Vegan Easy and Vegan Australia – together with Animal Liberation Victoria – are hosting yet another special Vegan Easy Challenge in celebration of World Vegan Month next month. According to Vegan Easy, more than 50% of people who sign up for the Vegan Easy Challenge do so for health and fitness reasons.
For this year’s challenge, Vegan Easy and Vegan Australia have partnered with Caitlin Adler of Plant Forged Physique. Caitlin is an accredited sports nutritionist who has put together three new health/fitness meal plans for the occasion.
Caitlin has an incredible story to tell, from becoming vegan in her early adult years, to switching careers and becoming a bodybuilder, to supporting her many clients through their vegan and fitness journey. Fire & Tea spoke to Caitlin about her own journey and how a vegan diet can be beneficial for anyone, not just athletes. Plus, she shares some inspiring knowledge.
Caitlin, have you always been vegan? If not, what inspired you to become vegan?
“I went vegan ‘cold turkey’, literally! So throughout my life I had been an on-and-off vegetarian from about the age of 14. In 2015, I was finishing my university degree and I had been eating animal products for some time. And something just didn’t feel right. Whenever I ate animals there was always this sense of guilt or emotional weight attached to it. A girl I knew from university (who was more of an acquaintance) was vegan and her choice of going vegan stirred up some contentious feelings in me. It also piqued my curiosity and I saw all the amazing and wonderful food she ate while still being true to her morals.
I lived in a share-house at the time and we watched a lot of Netflix at night. I came across the documentary Cowspiracy and it inspired me. I was absolutely in awe and proceeded to binge-watch other vegan-focused documentaries like Forks over Knives, The Cove, Food Inc, Blackfish and Rotten. I still continued to eat meat and animal products but it was at the forefront of my mind.
Each year, I make the Christmas lunch for our family and my mum always orders the biggest turkey which I have to prepare. So a few days before Christmas, I was busy washing and cleaning this turkey and it hit me. I couldn’t do this anymore. That was it, I went vegan. Over a cold turkey and I’ve never looked back!”
You are an accredited sports nutritionist and coach, and you run your own business Plant Forged Physique. What drew you to this profession?
“I didn’t start out originally in the health and fitness industry. I first had a 10+ year career in advertising and marketing and was lucky enough to work with some amazing brands like Google, Virgin Australia, Velocity Frequent Flyer, the Starlight Children’s Foundation, Telstra and more.
But I knew deep down that even though I was a good account manager, excellent project manager and enjoyed the creativity it brought but I didn’t love it.
I had always had an interest in fitness, nutrition and the human body. I loved Biology at school. I’ve always stayed active; I was a competitive swimmer and gymnast and I played many sports throughout my life like waterpolo, netball, soccer, tennis (poorly!) and more during my younger years. After I left school I fell in love with going to the gym, but I struggled to see the changes and improvements I wanted.
When I was choosing my university course, I was originally interested in pursuing exercise science or dietetics but was (lovingly!) pushed to study something that had a wider industry to grow into.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my choice to go into marketing. My career in advertising taught me so much and equipped me with skills that make me a more well-rounded person. I understand what it’s like for my clients who work in high-paced corporate environments and struggle to juggle it all because that used to be me!
But my passion and interest in nutrition, the human body, sports and fitness never died.
Over the years, what has astounded me is the level of complex and conflicting information available even more so in veganism and plant-based diets. As a teenager and young adult, I fell into many of the ‘health and fitness traps’ that I now spend my time now helping clients out of. It was frustrating, confusing and, overall, made me lack confidence in my body and around food.
So I started to pursue a formal education in nutrition to see if I truly was passionate about it. And as my knowledge and education grew, so did my confidence. It improved my relationship with food, the way I fuelled my body, and clarity around diet. It was incredibly freeing and it only strengthened my passion for nutrition, food and fitness further. I really want all vegans and anyone on a plant-based diet to have that same level of confidence, clarity and understanding around how nutrition works for them. So it’s why I began Plant Forged Physique and providing an educational platform for my clients.”
You are also a vegan bodybuilder. Why did you start bodybuilding? What does a typical week of eating and training look like for you?
“I was first introduced to bodybuilding by a gym-friend who competed once. I attended his show and I saw all the incredible women and thought ‘wow’. A lot of people think bodybuilding is a vain sport but it’s anything but that. It’s incredibly mentally challenging and forces you to become a more disciplined, determined and courageous person. I started bodybuilding primarily for the challenge it offers. It requires you to have discipline in your off-season for months and years to build muscle, then pushes yourself further than you ever thought possible and step on stage in condition.
A typical week of eating and training depends on if I’m preparing to compete or if I’m in my off-season (aka my improvement season). I don’t like to give specifics because my training and nutrition is unique to me, my physiology, and needs, and I wouldn’t want someone trying to follow it. But generally speaking, I resistance-train five days a week and I follow macro-tracking both in my prep and off season (with more flexibility in my off season). When I’m preparing for a competition I’ll have added step targets and cardio on top of that.”
Assumingly, you would travel regularly for bodybuilding competitions. Do you have a couple of fool-proof food travel tips you’d like to share?
“I’m assuming this question is focused around ‘how to stick to a diet while travelling’. And, to be honest, if I’m close to a show I pre-make all my food or know exactly what I’m going to eat and make it at my Airbnb.
But that’s not very useful for most people who aren’t bodybuilders or whose goals don’t require that high level of rigidity. It really depends on your goal and how much flexibility you can have, i.e. a bodybuilder a few weeks out from a show has less flexibility than someone who is trying to gain some muscle.
Many of my clients travel for work and we often tackle the challenge of trying to stay on-plan (or close to it and choosing the next best option) when travelling.
- Don’t indulge for every single meal – try to pick one main meal (i.e. breakfast, lunch or dinner) on the day that will be the one where you have more indulgent foods. Your other meals should be largely on-plan. That way, you can still experience fun, delicious foods or particular dishes and have a good time without overdoing it
- Wholesome snacks – when you arrive at a location purchase a range of ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables you can snack on if you just get a bit peckish. If you’re in Australia, Coles and Woolworths often have prepared fresh-cut fruits and vegetables you can just grab. By filling up on high-fibre, low calorie-per-bite options, you’re less likely to get overly hungry and can make better food-decisions to stay on track more easily
- Avoid going to events or restaurants very hungry – when we are very hungry, we’re not able to make health conscious decisions when eating out or at an event. Have a small snack 30 minutes prior (i.e. like fruit or veggies) so you still have an appetite, but you’re not starving
- Pack a protein powder with you when you travel. Protein sources while travelling and eating out can be a bit hit-and-miss, so it can be helpful to pack a protein supplement to fill in any ‘gaps’ at the end of the day. If you don’t want to take a whole bag, you can buy some sample packs!
Despite the rise in plant-based diets, plant-based nutrition and training are still relatively new concepts. What are some of the barriers you face when you practice from a vegan perspective? How do you overcome these challenges?
“The challenges and barriers I face working in the vegan health and fitness industry are pretty varied so I tend to address them on a case-by-case basis. But there are three main ones that come to mind.
- There are still prevalent misconceptions and myths around how soy can impact men and women’s hormones. Thankfully, there is also a lot of research out there that proves this isn’t the case. Generally I can overcome this issue by sitting down with the individual and walking them through the latest research, discussing their questions, and addressing any concerns they have.
- The issue of hitting your protein target on a plant-based diet is two-fold. There’s the misconception that it’s hard or impossible to get enough protein on a vegan diet which simply isn’t true. And then there’s the actual challenge some people face with meeting certain protein targets on a vegan diet. The perspective I focus on is that meeting your protein needs on a plant based diet is 100% possible, but it does require a bit more care and attention. I put an emphasis on implementing enough quality and efficient sources of protein regularly in my clients meals (i.e. tofu, tempeh, TVP, soy protein isolate, some mock meats), then supporting this protein intake with protein ‘swaps’ or less efficient sources of plant protein (legumes, high-protein pasta/bread, nutritional yeast, soy yoghurt or milks, protein-dense veggies, etc)
- We’ve seen a rapid increase of plant based meats, ice cream, chocolate, coconut yoghurts, lollies, ready-made-meals and more. The abundance of these convenient, delicious, and indulgent vegan products is fantastic for the overall vegan movement and getting more people to experiment with plant-based products. A lot of these products are also designed for taste (rather than nutrition), so there are also many products available that aren’t as health-seeking – with higher amounts of fat, carbohydrates, sodium and saturated fat. This means these convenient vegan products exist on a spectrum from nutritionally-dense to indulgent. There is nothing wrong with these more indulgent products on occasion but as they are labelled ‘vegan’ (which often has a perceived ‘health halo’) they’re often not recognised or seen as an treat. The challenge is these convenient foods are becoming increasingly more of a staple of modern vegan diets, and taking the place of more nutritionally-dense options like vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and soy-based proteins.
Ultimately, individuals can struggle to meet their health, fitness and nutritional goals as a result. When working with my clients, we often will review their food and product choices together, including their frequency in their diet. We often have to get quite product-specific (i.e. not all plant-based meats are made equal) and they’ll learn what to look for when it comes to selecting specific products. My experience in the vegan and plant-based space means I can literally speak their language when it comes to specific product selection! No food is off limits, it’s just a matter of understanding which ones fit the regular-roster frequently versus as a treat occasionally.”
As a specialist plant-based trainer and accredited sports nutritionist, what common – detrimental – patterns do you see in people when it comes to nutrition and personal health? How can they overcome these patterns and change their behaviour for the better?
“The biggest detrimental pattern I see is a preoccupation with perfectionism over consistency.
A lot of people think that when they start a health or lifestyle change, that it needs to be perfect. i.e. waiting for the perfect time to start a health change, writing off days or even weeks so they can ‘start fresh’ after a small slip, or they feel a lot of stress when they can’t hit things ‘perfectly’ and choose to bow out and give up rather than try to give themselves concessions to be more flexible.
When it comes to achieving results, consistent imperfection will always beat inconsistent perfectionism.
So I’d encourage people to see their goals and health seeking habits as a dial, not an on-and-off switch.
Set the goal and feasible time frame. Then allow for some wiggle room with your effort and the time-frame. Sometimes, you’ll be able to ‘dial things up’ and make serious progress i.e. when your motivation is high or life’s stressors are low. And then there will be other times when you need to ‘dial down’, there’s been a few bumps in the road, or you have other competing priorities. But across the board, the average, you’re still ‘doing enough’ to progress or maintain. You keep showing up each day and doing your best, based on what is situationally appropriate at the time.
Always aim for the best effort you’re able to. But if you miss your mark, scaling back does not impede your goals! However, falling off completely will.
We get sick of hearing about consistency, but it’s true and it’s why the good old 80/20 rule is popular for a reason. I would much rather a client have pretty good training and nutrition all of the time, than perfect and saintly adherence just some of the time.”
Can you recommend how someone can start a vegan diet and lifestyle if they believe they can’t change or are struggling to make a change? A lack of protein always seems to be a misconception for some people, too…
“When people are struggling, it’s often based on two things
- They’re busy focusing on what they’re ‘losing’ rather than what they gain. Some people approach vegan or plant-based diets with the perspective of ‘exclusion’. ‘I can’t eat this’ or ‘I can’t have that’ etc.
Rather than focusing on what you want to remove from your diet, see how much you can ‘add’ to your diet. For example, experiment with different foods, try different restaurants, try out different products, taste different plant-based meats, and not to mention there’s a million and one different ways to use tofu! When people focus on broadening their horizons it makes the experience more enjoyable.
- They’re trying to make too big of a jump for what they’re realistically ready for, and expect a certain level of perfection they can’t meet just yet.
Going straight to veganism is easy for some but a big lifestyle change that can be a hard adjustment for others, even if you have the best intentions!
At the end of the day, the priority is to make sure it’s something you can sustain and enjoy, as there’s very little point for people to rush head-first into something they can’t stick to or hate. Take your time and avoid the pressure to try and remove foods by a certain deadline.”
There are a number of vegans who are also experiencing auto-immune disease. For example, I am vegan but I also have Coeliac Disease. How do you coach individuals when they are trying to manage their vegan lifestyle and their auto-immune issues at the same time?
“As a sports nutritionist, my scope of practice focuses on the science behind and application of proper nutrition for general weight management, body composition management, nutrition during exercise, athletic competition, and the role of proper nutrition and supplements in enhancing performance.
I truly believe in providing the best care for a client. So if I have an individual who has a condition outside of my scope, or potentially in an area I am less familiar with, I am not afraid to stick my hand up and bring in support or consult other professionals. Sometimes it takes a village, and that’s ok! It’s more important to provide the best outcome for the individual I’m working with.
I often work with other allied health professionals such as dietitians, physiotherapists, exercise scientists, personal trainers, psychologists and more. Together, we can develop a more comprehensive and cohesive plan to manage a client’s vegan lifestyle along with any underlying health conditions. If the individual has a health-professional they already work with, I’m very eager to collaborate with them to make sure that the coaching I provide in my specialty aligns with the advice and guidance from their specialty.”
What role do fitness and health goals play in our lives? Do you have to have a fitness and health goal in order to improve your quality of life?
“At a more general level, setting goals and working to achieve them helps us define what we truly want in life. Health and fitness goals can do many things like create new behaviours, teach you new things, reach certain milestones, make tangible positive improvements to your life, give your focus, and help you sustain that momentum in life.
That said, a goal is only as useful as its importance to the person.
Do you need a health and fitness goal? Short answer – no!
There are many ways to achieve and improve your quality of life outside of health and fitness. You could pursue study or education, have a financial aim, focus on your relationships, or another goal that brings meaning and value to you. You should set a goal you care about and that you feel is important. If a health and fitness goal (i.e. running X kms, lifting X kg, losing X kgs, doing X competition) is an experience or achievement that provides that for you, then great! But just setting a health and fitness goal because you feel pressure means that the goal likely won’t hold enough meaning or value to see it through to completion.”
Can you share one success story that you are particularly proud of?
“Stepping on stage this year for my bodybuilding season is a huge personal success I am incredibly proud of. My last prep had to be cut short due to COVID, just a few short weeks before competing. So I’ve spent pretty much the entirety of the last two years working towards this season.
No matter how I place or perform, I am incredibly proud of not only the physical changes I’ve been able to make in my physique to bring a better, more competitive package this time around, but also the mental growth that the past two years have delivered. Prep pushes you to your very limits and teaches you a resilience, fortitude, and mental strength. Each time you learn more about yourself and expand what you are capable of achieving in the face of adversity.”
This year, you’ve partnered with Vegan Easy to put together three new health/fitness meal plans as part of the Vegan Easy Challenge for World Vegan Month this year. What can participants expect? Are the plans easy to follow?
“More and more people are looking towards a plant-based diet to learn about how it can support their health and fitness goals, so I’m really excited to be part of this rendition of the 30 Day Vegan Easy Challenge that does just that.
We’ve created three new categories of meal plans: muscle-building & strength, fuelling endurance & maintaining bodyweight, or fat loss & general wellbeing. Each series contains seven days of meals that can be used as a blueprint to extend throughout the 30 days, and is tailored towards that particular goal with different energy and macronutrients in each.
One thing we kept in mind was every person’s energy and nutrition requirements will be different depending on their goal, body, and lifestyle. So this challenge equips participants with the tools and knowledge to personalise these meal plans to their own unique needs. It’s your customisable toolkit to kick-start your health and fitness goals on a vegan diet!
There’s a particular emphasis on utilising efficient plant-based protein sources to help with muscle-building, recovery, and fat loss, as well as a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains for overall health.
Participants will also be guided through the whole process with daily emails with support and guidance from the Vegan Easy team across topics like how to transition to a vegan diet, nutrition basics, planning vegan meals, the benefits of a plant based diet, how to incorporate new habits and more. Plus on top of that, there’s the dedicated support group with the experienced Vegan Easy mentors.
And for those who want extra support after the first seven days, I’ll be offering Vegan Easy challengers with a special one-on-one coaching package that’s completely customised to them to make sure they continue their journey and achieve their goals. People can sign up for the free November Vegan Easy Challenge simply by going to veganeasy.org/challenge .”
What would you say to someone who is considering taking the Vegan Easy Challenge this year and doesn’t know where to start?
“The Vegan Easy Challenge is a step-by-step guide for anyone interested in taking on lifestyle, health or fitness improvements on a plant-based diet. And it’s arguably the most hands-on, detailed and supportive vegan challenge out there! So you’re in good hands.
You’ll be guided through the entire process with helpful tips, content, experts, and mentors. By doing the challenge you become part of a cohort of like-minded individuals going through the same process. We have all been there and we get it. So no matter what, we will have your back, help you solve any challenges, answer questions, cheer you on, and be there to support you as you complete the challenge.”
Make a change and sign up the 30-Day November Vegan Easy Challenge next month starting on November 1. Sign up and receive practical support and guidance throughout the 30 days including recipes, brand new meal plans, informative emails, videos, access to a support group and experienced vegan mentors. Sign-up up is free.
Plus, you will receive discounts from select vegan businesses, there will be prize giveaways throughout October, and you have the chance to go in the running to win amazing gift vouchers at the end of the Challenge. Need more information? Read more about the 2022 challenge here.
Vegan Easy is a not-for-profit initiative founded by Animal Liberation Victoria, partnered with Vegan Australia. Their purpose is to help people open their hearts and minds to go vegan and reduce the amount of suffering in the world.
The Vegan Easy 30-Day Challenge is proudly supported by @fireandtea and is brought to you by @veganeasy and @veganaustraliaofficial .