Badass Vegan Athletes Part 6: Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko
Anastasia earned a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, after which she conducted research in the field of sports nutrition and exercise science.
She is an online strength and nutrition coach, as well as a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter who represented Great Britain at the bench press world championships in South Africa.
Anastasia is the co-founder of and chief scientist at Science Bakes. She combined her scientific knowledge, coaching experience, and athletic background to create nutritious, quick-to-prepare, protein-packed meals for the modern consumer.
What are some ways in which your active, vegan lifestyle contribute to your quality of life? What does it do for you? How does it enhance your life?
The answer is very simple: it makes me feel great. Feeling great and comfortable in your skin is the best motivation to keep going. Who wants to feel sluggish like an unhealthy couch potato? Most people don’t.
In addition to this, there is the identity point: what is the “ideal person” I want to be? People mostly want to see themselves as good people who do things that are right. Here, veganism comes in. The more I learned about the negative impacts of factory farming, the more I felt that living a vegan lifestyle is morally the right thing to do for me. I don’t want to support something and contribute to something I consider to be wrong or unnecessary. For me, veganism is about doing the least harm possible, and respecting all living beings, the environment, and ourselves.
Please share your best nutrition tips for vegans who are interested in healthy diets to support their active lifestyles.
• Educate yourself. Learn what you should eat and what supplements you should take (e.g. Vitamin B12) to support your body, your health, and your athletic performance.
• Eat enough protein, while balancing your calories. If you are a big guy or a very active person (e.g. an endurance athlete), you can use more whole foods that contain not only protein, but also lots of carbs or fat (e.g. legumes or nuts, respectively) to cover your protein needs. However, if you are a petite female or want to lose weight or don’t move very much, then you need to choose your protein sources smartly to keep your calories in check. For the latter case, great protein sources are tofu, seitan, home-made protein bread, protein powder, or fat-reduced nut or seed flours for cooking or baking.
• Eat enough nutrient-rich foods like fruits and veggies, but don’t overdo it. Too much fiber can cause digestive problems like bloating or constipation.
As a plant-based athlete, what sorts of foods do you prepare or pack when you travel?
When I travel I have vegan protein sources with me and get fruits, veggies, and nuts in supermarkets.
Here’s what I pack:
• Protein powder portioned in small bags or containers. You can just put it into a glass and add water to it.
• Protein bars.
• Space bars or similar vegan faux meats that are high in protein and don’t have too much fat. I pay attention that the products are vacuum-packed, and you can store at room temperature.
• Small portion sizes of dry roasted chickpeas.
• Homemade protein pancakes or doughnuts.
How do you think your life would have been different, had you not decided to become vegan?
This is difficult to say, as you can’t turn back time. However, one thing I can say for sure is that I wouldn’t have met many amazing vegan athletes who become my very good friends.
Do you have any active living tips to share with vegans who are just beginning to exercise, or those who want to be more active?
Just do it. It’s hard to start and it will get easier as you keep going. Choose a training program, stick to it, learn from more experienced people, and educate yourself. If you get discouraged and lose motivation, look back to see how far you have come.
What has been the greatest diet- or nutrition-related challenge for you as a plant-based athlete?
Not to overeat on peanut butter ;)
But seriously, when I had just started, it was not letting myself be influenced by things other people/athletes do, and find what is the right thing for me. Just because a top vegan athlete drinks a green smoothie every morning, doesn’t mean that you need to do the same. Just because someone you admire eats 8 meals a day, doesn’t mean that you can’t eat less often and still get great results.
I don’t mean that you shouldn’t get inspiration from other athletes. I just mean that you need to adjust everything individually to you and your lifestyle. Also, consider the option that sometimes athletes do stupid stuff when it comes to nutrition because they aren’t scientists or nutritionists. It’s not necessarily a certain diet that makes a talented athlete exceptional, it’s the exceptional genetics that make the athlete perform well, despite a sub-optimal diet.
How do you promote muscle recovery?
To be honest, I don’t do anything special to promote muscle recovery. My body recovers well from training. I just make sure not to do anything stupid in training that can make me sore. Many people think that soreness is a sign of efficient training. However, the opposite is the case. Soreness is a sign that you have exceeded the recovery capacity of your body.
What are some athletic achievements you’d like to highlight?
My top achievements as a vegan athlete were becoming the British Bench Press Vice-Champion in 2016 and representing Great Britain at the World Championships in the same year.
Anastasia on the No-B.S. Vegan podcast
Anastasia was on episodes 004 and 005 of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, busting myths about protein, high carb diets, the typical bodybuilder training split, and much more.
The Badass Vegan Athlete Series
Sprouted Gains: Your guide to gaining muscle, losing fat, and fuelling your strength training on a plant-based diet.
Karina's ebook, Sprouted Gains, shows you how to enjoy delicious plant-based foods while making sure you nail your fitness and physique goals.
The best part? You don't have to cut carbs, chug 3 protein shakes a day, forgo your favourite foods, or spend 5 hours meal prepping every Sunday.