Badass Vegan Athletes Part 3: Melody Schoenfeld
Melody Schoenfeld, MA, CSCS, has over 24 years of personal training experience. She was 2019's NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year and Personal Fitness Professional's February 2020 Trainer of the Month.
She is the owner of Flawless Fitness, a small personal training studio, and Evil Munky Enterprises, a small custom fitness equipment manufacturing business. Melody holds a master's degree in Health Psychology.
She has held state and American records in all three lifts in powerlifting, has competed in strongman events, and performs oldtime strongman feats of strength such as tearing phone books and bending steel bars.
Her expertise in health and fitness has been featured on numerous television programs throughout the United States, and she been published and quoted in many publications such as Shape, Oxygen, and Men's Fitness. Melody has several manuscripts published within the Strength and Conditioning Journal, and is the author of Pleasure Not Meating You, A Science-Based Approach to the Vegan Lifestyle (And Some Recipes, Too), and her second book will be published this year.
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?
Honestly, what it mostly does for me is make me feel good that I'm living within my moral code. I'm vegan because it's important to me to do the least harm possible to the planet and the creatures on it, and veganism fits in with that goal for me. When I was eating animal products, I had a very hard time rationalizing it in my mind. I know there's no perfect road, but I'm doing the best I can, and I feel good about that.
Please share your best nutrition tips for vegans who are interested in healthy diets to support their active lifestyles.
First of all, you almost definitely need to supplement. B12 (found in many fortified foods) and a vegan DHA/EPA supplement are the most important. I recommend creatine and taurine for vegan athletes. If you're deficient in iron, you may need to add that (talk to your doctor); many athletes lose more iron than non-athletes. Magnesium, vitamin D, and calcium are often deficient—not just in vegans, but in most people.
Second, not all proteins are the same. Different vegan proteins have different amino acid profiles, and it's important to get a wide variety of protein sources each day in order to make sure your bases are covered. Although the jury is still out in the scientific world of exactly how much protein vegan athletes need, most evidence points to us needing around twice what an omnivore would require. This could change as research on the subject improves, but for now, err on the side of getting more protein than recommended for regular athletes in your class. I try to make sure I get in as much protein as possible at every meal—I do a protein shake for breakfast (21g) with high-protein flax milk (an extra 8g) and a scoop of water lentil powder (an extra 4g). Lunch usually includes sprouted whole grain bread, a big pile of Tofurky slices, a low-sugar vegan protein bar (18g), and some fruit. Dinner varies day to day but always includes more than one kind of vegan protein source (tofu, tempeh, beans, hempseed, bean sprouts, pea sprouts, nutritional yeast, quinoa, etc.). If I'm feeling like I still haven't gotten enough protein, I'll grab another bar or shake if I'm in a hurry.
Third, make sure you're getting enough calories to fuel your sport. Many vegans don't eat enough, and their health suffers as a result.
As a plant-based athlete, what sorts of foods do you prepare or pack when you travel?
My favorite thing about traveling is trying new vegan restaurants (or vegan options at restaurants)! So I tend to eat out a lot. But if those options aren't available, or if I'm pressed for time, I usually grab protein bars, salads, and various healthy meals and snacks at local supermarkets or health food stores.
How do you think your life would have been different had you not decided to become vegan?
I think I'd just continue to have a hard time reconciling my beliefs with my food. That's really uncomfortable for me.
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?
Feel free to start small. You don't have to do everything at once to get benefits, so try breaking it up throughout the day. Give yourself a goal of, say, 30 minutes of something that gets your heart rate up by the end of the day. So you could do a 5-minute quick walk or jog around the block in the morning, climb stairs for three 5-minute sets during your lunch hour, and have a 10-minute dance party in your living room when you get home. As your fitness improves, add more time to your cardio challenges (i.e. 45 minutes by end-of-day), and try doing more at once (either time-wise, such as 8 minutes instead of 5 at a time, or exertion-wise, such as adding sprints or hills to a walk/jog) if time and ability allow.
With weight training, I really recommend getting at least one session with a really good personal trainer if finances allow in order to be sure you execute moves properly, or use video/YouTube instruction from a trusted source. There are a lot of not-so-good "fit pros" out there, so be sure to check your sources before taking their advice.
Never, ever do something that hurts. Exercise is not comfortable, but there's a big difference between the burn you feel from working your muscles and the pain from an injury. There is absolutely no reason to do a movement that injures you—there are always other options. It isn't "no pain, no gain." It's "no pain, no pain."
What has been the greatest diet- or nutrition-related challenge for you as a plant-based athlete?
The biggest challenge for me was probably quitting eating massive amounts of sugar, although that isn't technically related to my plant-based diet. Anyway, it was one of the hardest diet changes I've ever made, but I got through it! I honestly haven't had too many issues as a plant based athlete, even when traveling.
How do you promote muscle recovery?
I listen to my body and taper back when I need to. I try to prioritize getting to sleep at a decent hour in relation to my wakeup time, and when I can't get enough sleep at night, I try to take a nap if possible (I'm lucky enough to have a break midday that allows me to do that). If I've been training hard for several months, I often take a week off. I do not train when I'm sick, and I don't ever try to train through pain. I'm a big fan of epsom salt soaks when possible.
What are some athletic achievements you’d like to highlight?
I've held state and American records in all 3 lifts in powerlifting.
I came in second in my class in California's Strongest Woman in 2016 (I pulled a 385 lb deadlift off 18" blocks in that competition, which I am especially proud of, considering I weigh between 105-110 lb depending what I ate that day).
I perform oldtime strongman feats of strength such as bending structural steel bars, nails, and horseshoes, rolling up frying pans, tearing phone books, license plates, and decks of cards, and so forth.
Melody on the No-B.S. Vegan podcast
Melody has joined me on the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast not once, but twice! In episode 002, we discuss two vegan nutrition myths: 1. the myth that vegans don't need to take supplements, and 2. the myth that all proteins are created equal. In episode 052, we had no agenda and just shot the shit. We end up talking about all sorts of things, including Melody's new book for vegan athletes, and whether vegans have an athletic performance advantage over non-vegans.
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.