I have always been mesmerized by bodybuilders because of their strength, poise and the determination it must have taken them to reach their fitness goals. Though I have never had a direct correlation to bodybuilding myself, I grew up in a household with a sister who was obsessed with bodybuilders. Amongst posters of her favorite rockstars like Prince and Motley Crue, she used to have magazine photos of both male and female bodybuilders taped to her walls as a teenager. My sister has always been the more athletic one in the family, she rode bikes, ran and swam on the swim team in high school whereas my athleticism came from dancing and riding horses. Though I don’t have a desire to become a bodybuilder myself (I would like to have a bit more of a muscular build however), I have great long-time wonder and respect for them.
It wasn’t until becoming a plant-based eater that I came to learn of vegan or plant-based bodybuilders. I hadn’t thought a lot about vegans being bodybuilders, but the more I am asked “where do you get your protein?” the more I find myself sharing information about athletes that succeed in their respective fields on plant-based diets. Most of us know that by eating a well rounded, mostly whole food, plant-based diet, there are plenty of ways to get all of the protein we need. If you have ever thought that being vegan or a plant-based eater may make you weak, have lack of energy or make you too thin, this blog post may make you reconsider.
Recently I learned about the non-profit PlantBuilt team and have had the pleasure of meeting a few of the team members while at various vegan events. PlantBuilt is a team of strictly vegan bodybuilders, crossfit and powerlifting athletes, that work to dispel the myth that one cannot assimilate muscle on a vegan diet. These athletes train like all other athletes; they take proper steps of fitness, nutrition, rest, etc., but do so to show others that they can do so living and eating in a compassionate way. According to their mission statement, PlantBuilt athletes: “…live, train, compete and educate showing the success of compassionate veganism.“
PlantBuilt approached me recently and asked if I would be interested in featuring one of their team members. I was thrilled at the idea since I have never covered a topic like this before on my blog. While I haven’t actually met the lovely Ashlee Harrison in person, I did have the pleasure of interviewing her. If you’re interested in how a vegan bodybuilder trains, what they eat, etc. read the short interview that follows below. Welcome Ashlee!
C&CG: How did you get into bodybuilding/fitness? Were you always an athletic person?
AH: I have always been fairly athletic, I grew up doing ballet and gymnastics, and playing softball. As an adult I kind of fell off the wagon, so to speak. I got into bodybuilding after a year and half stint trying to play roller derby in Seattle. I found the environment to be rather toxic and non-supportive. Once I decided to give that up I knew I wanted to do something active. I reached out to my friend, and now fellow teammate, Mindy Collette about starting to get into weight lifting and bodybuilding. I am the kind of person that does well with working towards a goal. She helped get me in touch with some resources and I jumped in head first.
C&CG: When did you become vegan and what’s your vegan story?
AH: I became vegan on June 21, 2013. Several years ago I did some research on the animal testing that takes place on beagles by Iams dog food company. I have a beagle and learning of the horrific things they do to beagles lead me down a rabbit trail of all kinds of horrific things that happen to animals. Animal testing for human products, and then eventually factory farming practices. My husband and I instantly became vegetarians. This lasted for about three years. Then due to lack of support, information, and unfortunately laziness, we began incorporating meat back into our diets. We thought buying meat from a local, “humane” farm would be a good option for us. This became a slippery slope back to living a traditional omnivorous lifestyle. This never set well with either of us. Once I got back in touch with Mindy about bodybuilding, I began digging into more of her lifestyle, what she does, and the whole PlantBuilt team. Instantly I knew the answer was veganism. We made the switch immediately, and now there is no going back. Not ever!
C&CG: What does a typical day look like for you in terms of workouts and your meals?
AH: My typical day begins with waking up around 4:00 AM, and to the gym by 4:45-5:00 (depending on how many times I hit snooze). I workout for about 1.5-2 hours, lifting as heavy as I possibly can. Little to no cardio. Then I work a 10 hour day, come home, shower, get stuff ready to do it all over again! I eat 6-7 meals throughout the day, every 2-3 hours. I don’t consume any protein powers because my body does not digest them well. I eat a variety of foods like oatmeal, nut butter, Beyond Meat, Gardien, tofu, homemade seitan, lots of green veggies, and nutritional yeast.
C&CG: Do a lot of non-vegans give you a hard time about your diet and ask you about your protein intake?
AH: Oh yes! All the time! But each interaction is an opportunity to educate people about a whole-foods, plant-based, cruelty-free diet.
C&CG: Can you tell me a little bit about PlantBuilt and when and how you became involved?
AH: PlantBuilt is a non-profit team, made of up crossfit, powerlifting, and physique athletes trying to dispel the myth that you can’t build muscle on a vegan diet. The idea of having a team go to one event and dominate by taking home placings and medals is so that people cannot discount the wins! If one vegan goes to one show and wins, it’s easy for people to dismiss their victory. But if an entire team shows up and takes home a majority of the trophies, people can’t dismiss a whole team of athletes! Collectively we can send a much bigger message than we are able to as individuals.
C&CG: Congratulations on your recent win in Austin, Texas. Can you tell us about it?
AH: Thank you! It was definitely fun and felt very rewarding, but I am by no means “done”. It’s satisfying to take home a 1st place trophy, but I know I still have a lot of work I want to do, I want to build a lot more muscle, and overall just have a better, bigger, stronger package to bring to the stage next time. So while winning is nice, it’s not the end of the line.
C&CG: If someone wanted to get started with weights/bodybuilding what would be your first tip to get going?
AH: I would say the first thing to ask yourself when getting into bodybuilding or weight training is to ask why you are doing it. Make sure that you are doing this for you and the right reasons, that way you are more likely to stick to it. Start a routine and stick to it. If you decide you are going to go to the gym four days a week, then don’t break that promise to yourself. Reach out to people that weight lift, whether it be online or a personal trainer. There are a lot of people out there that are willing and wanting to help people who are new to this sport, after all, we were all new once too! Bodybuilding.com is actually an amazing resource! They have a ton of plans on there that offer daily workouts based on either fat loss or muscle building, and it’s all free! That’s where I started initially, before hiring my trainer Dani Taylor. I did Jamie Eason’s 12 week trainer, and it was awesome!