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SIMONE COLLINS INTERVIEW WITH CROSSFIT MORELAND
Originally told she could not gain muscle on a vegan diet, she’s proven the skeptics wrong winning the IFBB Figure Novice State title, and setting her sights on the OPEN category.
With the goal even bigger and motivation waning, she’s now started CrossFit and hasn’t looked back.
We caught up with one of the most humble, passionate and dedicated vegan women we’ve ever met.
Oh and she has bigger biceps than you!
Ben: Thank you for speaking with us! To gain more insight into your history, how did you start training?
Simone: I grew up doing sports. When I was a kid I did athletics, ballet, swimming and more, so Iv always loved sports. Late teens, early twenties, I stopped exercising altogether and got pretty unhealthy, which started to really effect my overall wellbeing and everyday life.
I knew that I could feel better again, because I’d been there before (having played sports previously), so I just jumped into the gym one day and started training. My first gym was Doherty’s, which has a rich and highly successful history of bodybuilding, and I’m still there to this day!
Ben: What achievements have you accomplished on the bodybuilding side of things?
Simone: Well I came 4th in my first comp at the Australian Amateur Grand Prix in 2013, after that I came 3rd in the state titles of the same year, 2nd in the O’Mara Classic in 2014 and then this year at the 2014 State Titles I came 1st place in my division.
Ben: What made you choose to be vegan?
Simone: The main reasons for me where ethically based, I’ve been vegetarian since I was 13 years old so I’m pretty well adapted to not eating meat.
Eliminating dairy and eggs came about later once I learned more about the industry and didn’t agree with the way in which animals are treated and handled.
For me, I believe that I can’t be an ethical vegetarian and still consume some form of animal products, hence the change to vegan nutrition.
Ben: Do you find it challenging to get enough protein into your diet? Where do you source your protein from and how do you combat this issue faced by many vegans?
Simone: I try to get most of my protein from food, but I do supplement some of it. With the style of training that I do, coupled with my physique goals, I need to supplement with protein.
Not all vegans need to supplement protein, and you can get definitely get adequate amounts without it, but it’s very beneficial for my goals.
In terms of food, my main sources of protein are tofu and tempeh. I don’t take any soy based protein supplements, but I do have some soy-based products within my general nutrition. I prefer these as they have a relatively high protein content compared to other vegan protein sources.
However, you don’t have to eat soy to get enough protein. Lentils, legumes, peas and beans are all great sources. Some seeds, such as hemp and chia, are a good way to boost the protein content in a salad or shake. There are also some grains that are good sources of protein, such as quinoa, amaranth, millet and barley. Nuts also generally have a decent protein content.
A good trick to boosting the protein content of a meal, is to top a salad with nuts or seeds. For example, you can increase a basic side-salad by 10g of protein simply by adding hemp seeds in a dressing!
Ben: What does your typical day look like?
Simone: Breakfast: oats, flax meal, berries and protein powder. PranaOn by Billy Simmonds, an Australian Vegan Bodybuilder has a protein that is raw, organic, soy free, gluten free, all natural and tastes great!
Ill then go to my morning training session, either weights (bodybuilding) or CrossFit with a protein shake. PranaOn now also has a mass gainer protein with added carbs so that has been really helping me recover quickly and restore energy levels post training. 2-3 hours later I’ll have some nuts.
Lunch: Typical bodybuilding diet - some form of vegan protein source (tofu, tempeh, mixed beans, quinoa etc) with vegetables or a salad. At the moment I’m having 2 lunches a day!
Afternoon tea: some nuts and/or another protein shake. Sometimes I have some fruit or a fruit smoothie if I am going to train after work.
Dinner: typically the same as lunch, and then another protein shake or chia pudding if I feel like dessert.
Snacks: I snack on avocado, nuts, fruits, vegies, or sometimes some raw vegan snack foods, bliss balls, nori rolls (sushi), rice cakes, snack bars, protein bars or raw vegan chocolate.
Cheat Meals: I like to have 1-2 “cheat meals” a week, maybe some chips, a vegan burger or pizza, but generally I like to limit processed food in my diet.
Ben: Do you have BCAA’s?
Simone: There are a few that are vegan based, stemming from plant sources, they are at times harder to find and I’ve spent a lot of time emailing companies asking them about how they make the product and if it is ok for me to use.
I usually use these only coming up to competitions to make sure I’m fully prepared.
Ben: What BCAA’s do you take?
Simone: I’m using MRM Reload at the moment, as it’s all-natural, vegan, and contains no artificial flavors or colors. It’s naturally flavored, thankfully, as the other products I’ve tried previously that aren’t flavored don’t taste too good! There’s word on the grapevine that PranaOn might be bringing out a BCAA too – when they do I will definitely be onto it!
Ben: Ok so sounds like you have the protein side of things covered, what about iron?
Simone: I get regular blood tests to assess how my body is going, especially related to my iron levels. My results always come back really positive, with high iron levels and nothing to be concerned about.
I have actually never supplemented with iron before. I eat a lot of foods rich in iron, such as tofu, and lots (AND LOTS) of greens, which keeps me well above average.
A great way to get in more iron, and another little trick of mine, is to put plenty of greens into a smoothie and blend away with other ingredients (such as protein, powder and fruits). This dilutes the taste of the greens, so this works well for people who don’t like eating veggies and are missing out on vital nutrients contained within them.
Ben: So how about fats within your daily nutrition, where do you source this from?
Simone: I used to use flaxseed oil, however lately I have been trying to get away from refined and processed foods, so instead I’ll use flax meal, chia seeds, walnuts and hemp seeds, which are all really high in omega 3 fatty acids (brain/nervous system development and natural anti-inflammatory properties).
All the oils are more than fine for vegans to use, I’m just simply trying to cut them out and eat the raw form to see how my body responds.
Avocados are also a good source of fats, however they don’t have the added omega 3 content so I don’t have them as much.
I have some coconut products occasionally, as they are high in plant-based saturated fat, and medium chain triglycerides, which are both beneficial in small amounts for regulating hormone function and metabolism.
Ben: Are there any other challenges that you face when eating vegan?
Simone: B12, which is actually a bacteria, hence why it is found in a lot of meat and dairy, but not vegetables. It’s easy to get enough B12 simply be eating B12 fortified foods, nutritional yeast (which is a non-active yeast) or supplementation.
D3 – another vitamin that is not as common in vegan foods, however by getting enough sunlight, eating mushrooms and nuts, or supplementing, you can easily meet your D3 requirements. Just make sure if you supplement, it is vegan, as some are sourced from animal origins.
Creatine - there is a high amount of it found within red meat, which I obviously don’t have. Being a bodybuilder and wanting the physique that I do and the strength behind this physique I sometimes use creatine supplements. PranaOn Natural Mass contains creatine, so this has been helping me a lot.
It’s not something I take all the time, as the body does produce it’s own creatine. But as creatine is a major player in the production and utilization of energy, especially that required for bodybuilding and CrossFit training , I feel I benefit from occasional supplementation.
Ben: Are there any other challenges that vegans face?
Simone: no not really, just do your research and you’ll realize you can get everything you need as a vegan.
Ben: And how about planning, how much prep goes into your nutrition each day? How many Tupperware containers do you take to work haha?
Simone: (laughs) yes I have an array of containers that get taken to work each day. Overall it depends on whether I will be training again later in the day, and if so I will take more than I need in case I get hungry.
One of the best things about being vegan is food is so easy to prepare, you can simply put together some lettuce leaves, tomatoes, mushrooms and (if you didn’t have time to cook properly) just microwave some tofu or open a can of beans and you’re sorted. Nuts and seeds can also be added. Many of my bodybuilding friends spend hours a week slaving away at the stove over pans of meat. I don’t have to bother with any of that!
Ben: So how does the Bodybuilding community and the CrossFit community receive you, as far as being vegan goes?
Simone: Well it’s pretty interesting, when I started I was pretty skinny so I had a lot of people out there saying “you will never build muscle” (being vegan).
At that stage I didn’t really know if I could build muscle on a vegan diet, but I knew what my morals were, so I was just going to give it my best shot.
Nowadays, because I’ve had good results as a vegan, I get a lot less negativity. People are more interested in what I do than skeptical.
CrossFit, for me has also been really interesting. A lot of my friends are into the Paleo diet, and I’ve actually faced a little less negativity on what I do and how I eat.
Ben: So given your bodybuilding history and accomplishments what made you start CrossFit?
Simone: Well after I won my last competition and walked back into the gym, the first thought I had was “I’m over this” which came as a real surprise for me.
Up until then, training had become a real passion for me and it was almost depressing to feel such a way about something I loved to do.
I needed something to give me motivation, to give me a spark in my training again.
Lacking motivation was not something I had experienced before and I think it was because I just achieved a big goal that I’d had for such a long time, it was kind of like “well where do I go next”? I also knew that I would be in the open division in my next competition, which is much harder, and my body would have a few years to go before I was ready for this.
So I thought I’d try a few different styles of training. When I tried CrossFit it gave me back that spark, that passion for training again. I am now hooked!
Ben: During that session I believe I said you will “need bigger legs” haha?
Simone: (laughs) yes, I actually thought I was going to get the “Festival Legs Award” (nb: this is one of our annual awards given to members, given to the individual who has the biggest upper body and smallest legs, relatively speaking…it’s a bit of fun J).
Ben: Do you know the exact circumference of your biceps haha?
Simone: (laughs) I don’t know, but I did measure them! I have just forgotten (more laughs). I actually have a tape measure specifically for that at home (big laughs).
Ben: Do you find there are any differences between preparing for a bodybuilding session and a CrossFit session?
Simone: Yes its very different. The first thing I noticed about my training was that it wasn’t as functional as CrossFit. I realized that I had been training my muscles to grow but I hadn’t been training them to be functional and be able to do more real world challenges.
In bodybuilding it is much more isolated movements, focusing on the muscle contracting which I do very well. But then throw me into a CrossFit session and I look pretty funny. Not a lot of co-ordination (laughs)!
Funnily enough, in the lead up to my last comp I did a lot more full body movements; squats, deadlifts and so on, and I felt like my body was changing a lot. All for the better.
Ben: Has CrossFit changed the way you eat?
Simone: Yes! I used to do a low carb diet. Since starting CrossFit, due to the level of intensity you work at during each session, I now include a lot more carbs in my diet, and a lot more food in general (laughs)!
Now that I’ve included more fruits, grains and starchy foods, I have found that my performance is getting better.
Ben: And physique wise, has increasing your carb intake affected you?
Simone: No I don’t think so. It’s normal to gain back a little (healthy) weight after a comp, but I haven’t noticed anything different this time while increasing carbs, besides having more energy!
Ben: What would you say to someone who is currently vegan and wants to start CrossFit?
Simone: just make sure you eat enough (laughs)!
Because most of the foods you are eating as a vegan are a lot lower in calories, you need to balance things out by increasing the total volume of your food intake.
Ben: What do you think of the paleo diet?
Simone: I love that it focuses on unprocessed foods and no dairy. Being all natural and deriving my nutrition from good quality, wholesome foods, is very important to me, so overall I like some of the principles it stands for, ie clean, healthy eating.
There are of course elements which I do not do, including eating fresh meats and so on.
Ben: What do you say in relation to much of the research now pointing to the deleterious effects of consuming soy based products?
Simone: well personally I have been having soy for over 15 years without any adverse effects, plus I’m not sold on the research side of things with many conflicting studies. It’s a matter of personal choice and seeing whether your body agrees with it or not. That’s my opinion.
I use my blood tests as a measure of how my thyroid, hormones and so on are going. So far I’ve had no abnormalities and no issues.
Ben: Do you have any recommendations on support groups or places people can go to find out more information about eating vegan?
Simone: veganbodybuilding.com is where I originally gained a lot of great info and support. For those looking to get started as a vegan, www.veganeasy.org is great!
I don’t know if there are any vegan CrossFit websites yet (big laughs)! But I do know that PlantBuilt (a vegan bodybuilding and strength team) have an all-vegan CrossFit team!
Ben: Maybe you should start one?
Simone: (laughs), yes perhaps I should! It’s definitely possible to be vegan and do CrossFit, both recreationally and competitively.
Ben: Any recommended reading?
Simone: Robert Cheek, who started the veganbodybuilding.com website has some great books available on the site. I also recently purchased a book called “Paleo Vegan”. It’s really interesting as it has a whole lot of great recipes along with information on how to get the best of both worlds (ie, paleo and vegan).
Ben: Well thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today and best of luck in all your upcoming bodybuilding and perhaps even CrossFit competitions!
Simone: Very welcome and thank you to everyone for reading! Best of luck in all your training endeavors!
Recommended stores for organic food and vegan products:
Aunt Maggies, Terra Madre, Joe’s Organic Market, Prahran Convenience, Evelyn Faye, The Cruelty Free Shop, Great Earth and the Uproar Store - www.uproar.org.au/uproar-shop - all have a great range and decent prices for organic fruit, veggies, health supplements and vegan foods.
Check out this helpful guide to find great places to shop in your area: http://www.veganeasy.org/Vegan-Shopping-Guide
Supercharger Wholefoods in the Emporium food court (near Melbourne Central) is perfect for natural, organic, unprocessed vegan “fast food” – a great alternative to your average food court meals which are not often all that healthy.
Simone’s health and fitness journey began in 2010. In an attempt to regain health and fitness, and recover from anxiety, stress, depression and being underweight, she started training at Doherty’s Gym City. As Doherty’s is one of Australia’s most well-known ‘hardcore’ bodybuilding gyms and host to the biggest IFBB competitions in the country, it wasn’t long before she started attending and volunteering at the shows. Inspired by the dedication and hard work from all the athletes she watched, Simone made the commitment to train for and compete in her first show: 2013 FitX IFBB Australian Amateur Grand Prix. From there she was hooked! She has competed in the following competitions:
· 2013 IFBB Australian Amateur Grand Prix: 4th
· 2013 IFBB Victorian State Titles: 3rd
· 2014 IFBB Australian Amateur Grand Prix: 6th
· 2014 IFBB O’Mara Classic World Qualifier: 2nd
· 2014 IFBB Victorian State Championships (Figure, Novice class): 1st
Simone also won the 2013 International Transformation of the Year Award on Bodybuilding.com
Simone is a team member of Evolved Generation, an all-vegan Australian Strength and Athletic team. Together they will be competing as part of the international vegan PlantBuilt team of bodybuilders, powerlifters, strength, and CrossFit athletes in Texas for the Naturally Fit Games.
Having recently found a new love for CrossFit, Simone hopes to further develop her skills, strength and fitness enough to compete in CrossFit competitions as well.
Simone has recently been sponsored as and athlete and ambassador for the vegan protein and health supplement brand Prana Organic Nutrition, founded by vegan bodybuilder and 2009 Mr Natural Universe winner, Billy Simmonds.
Training and competing is Simone’s passion in life, but she also views it as a form of activism – she hopes to change the way people view veganism, and try to dispel the myths that large quantities of meat and animal-derived supplements are necessary to get on stage, or achieve health and fitness goals.