
Saturday AM – Cardio
Saturday PM – Legs
Sunday AM – Shoulders and Arms
If you had limited time and space, what would be a kick-ass work out that you would do?
When my husband and I travelled Italy/Greece last year we made it a rule not to go more than 2 days of rest without getting a good sweat session in so they had to be short and sweet so they weren’t cutting into our time. An example of a tough but really simple “no equipment required” workout is below:
20 Squat Jumps
20 Jump Lunges
Scales down to 18 of each then 16/14/12/10 etc…. and record what number you make it down to in 20 minutes!
Next time you do the same workout try to get lower!
(Exercises can be changed but theme of reps stays the same)
You’ve been involved in bodybuilding comps, and your pre-comp and general meal prep has inspired me to be more organised, thank you for that! But how did you get interested in bodybuilding?
I never thought I’d ever be keen on hitting a stage in front of hundreds of people in a skimpy bikini simply to flex my muscles BUT what really enticed me was (A) this would be a great way to challenge myself into transforming my own body – something I’d never really stuck to any sort of routine with before and (B) I knew that the Bodybuilding community was one full of Chicken/Egg and Whey Protein Powder diets – I want people to know you don’t HAVE to do it this way, in fact you can thrive far better without the meat and dairy inflaming your already stressed body!
Does bodybuilding require a lot of protein consumption to be successful? If so, how do you get the sufficient amount to hit your macros on a plant based diet? (sorry, probably the most annoying question ever)
Haha – so you’re asking “So, where do you get your protein?”
Happy to answer! I have not had enough time under my belt in the Bodybuilding world to experiment with my diet but I know other Vegan athletes who have competed purely on a Raw diet consuming no Tofu what-so-ever. I myself had the help of a great friend and coach Luke Tan who educated me about the balance of my macros and to be honest getting protein in was the easy part – I filled my day with a little tofu but the rest came from seeds, powder, beans and leafy greens. We need between 1.6 – 2.2g protein per kg of bodyweight with male heavyweight bodybuilders being on the higher end.
Do you follow a different nutrition plan and training schedule before comp?
Yes – I have found that although I can “wing it” I am setting myself up for a risk of ending up without the right type of food an sabotaging my balance which would stress me out especially closer to the comp date. So I plan weekly and try to keep prepping at least a few days worth in advance. I carry this through even when I’m off season at the moment – I don’t tend to carry around Tuppaware containers though off season haha! It’s more flexible now.
A lot of bodybuilders talk about finding it a challenge to maintain a certain physique post comp. Do you find this also? If not, what is it that you do that makes it easier?
I think more than anything it’s a mental challenge coming out of your “comp body”. The physique that you walk on stage with has been trained for and planned for meticulously and many girls drop to an extremely unhealthy level of body fat. I did not feel I went to the extreme at all.. of course I looked forward to freely eating treats and not “thinking” as much about what I was eating but my body is still in great shape – the muscle mass I accumulated during my training has made my body tolerant to eating more – yay!
If you could give someone a piece of advice regarding adopting a healthier lifestyle, what would it be?
Surround yourself with other healthy inspirational people both in life and on social media but remember it’s your journey and everyone’s is going to be a little different – find what works for YOU and make sure you are happy with it – it’s not necessary to struggle through.
What are your tips for staying mentally healthy in our fast paced world and with so many different life pressures?
Learn to say “no” sometimes… It’s ok to make YOU a priority in your life – if you are healthy and happy then those around you, your work, your family, your friends – they will all benefit from it.
So, for those of you thinking about starting on a body building journey, I hope that you have found this informative and please get onto IG and follow Shani @smilingassassinfitness for daily inspo
I know that I will definitely try to do more meal prep, if anything, it just makes it so much easier for those days that I’m at work. I do shift work so having healthy food prepped, packed and ready to go, means that I have more time to spend with my little ladies, train, clean the house, and all the 100 other things that mums do!
Here’s to multitasking and getting shit done!
Peas, love and mungbeans